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Francis Politics

Pope Francis dispenses guidance in matters of faith from his heart. In matters of economics and science, his guidance doesn’t come from a well-informed mind. I’ve devoted two posts to Francis’ political follies this year: “Green Hubris: The Flub of Rome“, and “Francis’ Statist Vision Not Shared By Venezuelan Clergy“. While foreswearing ideology in the pulpit, he nevertheless promotes leftist economic ideology and denigrates capitalism, the single-best form of social organization for lifting mankind from privation. He ignores mountains of evidence demonstrating that his hopes for humanity are best served by free markets and liberty. Francis further confuses the issue of church teachings versus personal ideology by claiming that his views are longstanding views of the Church.

A dark theory of the Pope’s anti-capitalist rhetoric occurred to me. It has to do with an ecclesiastical variant on statism: just as statist elites like President Obama seem to prefer widespread dependence on the state, so too does the Pope wish for widespread dependence on the Church for spiritual nourishment. Karl Marx is often quoted as having said “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” However, the full quote is the following:

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

Perhaps the Pope understands this all too well. An impoverished world may well be a more pious world, and his condemnation of capitalism might help to lead us there. Is such an ulterior motive too Machiavellian to describe the kind-hearted pontiff? Probably. Perhaps the Devil made me think of it!

Like most on the Left, the Pope does the world’s poor no favor by way of blindly accepting the global warmist agenda, which is based on a hypothesis “proven” only in the sense that a certain class of climate models predict a directional outcome. Those models have accumulated a long track record of bad forecasts. Not only that: the surface temperature records reported by U.S. Government agencies and the media as “evidence” of global warming are not supported by satellite records, and trends have been heavily manipulated via downward adjustments to past temperatures. But even if we stipulate that the carbon-forcing models and the surface temperature records are correct, there are major questions regarding the severity of the outcome and whether it poses a two-sided risk to human welfare. Mediation of this hypothetical risk is extremely costly, requiring diversion of vast quantities of resources, and that takes a real human toll. This is why the policy prescriptions of the warmist community lack internal consistency. For example, they wish to restrict power production from fossil fuels in the developing world, forcing populations to deforest and rely on unhealthy wood burning — indoors! — to meet basic needs like heating and cooking.

Here is the full text of a letter from Don Boudreaux to the Washington Post:

On the opening page of your website today you ask readers to register their agreement or disagreement with this statement of Pope Francis: ‘This is our sin: Exploiting the Earth and not allowing her to give us what she has within her.’

This claim is laughable. History testifies unmistakably that the earth is extremely stingy in volunteering to humans ‘what she has within her.’ Indeed, what the earth has within her are mere raw materials, by themselves useless unless and until human creativity discovers not only how to transform them into actual resources and outputs that improve human well-being (Ever try fueling your jet with crude oil?) but also how to ‘exploit’ the earth so that she releases her materials to us at a reasonable cost.

The Pope is vocal about helping the world’s poor. I believe that he’s sincere. So I sincerely hope that he comes to realize that the greatest sin of all against humanity would be the suppression of those capitalist institutions that have proven to be the only practical means of transforming what the earth has within her into a bounty of goods and services that allows the masses, for the first time in history, to live lives of material abundance and dignity upon her.

A few of the comments that follow Boudreaux’s post on Cafe Hayek are good, too.

Stephanie Slade has an excellent piece in Reason entitled “If Pope Francis Wants to Help the Poor, He Should Embrace Capitalism“. Here are some samples addressing the power of markets and capitalism to improve human welfare and eradicate poverty:

Pope Francis thinks free marketeers have been deluded by a ‘myth of unlimited material progress.’ If we have, it’s because we’ve seen for ourselves the wonders that economic development and technological advancement can bring—from modern medicine stopping diseases that were the scourge of civilizations for centuries, to buildings more able to withstand natural disasters than at any time before, to ever-widening access to the air conditioning he wishes us to use less of.

“‘Entrepreneurial capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid.’ With those 10 words, spoken to an audience at Georgetown University in 2013, philanthropist rock star Bono demonstrated a keener understanding of economic reality than the leader of global Catholicism.

The U2 frontman clearly has it right—and Pope Francis is wrong to suggest that poverty is growing, or that capitalism, free markets, and globalization are fueling the (non-existent) problem. In just two decades, extreme poverty has been reduced by more than 50 percent. ‘In 1990, almost half of the population in developing regions lived on less than $1.25 a day,’ reads a 2014 report from the United Nations. ‘This rate dropped to 22 per cent by 2010, reducing the number of people living in extreme poverty by 700 million.’

How was this secular miracle achieved? The bulk of the answer is through economic development, as nascent markets began to take hold in large swaths of the world that were until recently desperately poor. A 2013 editorial from The Economist noted that… ‘Most of the credit… must go to capitalism and free trade, for they enable economies to grow—and it was growth, principally, that has eased destitution.’

As Slade explains, far from a scourge on the environment, capitalism is and has been a great blessing:

Both the economics and the history are clear: The more prosperous the developing world becomes, the more it too will be able to demand and achieve livable conditions. If your goal is to move the world to concern for the preservation of biodiversity, the answer is economic growth. If you want to increase access to clean water, the solution is to increase global wealth, and the consumer power that comes with it. Studies have shown that deforestation reverses when a country’s annual GDP reaches about $3,000 per capita. While some environmental indicators do get worse during the early stages of industrialization, the widely accepted Environmental Kuznets Curve hypothesis convincingly argues that they quickly reverse themselves when national income grows beyond a certain threshold. If the pope wants a cleaner world, the best way to get there is by creating a richer world—something Pope Francis’ own policy recommendations will make more difficult.

A theme in Slade’s essay is that Francis is simply confused. On one level, he seems to know that technological advance is of great benefit to mankind, yet he is extremely wary of economic growth and believes that less production and consumption is better. That would make the job of alleviating conditions for the world’s poor much more challenging, if not impossible! He acknowledges that the environment has improved drastically in some parts of the world, but he seems unaware that the same areas are the most economically developed, and have the most well-developed markets. Like most on the Left, he also seems confused about the real meaning of capitalism. And the Pope “often blurs the line between public and private action.

Slade concludes with some messages for Catholics. First, the Pope’s opinions on matters of faith are said to be infallible, according to Catholic doctrine. But opinions on topics like capitalism and the environment are outside his sphere of infallibility. Second, Slade is rightly offended by the Pope’s attitude that libertarianism and a belief in the efficacy of free markets is not compatible with Christianity.

Thus far during the Pope’s visit to Cuba and the U.S., he has thrilled the murderous Castro brothers and spoken out in favor of Obama’s climate agenda. Raul Castro is so happy about the Pope’s opinions on capitalism “that he might ‘start praying again’ and rejoin the church“. I truly hope that members of the Catholic flock, or any others,  don’t take the Pope’s political exhortations too seriously.