“All the pope could say in Havana was, “Service is never ideological, for we don’t serve ideas, we serve people.” The comment was at best a cop-out. If a religious leader and his church don’t serve ideas, they serve nothing…

…Of great concern also is the pope’s repeated anxiety about the value of markets, which are essential to providing that material abundance that sustains modern lives. Part of the pope’s problem may be that Argentina is no place to learn economics. It has been plagued by the enduring example of Juan Perón and his state-managed capitalism as much as by military dictators and left-wing revolutionaries. Its corrupt leaders have nationalized businesses, defaulted on debt, and promoted inflation. Argentinian capitalism is an insult to capitalism……The greatest common good, however, is not found in social unity but in competition among individuals endowed by their creator with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Pope Francis disagrees. As he said in 2013, “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.” The laws of competition, however, have provided better lives for the poor as well as the rich where they are allowed to operate.”, Thomas G. Dolan, “Idealism or Ideology: Pope Francis brings a message that misses the economic point”, Barrons, September 26, 2015

Editorial Commentary

Idealism or Ideology?

Pope Francis brings a message that misses the economic point.

By Thomas G. Donlan

A genuine, benevolent communist is visiting the U.S. this week, and so is the pro forma communist who is president of China. Most Americans are welcoming Pope Francis without reservation, and greeting President Xi Jinping warily.

But the capitalism and wealth-seeking commenced by the recent string of rulers of China have done more for individual freedom and prosperity than the communal charity managed by the recent string of rulers of the Catholic Church. Hundreds of millions of Chinese are better fed, better clothed, and better housed than hundreds of millions of third-world Catholics.

A modest, incomplete embrace of capitalism changed life for the Chinese in less than 50 years, but Pope Francis and his church remain wary of individualism. He admonished the U.S. Congress, all Americans, and the world last Thursday, “Live as one, to build as one the greatest common good.”

The greatest common good, however, is not found in social unity but in competition among individuals endowed by their creator with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Pope Francis disagrees. As he said in 2013, “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.”

The laws of competition, however, have provided better lives for the poor as well as the rich where they are allowed to operate.

Papal Priorities

In Cuba, where the laws of competition do not operate and where the people are poor and oppressed, the pope made a political misstep with economic dimensions. He called on the Castro government to liberalize conditions for the Catholic Church, not for all Cubans. He said the church should have “freedom, the means, and the space needed” to provide charitable service, but he skirted the subject of individual freedom for Cubans.

Fidel Castro ruled Cuba for 52 years and was succeeded by brother Raúl Castro in 2011. That’s 57 years without a national election, 57 years of rule by one party and one family that brooks no dissent.

Even while the pope was in Havana, political police detained dissidents to keep them away from the pope’s ceremonial occasions, including a meeting with Fidel and Raúl Castro. And the pope said nothing against this tyranny.

All the pope could say in Havana was, “Service is never ideological, for we don’t serve ideas, we serve people.” The comment was at best a cop-out. If a religious leader and his church don’t serve ideas, they serve nothing. The Castros probably took it as an obeisance to their power over the church.

We should be glad that Pope Francis went to Cuba, just as we should be glad that the pope helped smooth the way for restoration of diplomatic, cultural, and business relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Talking and trading are healthy. But papal and political trips, like diplomatic relations in general, should support good intentions, such as strengthening individual economic and religious freedom in an oppressive country.

Francis did say, “We should never fear our citizens,” but he said it in Washington, not in Havana, where the rulers needed to hear it.

The Ultimate Resource

On another economic issue, the pope’s encyclical call to “care for the earth” is becoming a rallying point for some of the world’s wilder environmentalists, who idolize environmental stewardship as an end in itself, nothing short of a deity.

Said Pope Francis: “This is our sin: Exploiting the earth and not allowing her to give us what she has within her.”

The more we ponder this declaration, the more we wonder if something was lost in translation. Exploiting the earth is necessary for human life. The earth doesn’t give anything except air and water, which, while necessary for life, are not enough to make life civilized. People, with their strength amplified by machinery, dig and plow and plant and chop their way to the riches of the earth, harvesting the fruits of their investments.

Many of earth’s resources are not even directly useful. We have to use crop plants to create food from dirt. We use cattle to concentrate protein from indigestible grass. Human ingenuity, the inexhaustible resource, engineers the earth to make room for billions of people. Without these forms of exploitation most of us wouldn’t be here and the few survivors would live brief lives. Hunting and gathering leaves little time to ponder what we have within ourselves.

Of great concern also is the pope’s repeated anxiety about the value of markets, which are essential to providing that material abundance that sustains modern lives.

Part of the pope’s problem may be that Argentina is no place to learn economics. It has been plagued by the enduring example of Juan Perón and his state-managed capitalism as much as by military dictators and left-wing revolutionaries. Its corrupt leaders have nationalized businesses, defaulted on debt, and promoted inflation. Argentinian capitalism is an insult to capitalism.

Making Slow Progress

In a better way, Chinese communism is a reproof to Marx, Mao, and communism itself.

As the head of the Chinese government, Xi presides over an ideological mess that claims to be unified. Chinese communists profess devotion to Mao Zedong, a mass murderer on a par with Hitler and Stalin, while they slowly tear down the remnants of Maoist-Marxist philosophy.

The Chinese have put stability ahead of political and cultural freedom, but they have allowed startling levels of economic freedom, permitting most of the country’s people to liberate themselves from grinding rural poverty. Millennia of service to the poor delivered by religious charities of every faith have never done so much.

On military and diplomatic fronts, Chinese relations with the U.S. are difficult, as often happens when a rising power bumps into the interests of an established one. But economic relations between the two countries are their greatest source of hope.

Posted on October 1, 2015, in Postings. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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