Cool new Pope, "Francis" (not his real name), has won lots of new fans for pointing out the exploitative and rapacious nature of global capitalism. The Catholic Church would like to assure you the Pope is not a commie. He loves the free market!
One can imagine huge parts of the Catholic empire tugging their collective collars in an exaggerated gesture of comical dismay as they've endured months and months of Pope Francis' radical and shocking statements such as "help the poor" and "maybe church people shouldn't live in enormous mansions instead of helping the poor." If he keeps talking like this, the world might get the wrong idea. So today, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York and America's #1 Catholic guy, takes to the welcoming pages of the Wall Street Journal op-ed section to clarify a few things. "From media reports," Dolan writes, "one might think that the only thing on the pope's mind was government redistribution of property, as if he were denouncing capitalism and endorsing some form of socialism." The Catholic church would certainly not want that!
The spread of the free market has undoubtedly led to a tremendous increase in overall wealth and well-being around the world. Yet Pope Francis is certainly correct that "an important part of humanity does not share in the benefits of progress." Far too many people live in poverty and have few opportunities to achieve prosperity. And so the pope, and many others, are deeply concerned about the development of a "throwaway culture," an "economy of exclusion" and a "culture of death" that corrode human dignity and marginalize the poor.
It is in this context that the holy father's earlier criticism of "trickle-down economics" can be properly understood. One does not have to subscribe uncritically to the notion that "a rising tide lifts all boats" to acknowledge that all people, including the poor, benefit from a general increase in the overall wealth of society.
Here we have what is more or less an official press release from the Catholic church of America, printed in America's most business-friendly op-ed section, in which an Archbishop implicitly assures capitalists and business interests and the rich that the Pope is not out to get them. Is that in the Bible?
Please brace yourself for the most rollicking of all of Dolan's paragraphs:
It's also worth noting that what many people around the world experience as "capitalism" isn't recognizable to Americans. For many in developing or newly industrialized countries, what passes as capitalism is an exploitative racket for the benefit of the few powerful and wealthy. Americans must remember that the holy father is speaking to this world-wide audience.
53. Just as the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say "thou shalt not" to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape...
54. In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people's pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else's responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us...
56. While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.
God forbid anyone take that literally. That could be bad for business.