Friday, September 25, 2015
If Pope Francis really cares about the poor, he must embrace free market capitalism
There is capitalism, a neutral process, and then there are capitalists capable of the deep morality and the compassion and active outreach of which Pope Francis spoke. America was founded precisely on the basis of the morality required for that. As one of our greatest Founding Fathers, John Adams put it of the form of government he helped design, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
A country can function better with a government of limited powers and have fewer secular laws when these are complemented by a strong system of simple moral laws and rules that everyone knows and can live by, like those offered by Christianity. In that respect Pope Francis has gone a long way in adapting some of the more stringent of those laws to a new technologically and philosophically more advanced society wherein its members are capable of better and more informed decisions based on liberty but that still tries to offer protection to the most vulnerable.
It is unsettling that large numbers of people are in fact drifting from their traditional morality, which lends particular importance to the words of Pope Benedict that “In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good."
It is to that cause that we must all dedicate ourselves so that capitalism and capitalists, including consumers, do continue showing the traditional American compassion and active outreach to the poorest and most vulnerable. The visit of Pope Francis to the United States will help advance that cause, at least among the more open minded, but it would help if he would change some of his more extreme beliefs.
In the WSJ Weekend Essay on Henry Kissinger, Niall Ferguson writes that "To the leaders of anticolonial movements, communism appeared to have much to offer: not only state-led industrialization but also a permanent grip on political power. What could the U.S. offer as an alternative?"
The question raised by Ferguson is one that grips people to this day and even when it doesn’t lead all the way to communism, it does sometimes foment Liberation Theology and the belief that governments can lift some of the burden that Christianity entreats believers to carry and be responsible for themselves. It is not just about idealism versus realpolitik, or freedom versus determinism, but also freedom with an easy life without having to work hard for it, this latter as a result of our ability to use reason and science to make things better.
While it is true that we can make things better with reason and science, where we fail is in avoiding hubris, or a belief that with those tools we are almighty. We aren't and interestingly, at least to me, we get some of the necessary sense of humility from Christianity.
Too many people claim to know to fix the U.S. and the world with dirigiste "scientific" or at least reasoned solutions. Never do I hear that with the complexities we face we need to make use of the organizing forces of Mother Nature, forces like the Invisible Hand of the market. No, we have the tools and knowledge to make all of the good things happen with our wills alone.
To me that is very scary, because in the process we would have to subordinate our freedoms to all knowing reason and science, and yet we are far, very far and perhaps totally out of reach from ever having the capacity to truly conquer complexity. In a way complexity is and should be the guardian of our freedom.
Socialists, communists, and liberals / progressives, want freedom without having to work hard for it and the scary part is that some of the best trained engineers and scientists believe it's achievable with reason and science. Somehow many of even the best trained have failed to realize how the more we know, the more we should realize how much we don't know.
Capitalism is imperfect. Socialism is imperfect. But look at the condition of the poor among countries that practice free market capitalism versus those who practice socialism. It is not close.
If Pope Francis really cares about the poor, as I think he does, he must embrace free market capitalism. Hopefully as he gets more international experience, he will come to this conclusion, and not base his perspective of capitalism on what he saw in Argentina, which is at best, crony capitalism.
A more recent example of how capitalism can lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty can be found in China. A similar story is emerging in India and Africa.
I fear this Pope has antipathy to the United States and its economic system and will focus on the message of the progressives and income inequality in his utterances.
There is a bizarre logic to the Pope's positions. On one hand he wants to fight poverty, yet on the other he doesn't hesitate raising electricity rates, which would affect the poor, not the rich, and he is against consumerism when billions of people around the globe would love to be able to be consumers of at least food.
Look, it is not rocket science that the true wealth of our nation and the globe is measured by how many goods and services are produced, not by money , and those goods and services have to be consumed by someone, "consumerism" being another of the Pope's gripes. So okay, if we are "wealthy" in terms of goods and services then of necessity we are consumers.
Lesson two. Anyone who is even remotely familiar with history will know that the most dynamic engine of production has been capitalism, and the most effective organizing and rationing force markets. Don't believe me? Look at all of the socialism experiments of the last century, some of which survive in the poorest countries on earth.
Yes, modern capitalist wealth creation is the basis for more reduction in poverty than all the other solutions combined in the history of mankind. For this to happen, however, nations must have the correct political systems in place.
If the Pope is really concerned about the poor, he should stop criticizing those nations that have robust, inclusive, functioning political systems, and criticize those that do not.
Much of the impoverished world is ruled by tribal mores, by autocrats, and by kleptocracies. Fixing this would do more to create the conditions for poverty alleviation than any action that the Pope can urge upon developed nations.
Barack Obama says we are bad compared to other countries because we have guns, and the Pope says I am bad because my consumerism creates jobs. I think I will either live it up or wrap it up, I don't know, unless, wait, we can make the Pope and Obama rulers of the world. Now that would fix everything, won't it?
I am not trying to be facetious, at least not too much, but I am tired of being preached by people whose logic fails on the face of the facts. I have great respect for the Pope, but he is threading into areas that are political and with shaky facts.
The Pope fails to understand that global warming fear mongering has nothing at all to do with science. It has everything to do with government control of energy production, energy intensive industries and ultimately of entire economies. It is cover for socialism and ultimately Marxism.
While I the greatest admiration for the Pope's ministry and outreach to the poor and dispossessed, I suspect he is not uncomfortable with socialism as an economic system that would, in his view, be more responsive to social justice.
Unfortunately, the Pope is too economically naive to understand that the history of socialism and Marxism teaches precisely the opposite. They are economic dictatorships that make both poor and well off people poorer (better that every one be poorer but more equal than wealthier but less equal), and the political elite richer.
The Catholic Church has survived 2000 years not because Popes are infallible, they are not nor does the Church claim them to be. It has survived because in every century after every Pope and every attack, when the battle between Charlemagne or Henry of England or whomever is over and the issues of conflict are no longer of interest , the message of Jesus is found intact.
Pope Francis' views on climate change are no better informed than his views on reducing poverty or the maximum rate of interest that should be charged or whether divorcees are entitled to be remarried in Churches, hot buttons of other times.
He is as entitled to his private views as is Donald Trump or a TV commentator , and no more accuracy is attached to those views than to theirs.
The most beloved Pope was John Paul 2. He had one message, God loves you.
In 2000 years that message will be what survives of the Church.
A central appeal of the Catholic Church is that it remains firm in its convictions over centuries, instead of blowing with the wind like some of the soon-to-be-extinct Protestant sects.
The world needs a fixed moral compass more than it needs another Church that shifts its positions with the Progressive narrative of the moment.
This Pope has a choice to make with consequences for his soul, his papacy, and his legacy.