Is the Pope Anti-Capitalist?

Much is being made of the Pope’s speech to the UN.  Many sources such as the Huffington Post and MSNBC are saying that the Pope is “lashing out against the injustices of capitalism” (Huffington Post).  A more careful reading of his words, however, shows that he is suggesting nothing of the kind.  The full text, straight from the Vatican, can be found here:

Nowhere in this speech is there a mention of capitalism, or exploitation of the poor by capitalists, as articles like that in the Huffington Post suggest.  Surely the Pontiff would have spoken about the evils of capitalism if that is what he meant.  He did not.  He instead spoke of the poor being left behind by economic systems and of individuals giving back personally from their wealth and talents.  Note that he never calls for the redistribution of wealth by the State. The quote getting the most attention instead deals with the distribution of “economic benefits”:

“A contribution to this equitable development will also be made both by international activity aimed at the integral human development of all the world’s peoples and by the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the State, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society.”

He is saying that all should be given access to the ability to participate in the economy and that the state should ensure that this is so.  Note also the word “legitimate” when referring to redistribution of economic benefits.  Is it legitimate and just for the State to take wealth that is honestly earned and freely exchanged (which is what is done when the tax power of the state is used to redistribute wealth as progressives demand)?  Note that in taxing people do not give freely – they contribute under threat of arrest.  If people are taxed to pay for the portion of the goods and services they use, that is one thing.  If they are taxed to give the money to someone else who did not earn it and they did not want to give the money, that is stealing.  Surely the Pope isn’t advocating stealing, since that is directly against one of the Commandments.

Another quote from the Pope’s speech shows that he is really targeting societies structured so as to exclude individuals from the ability to participate in the economy and better themselves:

“Specifically, this involves challenging all forms of injustice and resisting the ‘economy of exclusion’, the ‘throwaway culture’ and the ‘culture of death’ which nowadays sadly risk becoming passively accepted.”

Let’s now look at the two economic systems of socialism and capitalism as they currently exist in the world and see which better fits with the Pope’s message.

In societies where the State has a great deal of control over the economy, which are authoritarian – either a monarchy or a country with a socialist economy – we find the greatest instances of wealth disparity.  In India, one’s station in life is directly dictated by one’s birth.  This is cultural, but also held in force by the Government of India.  If you are born into the right family, you can be a business owner and make great wealth.  If you are born into the family of the Untouchables, however, your only choice is to clean out dry latrines for minimal wages.  This is a system by which people are being left behind.

In China those with connections to the State and who are favorites of the Party can become millionaires.  Those who do not are relegated to extremely low wage jobs or are perhaps unable to get a regular job at all.  This is an economy where there are the wealthy and those who are left behind.  This is also the kind of economy that is prevalent in many South American countries where the pope was raised.  Sometimes it is a communist or socialist (or progressive) party in charge.  Other times it is a dictator.  Either way, the leader use their control over the economy to decide who gets rich and who stays poor.

Where also do we see individuals treated as “throw aways.”  In America, there are a growing number of able-bodied individuals who spend their entire lives on government support due to progressive welfare programs that allow them to have a meager living without needing to perform any kind of useful work.   They receive funds for their food, clothing, and shelter, such that they need to do nothing for themselves or do anything to contribute to society.  Essentially these individuals have been thrown away since their contributions are not expected and they never need to do anything for anyone else.  In fact, while the system was probably not designed to do so, they are actually discouraged from contributing since if they make a small income their welfare subsidies are taken away and they end up making less than they were on welfare.

Fair and just capitalism (as opposed to crony capitalism where the power of government is used to tilt the system unfairly in the favor of those with political connections) is the best system yet developed to meet the Pope’s vision.  In a system where individuals are paid in direct relation to their contribution to others, regardless of where they began in life, no one is left behind except by their own choice.  If those who choose not to contribute are not provided for by the State, there is great incentive to choose to contribute.  There are no throw away people since people are expected to use their gifts and abilities to benefit others by providing goods and services for which others need and are willing to exchange labor.  People who receive benefits in direct proportion to their contributions are also encouraged to better themselves and produce more for the betterment of society.

This promotion of productivity also results in the production of excess wealth – wealth beyond what is needed to sustain one’s self and family.  This makes it a lot easier for a society to take care of its poor through individual contributions.

In his speech the Pope cites the Gospel of Luke (19:1-10):

“It is the encounter between Jesus Christ and the rich tax collector Zacchaeus, as a result of which Zacchaeus made a radical decision of sharing and justice, because his conscience had been awakened by the gaze of Jesus.”

This is the story of a government official who had been using his position to oppress others but then sees the error of his ways.  This type of oppression and corruption increases in countries where there are Socialist policies since the large amount of money controlled by government officials leads to corruption.  The Pope is not talking about the government going out and confiscating honestly earned wealth for redistribution.  He is talking about returning dishonestly earned wealth, which is often wealth taken by government officials using their power improperly.

To realize the Pope’s vision, we should not become more socialist as progressives suggest.  We should do the opposite, reducing corruption and oppression by limiting the taking of money through taxes to the minimum needed to provide the services that are needed by all in a society and which private entities cannot or will not provide.  This will eliminate the throw-away culture and motivate all to use their gifts to benefit others by applying those gifts to useful production.  We must also give more personally and not think that those who cannot support themselves should be taken care of by the State using other people’s money.

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Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning advice, it gives information on a specific investment strategy and picking stocks. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing

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