You can tell when somebody lays a backhanded slap that stings by all the vitriol that follows the initial rebuke. From Rush Limbaugh to almost every conservative mouthpiece in America, there have been nothing but scorn thrown at the Pope’s words that were released in his Evangelii Gadium, or Joy of the Gospel, last week.
Reading into Chapter 2 Amid the Crisis of Communal Committment, you’ll find much of what he said about capitalism, the love of money, and other things that he see as ills upon our society. I’m not Catholic and I really don’t follow the Pope, but his words have struck a chord with many people well outside the Catholic community.
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.
Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.
Catholic or not, he describes what many see in today’s society and the cause of many issues within our society. Reading that part made me want to dig further into what he said that caused the Grand Mal like responses from the political Right here in this country. Here’s where he lays the smack down to capitalism, via the invisible hand.
Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside the categories of the marketplace. When these latter are absolutized, God can only be seen as uncontrollable, unmanageable, even dangerous, since he calls human beings to their full realization and to freedom from all forms of enslavement. Ethics – a non-ideological ethics – would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs”.
A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders. I urge them to face this challenge with determination and an eye to the future, while not ignoring, of course, the specifics of each case. Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.
When I read that section there, I struggled to figure out what he said that was so wrong about our system. Even Adam Smith talked about the “Invisible Hand” and it’s involvement with regulating capitalism. All I see is that Pope Francis basically revealed the identity of the “Invisible Hand” as God. Without ethics, morals, or any type of guidance of that nature, temperance becomes intemperance and desire leads to greed and lust.
If saying such things makes Pope Francis a Marxist, as Rush Limbaugh (God, I hate typing that name and even acknowledging his existence) claims, then there are probably a crapload of Marxists who appreciate and love capitalism but hate what it has morphed into in this day and age. There is nothing wrong with capitalism as it is written on paper. As it is in practice today is an entirely different issue.
Look at the vast inequality we’ve seen over the past four decades. Worker productivity increases in America has not benefitted the worker, whose wages have remained stagnant. The rewards for that increased productivity has gone to an exclusive group of citizens who did not do the manual labor to achieve that productivity. Our economy more resembles a Vegas casino today than the economy we had four decades ago. There was a time where a man could get a job/career at a company, spend 30 years or more working for that same company, climb the progression ladder, and be rewarded with a salary commiserate of his labor. Now, that worker can put forth that same labor and receive nowhere near the salary that he would have received decades ago. Even more, a total stranger can basically play a bet on a particular stock and reap the benefits of that worker’s labor instead of the labor itself being rewarded.
Maybe Pope Francis is right, and we need to return the tried and true “Invisible Hand” to capitalism and quit expecting the greedy to self-regulate.
- Rush Limbaugh blasts ‘pure Marxism’ coming from Pope Francis’ critique of capitalism (rawstory.com)
- Pope a Marxist: Is Rush right? (cnn.com)
- Pope Francis Rejects Trickle-Down Economics, Calls Unfettered Capitalism “A New Tyranny” (classwarfareexists.com)
- Rush Limbaugh vs. the Pope (religion.blogs.cnn.com)
- OMFG! I never thought I would be siding with the Pope?!? (punkonomics.org)