Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

Pope Francis & Capitalism: Are We Overreacting?

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Pope Francis seems to be capturing the attention, not just of Catholics, but of all Christians these days. His recent comments in the apostolic letter, Evangelli Gaudium, encouraged a dynamic conversation among Christians last week, trying to make sense of what he meant in critiquing trickle-down economics. Was the Pope condemning capitalism, or only a warped caricature of it?

At the Values and Capitalism blog, Tyler Castle agrees with Father Sirico’s response. The Pope’s Latin roots are a core contributor to his misguided understanding of capitalism:

As Rev. Robert Sirico points out in a recent interview, Pope Francis is from Argentina, where “free market capitalism” isn’t, in fact, all that free. The economic system in his home country is plagued by corruption and cronyism, which have greatly limited real economic freedom. Perhaps this is why he has such a cynical view of free markets?

[…] Ultimately, the Pope is right to be intensely concerned about the poor—Jesus demands that we be. He is also right to be wary of the excesses of free markets. But he fails to give capitalism credit for the widespread prosperity that it has been responsible for.

Wayne Grudem said on December 4th at the Family Research Council in Washington D.C. that Argentina is the 160th freest country in the world out of 177 countries according the the Heritage Economic Freedom Index, so it’s no wonder the Pope has a negative view towards capitalism. He’s more acquainted with corrupt, crony capitalism rather than true economic freedom.

Jay Richards echoes this by saying,

Unfortunately, the apostolic letter doesn’t distinguish “capitalism” from “cronyism,” so the document may prove less challenging, and so less “prophetic,” than if it had handled these matters with precision. 

If Pope Francis really knew what free markets looked like, I suspect he may change his position.

But are we letting ourselves get a little too riled up about all this? Are we missing the Pope’s main point? Perhaps.

Pope Francis isn’t an economist. Nor are many other priests, pastors, or ministers. And we can’t expect them to be. James Pethokoukis at the National Review Online reminds us not to forget the heart of his message. He says,

But one doesn’t need to be Catholic or a Christian of any kind to realize that it is impossible to understand the pope’s message if one fails to view it through the lens of Jesus’ teachings. Of course Pope Francis doesn’t believe market capitalism — although the greatest wealth generator ever discovered and the economic system most supportive of human freedom — is the ultimate cure to what ails humanity or the key to true human flourishing. It’s not the Bain Way one should expect to be at the heart of the pope’s message, it’s Christ’s.

I don’t excuse the Pope’s denunciation of capitalism. Since he’s so passionate about the Christian duty to care for the poor, I wish he saw the potential of free markets and enterprise in lifting whole nations out of poverty.

But while pointing this out is important, Pethokoukis has a point. Let’s tackle his critique of capitalism charitably, while at the same time striving to lift up the truth that lies beneath the sticky semantics and misguided economics of Evangelli Gaudium: the joy of the Gospel.

What do you think about the Pope’s recent comments? Leave your comments here

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