Pope Francis

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    Dr Woods (or whoever wants to jump in),
    I am dying to hear your thoughts on pope Francis’s comments on capitalism. I just had a good debate on this with my wife who is a devout catholic. I know you as well. Can you defend his perspective at all?


    Hello jthomp76,

    Here are a couple of thoughts.

    1. The Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation is a document written to provide principles of promoting the Joy of the Gospel. It is not intended to endorse any specific public policies regarding economics. In paragraphs 53-60 of the document, to which most of the comments come from that you are hearing, the Pope expresses concerns that the poor and disadvantaged become excluded. In these paragraphs, some general criticism of the “current markets as the sole solution” mentality is criticized, but one can hardly interpret this as an overall distaste for the market economy. In fact, it seems more logical and contextual that the Pope is criticizing the mentality that the rich and the faithful don’t need to step in, because the market by itself can handle everything. Such indifference would be in blatant contradiction to a Catholic’s obligation toward his fellow man.

    2. If the Pope did have specific policy in mind, such as raising the minimum wage of all workers to $15, this is judgment based on economic principles wherein the Pope is not purported to have special insight or expertise. Dr. Woods brings this point out in many articles and explains how economic science is a value-neutral enterprise and the Church possesses no special ability to rule on economic law. (See Dr. Woods article here: http://archive.lewrockwell.com/woods/woods25.html)

    3. Consider any argument made by a Churchman of the form: “If X is implemented, then Y will happen. Catholics are obliged to support Y. Therefore, Catholics are obliged to endorse X.” Any Catholic can, in good conscience, deny the conclusion by denying the statement that “X implies Y”. Notice, he is not dissenting from moral teaching to deny “X implies Y” since that statement is essentially value-neutral.

    Just some thoughts based on what I have read in the past form Dr. Woods.

    John D.


    Thanks john, good stuff. When he urges politicians to guarantee all citizens “dignified work, education and health care.” … And says that unfettered capitalism is tyrannical I have to take issue. He has a big pulpit and a lot of influence. Statements like this don’t help the cause of freedom.



    1. I just read a bit more of the exhortation and paragraphs 202-208 are also pertinent with respect to market issues. I admit that several statements of his are difficult to harmonize with a pro-market belief. Nonetheless, it can’t be ignored that the “common good” of which he speaks is better promoted through an unhampered market than any other market. So, a Catholic can heed the Pope’s words regarding the general principles of helping the poor, reaching out to them effectively, and promoting their dignity, while at the same time rejecting the idea that gov’t controlled welfare state and market is the best way to achieve those ends.

    2. For example, take the statement he makes at the beginning of paragraph 203, “The dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies.” A pro-market Catholic (like Dr. Woods) can say Amen to that in one breath, and in the next breath say let’s abolish the minimum wage. The question of WHICH POLICIES are best suited to achieve those ends is not a subject of the Pope’s expertise. Moreover, the more you read you will notice that he avoids making any specific policy recommendations, even in the controversial sentence you quoted, “It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare.”

    3. One needs to be careful in trying to infer what policies the Pope has in mind throughout his general discussion, since his statements often conflate pro-market and anti-market mentalities. For example, paragraph 204 begins like this:

    We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. 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.

    Let’s examine some of the explicit and implicit premises in this remark:
    (1) We can no longer trust the unseen forces of the market (in themselves) to achieve growth in justice.
    (2) Growth in justice requires more than economic growth.
    (3) Growth in justice presupposes economic growth.
    (4) Growth in justice requires things that bring about a better distribution of income.
    (5) Growth in justice requires the creation of sources of employment.
    (6) Growth in justice requires an integral promotion of the poor.
    (7) Growth of justice goes beyond a simple welfare mentality.

    In context, (1) is not as anti-market as it sounds. It is tied to the Pope’s desire for a greater justice throughout society, which includes love for, concern for, and the dignity of all persons. Obviously, impersonal market forces are not sufficient to produce those ends, but that is a trivial criticism of an unhampered market. (2) is not a statement about markets. (3) is where people like Dr. Woods can agree and argue that markets produce the most growth for all. (4) is ambiguous, since it is not clear what the Pope has in mind regarding a “better distribution” of income. If he wants a situation in which everyone’s real wages rise, then we can jump in and argue that the market provides this. (5) is like (3) where pro-market people can jump in and argue that markets provide more employment and better employment. (6) might appear to support a welfare mentality but in the context of (7) it is clear that is not the case.

    Overall, a lot of the statements regarding markets are open to interpretation and as the remain detached from policy recommendations they should not weigh down the conscience of any Catholic who believes the unhampered market is the best scenario for all men.

    John D.

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