On the Pope’s Economics

I’m not a member of the Roman Catholic Church. Like many non-Catholics, however, I find much to admire in Pope Francis. Without reciting all the memorable events of his relatively young papacy, I’m impressed with his humility, his willingness to mingle with “the people,” his efforts to reform church bureaucracy and the Vatican bank, his unsurprising concern for the poor, and in general, his willingness not only to “talk the talk,” but to “walk the walk.”

As an anti-communist, however, I was disturbed by his reported criticism of capitalism. I happen to believe that capitalism has done more to achieve some of Pope Francis’s goals than any of the collectivist economic schemes that have generally failed. While the Pope has confirmed that he does not favor communism as an economic system, he seems dedicated to the idea that something must be done about inequality of income around the world (there are plenty of rich people outside the United States).

Where socialism is instituted, it usually requires the use of coercion. Even where it is done, ostensibly, by a vote of the people, the elections are rigged. Candidates are elected by ludicrous margins, God-given free will is squelched, and people who can flee move elsewhere.

When capitalism has problems, it’s usually not the system that is at fault but some of the “capitalists” who operate within the system: everyone from the Ponzi schemer to the fly-by-night contractor. These people, of course, are criminals with sketchy morals, and they are everywhere. In totalitarian countries, the crooks are inside the government. In free societies, they are, hopefully outside the government itself. The average citizen is plagued either way. This is where the Pope and, I believe, all religions come in.

Certainly Pope Francis has as much right as anyone to share his thoughts on economics, but should that be a primary concern of a religious leader? I suggest that religious leaders should not be telling us what economic theories we should adopt, but should concern themselves with the souls of those who pervert those systems. It’s too tempting to try to devise a system that will be immune to criminal influence. Who wouldn’t like to find the “magic bullet”, the panacea for economic ills? The challenge for religion, though, is much more difficult than that. In my opinion, it is to bring people to a relationship with the Divine and thereby to make us good. A truly heavy lift.

At least that’s how it looks from here.

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