Pope Francis’ Tragic Vision of Capitalism

Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation, levied charges against free market capitalism, denying that “economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world” and concluding that “this opinion … has never been confirmed by the facts.” He went on to label unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny.” Let’s look at the pope’s tragic vision.

By Edgar Jiménez from Porto, Portugal (Papa rock star) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

First, I acknowledge that capitalism fails miserably when compared with heaven or a utopia. Any earthly system is going to come up short in such a comparison. However, mankind must make choices among alternative economic systems that actually exist on earth. For the common man, capitalism is superior to any system yet devised to deal with his everyday needs and desires.

Capitalism is relatively new in human history. Prior to capitalism, the way people amassed great wealth was by looting, plundering and enslaving their fellow man. With the rise of capitalism, it became possible to amass great wealth by serving and pleasing your fellow man. Capitalists seek to discover what people want and produce and market it as efficiently as possible as a means to profit. A couple of examples would be J.D. Rockefeller, whose successful marketing drove kerosene prices down from 58 cents a gallon in 1865 to 7 cents in 1900. Henry Ford became rich by producing cars for the common man. Both Ford’s and Rockefeller’s personal benefits pale in comparison with that received by the common man by having cheaper kerosene and cheaper transportation. There are literally thousands of examples of how mankind’s life has been made better by those in the pursuit of profits. Here’s my question to you: Are people who, by their actions, created unprecedented convenience, longer life expectancy and a more pleasant life for the ordinary person — and became wealthy in the process — deserving of all the scorn and ridicule heaped upon them by intellectuals, politicians and now the pope?

Let’s examine the role of profits but first put it in perspective in terms of magnitude. Between 1960 and 2012, after-tax corporate profit averaged a bit over 6 percent of the gross domestic product, while wages averaged 47 percent of the GDP. Far more important than simple statistics about the magnitude of profits is its role in guiding resources to their highest-valued uses and satisfying people. Try polling people with a few questions. Ask them what services they are more satisfied with and what they are less satisfied with. On the “more satisfied” list would be profit-making enterprises, such as supermarkets, theaters, clothing stores and computer stores. They’d find less satisfaction with services provided by nonprofit government organizations, such as public schools, post offices and departments of motor vehicles.

Profits force entrepreneurs to find ways to please people in the most efficient ways or go out of business. Of course, they can mess up and stay in business if they can get government to bail them out or give them protection against competition. Nonprofits have an easier time of it. Public schools, for example, continue to operate whether they do a good job or not and whether they please parents or not. That’s because politicians provide their compensation through coercive property taxes. I’m sure that we’d be less satisfied with supermarkets if they, too, had the power to take our money through taxes, as opposed to being forced to find ways to get us to voluntarily give them our earnings.

Arthur C. Brooks, president at the American Enterprise Institute and author of “Who Really Cares,” shows that Americans are the most generous people on the face of the earth. In fact, if you look for generosity around the world, you find virtually all of it in countries that are closer to the free market end of the economic spectrum than they are to the socialist or communist end. Seeing as Pope Francis sees charity as a key part of godliness, he ought to stop demonizing capitalism.

  • writeby

    “First, I acknowledge that capitalism fails miserably when compared with heaven or a utopia.”

    And there’s goes whatever argument that follows. The Pope at least is consistent in his supernaturalism (which is why conservatives always lose debates such as this; they are hypocritical, preaching the selflessness of Jesus as virtue & so on, all the while trying to defend a system based on selfishness).

    Capitalism is a system based on the ethics of rational egoism. Christianity–and by extension, Catholicism–is based on the morality of self-sacrifice (i.e., self-destruction). The Pontiff is consistent with his Augustinian roots.

    Fact 1: I was educated in Catholic school for approximately 10-years (1958-68). Here’s a comment from my 8th grade Dominican nun teacher: “The Church has no problem with communism. What the Church objects to–and is vehemently against–is *atheistic* communism.”

    Fact 2: , “He that loveth his life shall lose it and he that hateth his life in this world shall keepeth it unto life eternal.”

    The way to get men to hate life is to teach men a morality that demands they sacrifice earthly values.

    Rational egoism and the selfish sociopolitical system of capitalism and its self-interested politics of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the mortal enemy of the Catholic Church–and of Christianity (& Islam).

    The Pope knows this; it’s time those who love liberty learn it.

    “I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth.”

    “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”

    –Thomas Jefferson (deist)

    The proper response to Benedict–or at least one close to it?

    “Netanyahu presented the pontiff with a book about the Spanish inquisition”

    PS. See:
    http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=reg_ar_oflivingdeath

    Of Living Death
    By Ayn Rand (1968)

    How religion seeks to undercut man’s self-esteem by inculcating guilt for enjoying sex—and for daring to think that his own happiness is the purpose of his life.

    And: http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/philosophy/ph0014.htm

    Catholic Education Resource Center

    Ayn Rand: Architect of the culture of death
    DONALD DEMARCO

    PPS. See as well:
    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_26031967_populorum_en.html

    POPULORUM PROGRESSIO

    ENCYCLICAL OF POPE PAUL VI
    ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF PEOPLES

    MARCH 26, 1967

    Here is Benedict explaining the importance of the earlier work:

    “In 1967, when he issued the encyclical Populorum progressio, my venerable predecessor Pope Paul VI illuminated the great theme of the development of peoples with the splendour of truth and the gentle light of Christ’s charity.

    “At a distance of over forty years from the Encyclical’s publication, I intend to pay tribute and to honour the memory of the great Pope Paul VI, revisiting his teachings on integral human development and taking my place within the path that they marked out, so as to apply them to the present moment.”

    And Ayn Rand’s response, in full: http://www.facebook.com/notes/christopher-budden/requiem-for-man-chapter-in-full-ayn-rand-takes-on-the-catholic-churchs-populorum/10151115421291794

    “Requiem for Man” By Ayn Rand (excerpt)

    [...]

    “Since the encyclical is concerned with history and with fundamental political principles, yet does not discuss or condemn any social system other than capitalism, one must conclude that all other systems are compatible with the encyclical’s political philosophy. This is supported by the fact that capitalism is condemned, not for some lesser characteristics, but for its essentials, which are not the base of any other system: the profit motive, competition, and private ownership of the means of production.

    “By what moral standard does the encyclical judge a social system? Its most specific accusation directed at capitalism reads as follows: “The desire for necessities is legitimate, and work undertaken to obtain them is a duty: ‘If any man will not work, neither let him eat.’ But acquiring of temporal goods can lead to greed, to the insatiable desire for more, and can make increased power a tempting objective. Individuals, families and nations can be overcome by avarice, be they poor or rich, and all can fall victim to a stifling materialism’ (18).”

  • Steven Smith

    Your closing comment that only atheists are true capitalists is ridiculous. I thought Williams arguments in this article are as “genuine opposition” as you can get. Communism was eventually discredited by Europe being divided after the second world war. This was a result of a series of miracles. Hitler himself sensed that his life was being miraculously protected – at least for a while. The result was also the division of Germany. All thanks to Objectivists non existent God. And lets lets not forget America being dragged into the war by the inspired blunder of Japan attacking Peal Habor – with no aircraft carriers present. The list goes on and on.

  • writeby

    Hitler and the Nazis were *not* atheists. They believed in the Christian God (which in turn is a product of the pagan philosopher, Plato):

    “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before in the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. …”
    -Adolf Hitler, Munich, 12 April 1922

    “We believe that Almighty God has sent us Adolf Hitler so that he may rid Germany of the hypocrites and Pharisees.” – Robert Ley, Nazi politician

    Many more examples abound.

    Moreover, atheism simply means *the _absence_ of belief in a deity.* It doesn’t even mean a lack of belief in the supernatural–_secular_ supernaturalists, that is, Platonists, abound today.

    What constitutes a supernaturalist, secular or mystic? A primacy of consciousness metaphysics–the belief that consciousness creates reality; an emotionalist epistemology–belief in intuition, revelation, faith, etc., rather than in reason; and an ethics of self-sacrifice.

    Plato gives us the supernatural realm of Forms and a politics requiring self-sacrifice. The irrationalism comes later, in the form of Neo-Platonic Christianity, the Holy Roman Empire, Divine Right of Kings, the Inquisition, as well as German Idealism, which led to the rise of both Nazism & atheistic Marxist Communism.

    Plato’s politics:
    “The best ordered state will be one in which the largest number of persons … most nearly resembles a single person. The first and highest form of the State … is a condition in which the private and the individual is altogether banished from life, and things which are by nature private, such as eyes and ears and hands, have become common, and in some way see and hear and act in common, and all men express praise and blame and feel joy and sorrow on the same occasion, and whatever laws there are unite the city to the utmost …” (Plato’s _Republic_ & _Laws_ c. 370 BCE)

    The Nazi result:

    “It is thus necessary that the individual should finally come to realize that his own ego is of no importance in comparison with the existence of his nation; that the position of the individual ego is conditioned solely by the interests of the nation as a whole … that above all the unity of a nation’s spirit and will are worth far more than the freedom of the spirit and will of an individual….”

    “This state of mind, which subordinates the interests of the ego to the conservation of the community, is really the first premise for every truly human culture…. The basic attitude from which such activity arises, we call-to distinguish it from egoism and selfishness-idealism. By this we understand only the individual’s capacity to make sacrifices for the community, for his fellow men” (Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Buckeburg, Germany, Oct. 7, 1933, explaining the moral philosophy of Nazism).

  • writeby

    PS. http://www.buzzfeed.com/mckaycoppins/paul-ryan-finds-god

    “Until recently, Paul Ryan would have seemed like an improbable pick to
    lead the restoration of compassionate conservatism with a heartfelt
    mission to the poor. Of all the caricatures he has inspired — from
    heroic budget warrior to black-hearted Scrooge — “champion of the poor”
    has never been among them. And yet, Ryan has spent the past year quietly
    touring impoverished communities across the country with Woodson, while
    his staff digs through center-right think tank papers in search of
    conservative policy proposals aimed at aiding the poor. Next spring,
    Ryan plans to introduce a new battle plan for the war on poverty — one
    he hopes will launch a renewed national debate on the issue.”

    Improbable only if you don’t think in principles.

  • Lloyd Burgett

    it sounds to me like mr williams is saying its all or nothing in a succesful free market?is there room for laws or regulations to help curb mans basic greed?or must we let capitalism do what capital wants?i honestly would like to know.

  • writeby

    If you truly want to know, please see: http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/capitalism.html

    Capitalism is not anarchy, no matter what the Libertarian anachro-capitalists spout.

    As an aside, I would ask you to question the idea that Man’s “basic nature” is evil. Aside from the obvious source (Christianity’s concept of Original Sin. i.e., Man’s fallen nature; etc.), please see Plato’s mind-body dichotomy, which is the source of that religious idea. (Note: Plato’s idea also became the foundation for Descartes’ Dualism and, still later, for Freud’s concept of the id, ego and super ego.)

    In modern day, one can observe Plato’s idea beneath such artificial conflicts as: reason vs. emotion; art vs. entertainment; love vs. sex; and, perhaps, the most significant one of all: the moral vs. the practical.

  • Dennis Richardson

    Writeby Have you considered the guidance in Leviticus regarding the dealing with incurred debt? Capitalism has one severe flaw, it incurs debt. The Hebrew Shmettah and Joval cancels debt before foreclosure upon property can happen. That contracts should be written with terms requiring just that. Were the two sons of King Josiah morally correct for opposing Jeremiah? God told the prophet to tell the sons of Josiah to release indentured servants and not make them permanent slaves. The economy’s success requires that they become and remain slaves. For the good of the economy, slavery must be allowed, the rich men told the two sons of King Josiah. What of the 50 year of Jubilee? Must economic success allow bankers to make the majority of the world debtors, who can never get out from underneath their debt? A world wide debt cancelling Jubilee is coming as a brief interlude between the Old and New World Orders. Do not throw out capitalism, despite its one flaw it works.