Pope Francis Wrongly Blames Capitalism For Poverty

by | Sep 22, 2015

Pope Francis' own native Argentina was once among the leading economies of the world, before it was ruined by the kind of ideological notions he is now promoting around the world.

Pope Francis has created political controversy, both inside and outside the Catholic Church, by blaming capitalism for many of the problems of the poor. We can no doubt expect more of the same during his visit to the United States.

Pope Francis is part of a larger trend of the rise of the political left among Catholic intellectuals. He is, in a sense, the culmination of that trend.

There has long been a political left among Catholics, as among other Americans. Often they were part of the pragmatic left, as in the many old Irish-run, big city political machines that dispensed benefits to the poor in exchange for their votes, as somewhat romantically depicted in the movie classic, “The Last Hurrah.”

But there has also been a more ideological left. Where the Communists had their official newspaper, “The Daily Worker,” there was also “The Catholic Worker” published by Dorothy Day.

A landmark in the evolution of the ideological left among Catholics was a publication in the 1980s, by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, titled “Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy.”

Although this publication was said to be based on Catholic teachings, one of its principal contributors, Archbishop Rembert Weakland, said: “I think we should be up front and say that really we took this from the Enlightenment era.”

The specifics of the Bishops’ Pastoral Letter reflect far more of the secular Enlightenment of the 18th century than of Catholic traditions. Archbishop Weakland admitted that such an Enlightenment figure as Thomas Paine “is now coming back through a strange channel.”

Strange indeed. Paine rejected the teachings of “any church that I know of,” including “the Roman church.” He said: “My own mind is my own church.” Nor was Paine unusual among the leading figures of the 18th century Enlightenment.

To base social or moral principles on the philosophy of the 18th century Enlightenment, and then call the result “Catholic teachings” suggests something like bait-and-switch advertising.

But, putting aside religious or philosophical questions, we have more than two centuries of historical evidence of what has actually happened as the ideas of people like those Enlightenment figures were put into practice in the real world — beginning with the French Revolution and its disastrous aftermath.

Both the authors of the Bishops’ Pastoral Letter in the 1980s, and Pope Francis today, blithely throw around the phrase “the poor,” and blame poverty on what other people are doing or not doing to or for “the poor.”

Any serious look at the history of human beings over the millennia shows that the species began in poverty. It is not poverty, but prosperity, that needs explaining. Poverty is automatic, but prosperity requires many things — none of which is equally distributed around the world or even within a given society.

Geographic settings are radically different, both among nations and within nations. So are demographic differences, with some nations and groups having a median age over 40 and others having a median age under 20. This means that some groups have several times as much adult work experience as others. Cultures are also radically different in many ways.

As distinguished economic historian David S. Landes put it, “The world has never been a level playing field.” But which has a better track record of helping the less fortunate — fighting for a bigger slice of the economic pie, or producing a bigger pie?

In 1900, only 3 percent of American homes had electric lights but more than 99 percent had them before the end of the century. Infant mortality rates were 165 per thousand in 1900 and 7 per thousand by 1997. By 2001, most Americans living below the official poverty line had central air conditioning, a motor vehicle, cable television with multiple TV sets, and other amenities.

A scholar specializing in the study of Latin America said that the official poverty level in the United States is the upper middle class in Mexico. The much criticized market economy of the United States has done far more for the poor than the ideology of the left.

Pope Francis’ own native Argentina was once among the leading economies of the world, before it was ruined by the kind of ideological notions he is now promoting around the world.

Thomas Sowell has published a large volume of writing. His dozen books, as well as numerous articles and essays, cover a wide range of topics, from classic economic theory to judicial activism, from civil rights to choosing the right college. Please contact your local newspaper editor if you want to read the THOMAS SOWELL column in your hometown paper.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

2 Comments

  1. We started with capitalism and a democratic federalist republic marred by currency debacles, slavery, and tariffs, but shining with the intent to secure the blessings of liberty for all. Prosperity utterly unprecedented in the history of the world was the result of Law and Government being kept to only protecting life, liberty, and property, with just those initial blemishes. It is sad to think of what might have been, had we not built a stifling, rotting, stinking, tower of forcible violations of individual property, liberty, and person, on top of those first few errors.

  2. The ‘capitalism’ that Pope Francis ‘wrongly’ blames for poverty is actually aspects of the whole statist spectrum: central control, by physical power, in violation of inalienable individual rights instead of to protect individual rights. The violation occurs in degrees, from near zero at the outset of the U.S., with the exception of slavery, to total, thorough-going dictatorship, as in communism, Nazism and religious theocracies. As far as I know, no unit of human culture under central control by physical power has ever been completely free of statism. No such unit has ever lived 100% under a system of gvt. by law.

    There’s never been such a central control by physical power. It’s always been varying degrees of statism up thru 100%, with centuries-long periods of unbroken 100% statism.

    Capitalism exists only under gvt. by law. Only the degree to which gvt. by law exists with statism, over a unit of human culture, and thus constituting a ‘mixed’ central control, determines how much capitalism can exist. If we have 100% gvt. by law and no statism, we have laissez-faire capitalism. Pope Francis is actually blaming aspects of statism for poverty, not capitalism, whether he knows it or not.

    Only under capitalism, individual rights and gvt. by law, might all people escape the poverty and the animalism the human specie originated in. I think Pope Francis actually knows all this. He ignores capitalism and tells us certain aspects of statism are capitalism, and that the rest of statism is what we need as a cure. He prescribes his own brand of statism which is actually an old brand. People everywhere are supposed to not notice the actual capitalism of individual rights and gvt. by law, and to not know what they’re missing. This might give statism absolute power worldwide. The Catholic church might get the lion’s share of it. This is his goal. A ‘cleaner’ environment might result, but Power to the Church is his actual goal. Mike Kevitt

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