There seems to be an opinion from some corners that Pope Benedict XVI is quite the commie and as dangerous to the free market as leftist icon Warren “Raise my taxes, please” Buffet. Richard Epstein of the Hoover Institution and Andrew Stuttaford of National Review Online seem to think so anyway.
Epstein writes that socialism has gotten Europe and the United States into trouble and says the solution is “limited government, low rates of taxation, and strong property rights.” On that we agree. But Epstein then posits that based on his comments at World Youth Day, capitalism clearly has an enemy in Pope Benedict XVI. On that we disagree. There is no greater friend in the world of individual rights than the Catholic Church.
I’ll excerpt some of Epstein’s piece and hope not to take anything out of context. Epstein writes:
The Pope was on his way to recession-torn Spain — to lead the Roman Catholic Church’s weeklong celebration of World Youth Day — when he denounced those nameless persons who put “profits before people.” He told journalists, “The economy cannot be measured by the maximum profit but by the common good. The economy cannot function only with mercantile self-regulation but needs an ethical reason in order to work for man.” Standing alone, these words mirror the refrains of countless Spanish socialists, whose relations with the Pope have soured in recent years. Their shared premises help explain why Spain finds itself in such a sorry state.
Denouncing those who put ‘profits before people’ may stir the masses, but it is a wickedly deformed foundation for social policy ...
The great advantage of competition in markets is that it exhausts all gains from trade, which thus allows individuals to attain higher levels of welfare. These win/win propositions may not reach the perfect endpoint, but they will avoid the woes that are now consuming once prosperous economies. Understanding the win/win concept would have taken the Pope away from his false condemnation of markets. It might have led him to examine more closely Spain’s profligate policies, where high guaranteed public benefits and extensive workplace regulation have led to an unholy mix of soaring public debt and an unemployment rate of 20 percent. It is a tragic irony that papal economics mimic those of the Church’s socialist opponents. The Pope’s powerful but misdirected words will only complicate the task of meaningful fiscal and regulatory reform in Spain and the rest of Europe. False claims for social justice come at a very high price.
Stuttaford simply adds an “Amen (so to speak.)”
It seems to me that before accusing the Pope of pushing a “wickedly deformed foundation,” a little research would be required, but sadly that doesn’t seem to be the case here. The Pope in his comments is not talking about macro-economics but about the salvation of individuals which, if you may not have noticed, is kind of a popular subject among popes.
But I ask, where in the Pope’s comments does he advocate a large government bureaucracy to take from the rich and give to the poor? He doesn’t.
The actual deformity present here is that the left has so abused and deformed the language of true social justice into a socialistic screed that some can no longer discern the difference between the two. This argument from Epstein and Stuttaford is the flip side of the coin of those who argue that Jesus was a socialist because He advocated feeding the poor. (It always seemed to me that Jesus had a pretty nasty run in with Big Government that didn’t end well. Well, ultimately it ended well but it was pretty rough going for a while.)
The Pope said that we must not put profits over people. Are Epstein and Stuttaford really defending greed now? Do they really want to defend the premise that putting profits before people would be a positive step in our culture? Or do they believe there is never a case where what is better for profits and what is better for people can be in opposition? Certainly, one might make an excellent case for slavery using economic terms alone while it is, of course, a moral disaster. (And I’m not saying that Stuttaford and Epstein are in favor of slavery.)
But unless Epstein and Stuttaford are saying that anyone to the left of Ayn Rand is a socialist, I’m afraid their argument is a bit thin. Is it their case that economies should not be for the general welfare? I seem to remember promoting “the general welfare” from the Preamble to the Constitution as being a responsibility of government.
I believe that the common good is best served by a free economy. I believe capitalism is the best means yet devised for doing the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people. And as a Catholic and a capitalist I believe the Pope is 100 percent right.