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Pope Francis’ Economics Print E-mail
By George J. Marlin   
Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Last month a bold front-page headline of the New York Daily News read “IN GREED THEY TRUST:  Fat Cats Revolt. Francis’ rap on rich may cost St. Pat’s.” Ken Langone, the founder of Home Depot, said a few wealthy Catholics were threatening to withhold their financial support of a $180-million St. Patrick’s Cathedral renovation project because of the pope’s comments in Evangelii Gaudium concerning economics. These disgruntled donors thought he was against democratic capitalism and people who strive to succeed.

Langone told Cardinal Dolan, “Your Eminence, this is one more hurdle I hope we don’t have to deal with. You want to be careful about generalities. Rich people in one country don’t act the same as rich people in another country.”

Dolan replied that Francis was being misunderstood: “The pope loves poor people. He also loves rich people. He loves people. . . .We’ve got to correct to make sure this gentleman understands the Holy Father’s message properly.”

Pope Francis, Dolan added, believes “money itself is morally neutral. Money, our wealth is a gift from God. And the morality comes in the way we use it. . . . If it became a god, if it becomes in idol, Pope Francis is saying, then it’s wrong because there is only one God.”

The cardinal is right. Many conservatives – Rush Limbaugh is one – called the pope a Marxist. Leftists have declared he embraces socialism. They’ve got it all wrong. Historically, popes have opposed both socialism and laissez-faire capitalism. And Pope Francis is not saying anything very different from his predecessors.

The Church teaches morals, not economics. But economic life is subordinate to moral truths. That’s why the Church holds that the economy should allow us to earn a stable, decent wage to support ourselves and our families, offer a modest opportunity for comfort and leisure, and provide opportunities to advance based on interests, talents, and drive.

The Church has supported private property, free enterprise, profit-making, and the reinvestment of capital to expand and create more wealth and jobs, if these institutions and activities also respect moral and social obligations.

What the Church has opposed, however, are extremist systems of every kind that, as Pope Pius XI put it in Quadragesimo Anno (1931), scorn “the human dignity of the workers, the social character of economic activity and social justice itself and the common good.”

In Rerum Novarum (1891), Leo XIII had warned “rich men” that it was their duty to ensure that “workers are not to be treated as slaves; justice demands that the dignity of the human personality be respected in them, ennobled as it has been through what we call the Christian character.”

In Quadragesimo Anno Pius condemned socialism (as Leo had already) because it endangers human liberties by concentrating economic power in the hands of a few who impose their policies on the general public: 

Society as Socialism conceives it, can on the one hand neither exist nor be thought of without an obviously excessive use of force; on the other hand, it fosters a liberty no less false, since there is no place in it for true social authority, which rests not on temporal and material advantages but descends from God alone. . . .Christian [and] socialism are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.

On the hundredth anniversary of Rerum Novarum, Pope John Paul II, in Centesimus Annus, declared that the “Primary responsibility [for human rights in the economic sector] belongs not to the state but to individuals and to the various groups and associations which make up society. . . .The State could not directly ensure the right to work for all its citizens unless it controlled every aspect of economic life and restricted the free initiative of individuals.”

He also observed that, “the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs.” At the same time, we have more than material needs. “There are many human needs which find no place on the market. . . .It is on this level that the Church’s specific and decisive contribution to true culture is to be found.”

Pope Francis continues in this tradition. He rightly condemns the greedy and the unethical who live a Social Darwinist creed of survival of the fittest. He also reproves unbridled consumerism, a culture that has a “throw away” attitude about life, including the inherent dignity of the human person. And he criticizes the idolatry of money, including countries that devalue the savings of people and wreck economies by issuing excessive amounts of government debt.

So far nothing new.

Francis went on to say that “the dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies” and that the businessman or entrepreneur who serves the common good has a “noble vocation.” He also states, as did JPII, that welfare programs “should be considered merely temporary responses.”

As an investment banker for thirty-seven years and an entrepreneur who founded a successful business, I fully agree. So why all the fuss?

Ideologues, who want to convince the world that the Church is in their corner, are cherry-picking words or phrases. In other words, they are deliberately taking statements by Francis out of context.

For instance, when the Pope uses the word “inequality,” leftists interpret it to mean he is for redistribution of income and not equality of opportunity. Then there are people on the right, who do not understand that the Church, by its very nature, must oppose atheism, materialism, and Marxism because they deny human dignity, rights, and freedom.

The 24/7 news-cycle also doesn’t help. To fill airtime, newscasters now make a headline from any loudmouth’s comments – no matter how uninformed.

It’s frustrating for anyone who defends the Church’s Magisterium in the public square. The Vatican has long had a good and steady message. It needs to make it harder for partisans of various stripes to distort it.

 
George J. Marlin, Chairman of the Board of Aid to the Church in Need USA, is an editor of The Quotable Fulton Sheen and the author of The American Catholic VoterHis most recent book is Narcissist Nation: Reflections of a Blue-State Conservative.
 
 
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Comments (26)Add Comment
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written by Graham, February 19, 2014
It's not about what His Holiness said, but how Cardinal Dolan replied to criticisms of those words. Saying that the Holy Father "loves rich and poor" is not a reasoned or coherent response but it does reveal why so many Catholics have been troubled by His Eminence's leadership especially since the HHS mandate uncovered this administration's contempt for the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
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written by Augustine Thomas, February 19, 2014
Did his predecessors also call the fifteen hundred year old Mass a fad?
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written by Jack,CT, February 19, 2014
Great Read simply said and with crisp taste! thanks
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written by Nick Palmer, February 19, 2014
Very thoughtful piece. For a much deeper, very well-written perspective I highly recommend 'Papal Economics: The Catholic Church on Democratic Capitalism, from Rerum Novarum to Caritas in Veritate,' by Maciej Zieba, OP. It is quite comprehensive connecting the dots from pre-Rerum Novarum through to John Paul II.

Mr. Marlins piece today does an excellent job of summarizing some of the core issues.
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, February 19, 2014
This is the best argument for why, when the Pope decides he wants to speak on topics that are easily misinterpreted his chosen words ought to be measured and carefully developed beforehand. Some things lend themselves to extemporaneous chatter; economics is not one of them.

Also, you write: "Leo XIII had warned “rich men” that it was their duty to ensure that “workers are not to be treated as slaves." Very important. Yet, why do we not hear from our ecclesiastical authorities about the obligations of workers toward to the owners of businesses? For example, we are typically subjected to calls from our bishops for increases in the minimum wage. Why is this always an automatic "good" when it can be demonstrated that giving in to the demands by workers for increases in the minimum wage will inevitably lead to higher prices and job losses for others? How about the social obligations workers have toward their fellow workers and duty not to demand confiscatory wages from their employers?

The sin of greed can fall upon workers just as easily as upon business owners. Unfortunately, political correctness does not allow such ideas to get much traction.
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written by Ted Seeber, February 19, 2014
Deacon Ed, when you actually start having minimum wage workers earn a LIVING WAGE sufficient to be a PRO-LIFE SINGLE INCOME HOME that raises children instead of depending on contraception and abortion to reduce costs for the wage payer, then we can talk about labor's duty to provide an honest day's work in exchange for a per diem.

But when the current economy relies so heavily on wages insufficient to sustain a culture of life, it is a part of the culture of death to expect a full day's work for a part day's pay.

You don't even need the economic teaching of the current Popes to understand this- Jesus Christ in Matthew 20 tells parables about it.
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written by Athanasius, February 19, 2014
Deacon Ed, Great addition to the discussion. Please let me add my humble two cents as well:

If I were a business owner (which I am not), my only reason to hire someone would be if they add value to my business. That means I have to be able to make money by hiring them. For a simple business like a frozen yogurt stand, that means that if I hire someone for $8/hr, plus an additional $2 in taxes, that person should allow my business to sell enough more yogurt that I can cover the cost of their wage and taxes as well as the production cost of the yogurt. If I make 25% over production costs on each sale of yogurt, than that person needs to facilitate an extra $40 of sales just to cover their wage and taxes. As long as this worker can generate over $40/hr. in addtional sales, they are not adding value to the business.

Obviously this is just a simple example, but it does illustrate that the amount of wages a person is paid does have to have some relationship to the value they bring to the business.
This is just a simple example,

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written by Daniel Nichols, February 19, 2014
More dissembling from the Right, assuring us that our radical pope is no threat to capitalism. Just one example: John Paul II is cited as endorsing the market as "the most efficient instrument" etc. Here is what he in fact said: "It would appear that, on the level of individual nations and of international relations, the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs. But this is true only for those needs which are "solvent"... there are many human needs which find no place on the market. It is a strict duty of justice and truth not to allow fundamental human needs to remain unsatisfied, and not to allow those burdened by such needs to perish. It is also necessary to help these needy people to acquire expertise, to enter the circle of exchange, and to develop their skills in order to make the best use of their capacities and resources. Even prior to the logic of a fair exchange of goods and the forms of justice appropriate to it, there exists something which is due to man because he is man, by reason of his lofty dignity." (Emphasis added). So who is cherry picking here?
Francis has condemned free market ideology in no uncertain terms, and he has said that "the socio-economic system is unjust at its roots". This, you are correct, is not a deviation from previous papal teaching, but it is stated baldly and plainly. Get over it.
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written by Hen, February 19, 2014
It's not a religious plus when the USCCB in a stealth way very recently helped politically to saddle us with an abomination like government run health care. The biggest reason for them getting away with it is apathy which no one can be proud of either.
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written by Layman Tom, February 19, 2014
Daniel, Daniel, Daniel. Why so angry? I mean, I disagree with you, but I think we can all be friends anyway.

As I read the quote from JP II, I don't see how it bolsters your argument. I believe he is talking about needs that do not require economic activity, i.e. Love, Grace, Compassion, Charity, Justice, Wisdom, and specifically noted, Human Dignity. The needs he recognizes free market economics to be more adept at solving than any other system are economic needs as evidenced by calling those needs "Solvent", i.e. requiring funds. These would include food, shelter, transportation, etc.

He goes on to say that it is the duty of truth and justice to educate those in need so that they can enter the free market and compete to provide themselves those solvent needs.

I'm sorry to say it, but John Paul's words directly contradict the aims you want to use them for.

God Bless you my friend.
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written by Daniel Nichols, February 19, 2014
First, Hen, it is not government run health care, it is insurance company run health care, very poorly coordinated by the feds. True government run health care exists in every historically Catholic European nation, not only unopposed by the bishops but inspired by Catholic social teaching, which teaches that health care is a human right.
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written by Guest, February 19, 2014
Daniel,

Nothing you quoted contradicts the article; you are dissembling.
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written by grump, February 19, 2014
Why is it that when JPII spoke, his words were always free of ambiguity while Francis' pronouncements must always been parsed and explained repeatedly? There is something to be said for plain speaking. Francis seems to want to please everyone, which as Lincoln wisely knew, is impossible.

Wasn't there Someone who once said, "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."
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written by anthony mixan, February 19, 2014
Deacon Ed 'wins' the day hands down.
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written by Maggie Louise, February 19, 2014
Mr. Grump,

Reading through today's article and comments, the thought kept running through my mind, "Why is it that when Pope Benedict spoke everybody understood what he said, whereas when Pope Francis speaks "his pronouncements must always be parsed and explained repeatedly." Why can't his yes be yes and his no be no? Someone mentioned the culture of World War II and the great cultural transformation that took place following the war. (I think that both you and I knew that culture and understand experientially what it was all about--and the slow corruption of the culture, especially of the language. Words no longer have any meaning, and I wonder if that is what lies behind the Holy Father's inability to say precisely what he means, and it takes an army to parse his words to find out what he was really trying to say. I was amused (and pleased) to see that our thoughts ran so closely parallel.
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written by diaperman, February 19, 2014
Sorry but I'm not buying it, Mr. Marlin. It is a familiar tactic to dodge things that Francis says that you disagree with by selectively quoting his predecessors who say things with which you do agree.

You give the game away here with this:

As an investment banker for thirty-seven years and an entrepreneur who founded a successful business, I fully agree. So why all the fuss?

The fuss is that the entire financial industry in the US bears very little connection anymore to its stated purpose of allocating capital to its best uses. What big finance does--in aggregate-- is skim off the wealth produced by the rest of the country...and this is in the best of times.

Don't get me started on the mortgage backed securities which Wall Street geniuses-having run out of speculative bubbles in the stock market in the late 90's decided to use portfolio theory to make money lending money to people with no income. This while LBO firms were levering up and stripping bare the once productive assets of industrial companies that, you know, actually produced things, leaving behind blight and unemployment in their wake.

Yes, we need a financial sector...but I think the country as a whole would be better off with one about 1/4 the size of what we have now.

Have you noticed Mr. Marlin that carried interest loopholes that allow you to book earned income as capital gains, and thus pay lower effective rates than forklift drivers and teachers--has put more money in your and your buddies' pockets than ever but have not "trickled down" to others who don't work in finance. And I'm quite sure that Pope Francis would not approve of the conduct of Wall Street in general in the past decades.

But I don't expect that you will understand any of this, Mr. Marlin. You are an apologist for your own plutocratic self-interest. It is very hard for a man to see something when his salary depends on him not seeing it.
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written by Dave, February 19, 2014
Every Catholic European nation is in serious trouble: fatally declining birth-rates, well below replacement levels, and the Mediterranean economies are in serious, serious trouble. La vita dolce comes at a heavy price. Guest is right about the dissembling; when was the last time we heard a major politician say that it isn't Obamacare but rather insurance-company run health care. Dan, you happen to be right: it is Government-mandated, insurance-company-run health insurance. That's what makes it scary. It's the collusion between Government and Big Business that is really alarming. What one notices upon review of the end-notes of Evangelii Gaudium is the heavy emphasis on Conciliar and post-Conciliar documents, with the occasional reference to earlier Magisterium and Tradition. There does seem to be a real rupture with this Papacy, despite all the attempts to say it isn't so. We are doubtless in unchartered waters.
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written by diaperman, February 19, 2014
confiscatory wages, Deacon? We are a very long way in America from waitresses at Waffle house and cashiers at Walmart making confiscatory wages! What planer have you been living on?

Have you tried to raise two kids as a single Mom making $800 a month take home? Unlike our beloved author who offers us more self-serving platitudes around his 4-5 figure paydays, there are many people in America who are struggling.

Open your eyes, Sir. If Catholics like you only offer abstractions and ideological pap for people struggling, what good are you?
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written by diaperman, February 19, 2014
One more point...

Marlin writes

For instance, when the Pope uses the word “inequality,” leftists interpret it to mean he is for redistribution of income and not equality of opportunity.

Well, Mr. Marlin I doubt I would qualify as much of a leftist. But please explain how a statement like

"Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality"

please explain how his stated concern for "better distribution of income" is parlayed by you into some bromide about "equality of opportunity" which implies no burden of obligation of rich people to do anything beyond making the most money that they can. Put differently, if one does not favor higher taxes for the rich and lower taxes, higher wages, and more generous income supports for the poor (which you don't)--what measures specifically do you support as a Catholic "defending Magisterial teachings" to ensure a "better distribution of income." Hint: lower taxes on hedge fund managers is not going to get us there.

You pretend to strike a neutral pose here, but you really are a member of the right ('the streetcorner conservative" )completely dodging many of the central issues.
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written by Maggie Louise, February 19, 2014
If it weren't obvious, I was suggesting that Benedict XVI was the last Pope who remembers wartime and prewar culture, and that Pope Francis has been influenced more but the postwar culture with its incipient chaos.
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written by Karl M, February 19, 2014
@diaperman

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Attaboy!
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written by Amadan, February 20, 2014
Well Mr. Langone, I no longer support HOME DEPOT because it promotes the sodomite agenda.

Marlin isn't the first to say that this pope is just continuing the tradition of his predecessors.

But, it's a bit of a stretch. The Holy Father refuses to cite any Church documents prior to the mid Nineteen Sixties.
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written by Sam Schmitt, February 20, 2014
Diaperman,

If I understand your argument correctly, the only way to ensure a better distribution of income and follow Church teaching in this area is the way in which it has been attempted in the past 50 years or so - which, by any measure, has been a colossal failure.

The US spends close to $1 trillion on aid to the poor every year - that's over $20,000 for every poor man, woman and child in the country. The top 20% pay over 90% of the income taxes; the bottom 20% pay zero (in fact, they receive net income from the government). Not to mention the huge deficits that we've put on future generations to sort out.

You know what they say about insanity - doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? Maybe - just maybe - a "better distribution of income" cannot come about by means of "higher taxes for the rich and lower taxes . . . and more generous income supports for the poor"?

Notice that I left out "higher wages" - about which I think it's safe to say that Mr. Marlin and people like him know more about than most government bureaucrats.
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written by Chris in Maryland, February 20, 2014
Daniel:

Re: "True government run health care exists in every historically Catholic European nation, not only unopposed by the bishops but inspired by Catholic social teaching, which teaches that health care is a human right."

The Church in every historically Catholic European nation is completely collapsed, and close on its heels, every historically Catholic European nation is collapsing. Likewise, just a generation or two behind Europe - the Church in the USA is rapidly collapsing, and the USA as a nation is on the verge of collapse.

Because of the near extinction of Catholicism in Europe, what "Bishops in Europe" do or think is not persuasive regarding Catholicism. Decay, dissent, schism and heresy does define itself, but it doesn't "define" or model what it means to be Catholic. If anything - it might seem to do the opposite.

It seems to me that the whole discussion of "politics" and "policy" is distorted when trying to view reality through the lens of the "Christian-Democratic" prism (i.e., the way the USCCB looks at the world). The distortion comes from the pervasive loss of belief in Christ and Christianity on the Christian side of the prism, and the over-compensating shift of belief toward the "inherent goodness of the state," which begins bordering on idolatry (both left and right can be seen worshiping here - different golden calfs...yes).

The state doesn't care about people or their health. The sign of this is the primacy of taxation before everything.
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written by Hen, February 21, 2014
Well written Chris, Mr Marlin, is there still time for us to learn how to pray??
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written by Thomas J. Hennigan, February 22, 2014
Maybe the Cardinal should invest in a store of copies of The Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching, which is an excellent synthesis of the Church's Socal teaching and give a copy to each of those who are thinking of withdrawing their donations. It is an official book put out by the Holy See, just like the Catechsm of the Catholic Church is the official book which sumarized all the teachings of the Church, this one does it for the Social Teaching. They might be surprised at what the Church teaches on such issues.

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