After reading Evangelii Gaudium I knew one of the areas that would receive some criticism was the area of economics. I jokingly thought that we wouldn’t have to wait long for someone from the Acton Institute to respond.
In this article Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute and author of Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy, and Human Flourishing! gives a cogent, fair and informed critique of the economic content of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation. He shows how the Pope’s conclusions are well meaning, but naive and not well informed. The good thing about Gregg’s article is that he is not condemning the general thrust of Evangelii Gaudium nor is he taking a doctrinaire and opposed view to the pope.
However he does point out regarding Pope Francis’ economic opinions that it’s well, more complicated…
My own thoughts as I read this document that the Pope’s economic emphasis was rather one-sided with the root of the problem being “absolute autonomy of markets.” As Samuel Gregg wrote I also find some of these points the Pope made to be “straw-man arguments.” Reading what the Pope wrote you would have no idea about the amount of government regulation in this regard or the fact that big government is more likely to lead to increased poverty. The Country of Greece is and so many others are not suffering from the “absolute autonomy of markets.”
Not that I believe laissez-faire open markets is the answer to all economic problems. The problem with any system is not always the system itself, but the fact that original sin is always involved. Without morality a system only becomes more flawed. The increased secularization and loss of morals can make the free market anything but free.
“Finally, true freedom is not advanced in the permissive society, which confuses freedom with license to do anything whatever and which in the name of freedom proclaims a kind of general amorality. It is a caricature of freedom to claim that people are free to organize their lives with no reference to moral values, and to say that society does not have to ensure the protection and advancement of ethical values. Such an attitude is destructive of freedom and peace.” – Pope John Paul II (source)
Free markets become “license” markets when the bottom line does not include the dignity of the human person. When decisions are made without this necessary criteria. Ensuring free markets requires evangelization and conversion.
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” – John Quincy Adams
Our Republic breaks down when this is lost and I would say the same is true of a truly free market. Yet even our flawed free market has done much to reducing poverty and this would be more so with the advancement of moral values.
I certainly don’t want to dismiss the Holy Father’s economic critique since I thought much of it was apt, but just aimed at the wrong target or that the targets could easily have been expanded. It is not government regulation that is the answer here, but regulation of ourselves. Whenever you find poverty you don’t usually have to look far to find a corrupt government involved.
I also found Let’s Listen to Pope Francis on Economics at First Things to be worth reading from a Catholic who is pro-free markets:
Francis’ call is not a governing agenda. We must, however, let it be a wake up call. We must look first at the impact of the policies we promote on the poor and the marginalized, and keep their interests in line first. And this is something Milton Friedman would agree with, by the way. Would most of his disciples? Rhetorically, sure.
But in the conservatarian community I’m a part of, while I see a lot of good intentions and good ideas, do I see enough concern towards directly addressing poverty and looking at everything through the lens of poverty and inclusion, including in my own work? I have to say that the answer is no. And certainly we must say we can always do better.
I am reminded of Sen. Mike Lee’s excellent speech on poverty. It’s truly great. But how much energy is devoted in free market circles in seriously discussing and debating poverty? What percentage? I have to admit that while I most often disagree with their prescriptions, there is a sincere and overwhelming concern for the poor that is more present in the progressive coalition than in my own. We must not be afraid of this concern for the poor that Pope Francis calls us to. We must make it our own and embrace it.
There is a place for discernment, and for advocacy, and even for confrontation. But I think that as Catholics we are also called upon to take the Pope’s message seriously, humbly, and to let it challenge us and to incorporate it into our own thinking, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For this I’ll pray.Note: My title of Popeconomics is aimed at the humor side with no disrespect to His Holiness.
Note: My title of “Popeconomics” is aimed at the humor side with no disrespect to His Holiness.