Pope Francis: Godly Man, Bad Economist

Pope Francis in his humble lifestyle and outspoken heartfelt concern for the poor and downtrodden of the world has conveyed an inspiring pastoral ministry engaging not only the 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide but Christians more broadly and all who value humanity and human dignity.  Unfortunately, in mistakenly adopting the secular progressive agenda of wealth redistribution and reduction of fossil fuel CO2 production, Pope Francis has embraced a misguided economic ideology that most harms those for whom he most cares – the poor and powerless.

The pope laments, “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless….masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.” He exhorts instead for a “cooperative economy”.  In the abstract, this rhetoric strikes a good and noble chord; yet by what political mechanism and policies does he envision promoting “economic cooperation” that would engender human flourishing, raising up the excluded and marginalized?

Regrettably, the Pope too has fallen for the widely held misconception that confuses capitalism with state regulated or crony capitalism.  True capitalism (free markets) is the economic expression of individual freedom.  There can be no individual freedom without economic freedom, without the individual having the right to the fruits of their labors.  A person who allegedly has a right to his own person and a right to his own action but not a right to the production of his person and actions is not free but a slave.

Competition in the market place is a competition to provide value.  It is a competition that continuously provides more for less, thereby enriching all.  It is competition that in the aggregate is the highest form of a cooperative economy – all arising from the freedom of the individual.

What is the Pope’s alternative to such economic freedom? He does not directly address, or perhaps he simply hasn’t thought through the implementation of his benevolent intentions, but controlling the economy to achieve his vision of wealth redistribution and lower CO2 output can only be imposed by subordinating individual freedom to the dictums of the state, or more correctly, to the persons who control the state. The purest form of such governments were the communist regimes of the 20th century who annihilated an estimated 174,000,000 persons in the name of equality and fairness for the masses.  While modern welfare states aren’t guilty of such atrocities, too often economic regulation and control implemented to enforce social justice has promoted collusion between those who control the apparatus of the government and the rich and powerful.  Economic regulation allows the government and special interest elites to enrich themselves while increasing costs and limiting opportunities for the politically unconnected, particularly the poor who, deprived of economic prospects, are forced into dependency.

Human flourishing depends on freedom or, more particularly, prosperity and wellbeing depend on economic freedom. Pope Francis, like too many others, has failed to appreciate that economic growth driven by market competition has liberated much of humanity from impoverishment. In just the last 20 years, economic freedom has lifted billions of persons out of poverty. A 2013 report of the World Bank has quantified the magnitude of this deliverance.  With introduction of economic freedoms including protections of private property and decreasing barriers to business formation and trade, the percentage of persons in China living on less than $1.25 a day fell from 84% in 1981 to 6% by 2011.  In India, that measure fell from 66% in 1979 to 24% in 2011.  After implementing similar reforms the poverty rate in Viet Nam fell from 64% in 1993 to 17% by 2008.  Economic freedom and the ensuing economic growth is the greatest and truly the only anti-poverty program humanity has known.

Human flourishing also depends on access to cheap and reliable energy.  Such energy cannot be provided by solar or wind; only by fossil fuels.  A lengthier  explanation of the flawed so-called science underlying the climate change scare will have to wait for another time but a few points for now.  Computer modeling by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change failed to statistically differentiate whether the 6/10ths of 1 degree of warming observed between 1980 and 2000 was due to fossil fuel or a natural trend.  Of relevance, a similar warming trend occurred between 1900 and 1940, a time prior to significant fossil fuel usage.  This same modeling predicted significant warming for the last 15 years, yet no warming occurred. Contrary to the scientific method of putting forth a hypothesis, testing it empirically, and assessing whether or not the data supports the hypothesis, global warming pseudo scientists adjusted the model to accommodate the empiric data, rather than rejecting or at least reconsidering their hypothesis; and global warming was renamed climate change.

Inexpensive, reliable, and abundant energy provided by fossil fuels has been the principle cause of human liberation in the 20th century.  This energy fueled the industrial revolution and the consequent economic growth and poverty alleviation.  This energy fueled the explosion in food production confounding the doomsayers who predicted population growth would result in mass starvation.  This energy purifies water, promotes hygiene, refrigerates and cooks foods, which together primarily account for modern civilization’s previously unimaginable healthfulness and longevity.

The poor in undeveloped countries have little or no access to safe water.  Most cook over fires fueled by sticks and dung, subjecting their lungs to noxious smoke and airborne parasitic diseases.  To deny the poor in underdeveloped countries access to cheap, reliable, and abundant fossil fuel energy is to condemn them to a mean, sickly, and short life.

A final thought: The Pope rightly decries modern society’s materialism and self-centeredness but fails to recognize that they are not products of freedom but of freedom no longer constrained by virtue – a consequence of “enlightened” secular morality that denies the truth of objective right and wrong and of good and evil. Now that would be a pastoral message the world could use.

Please join the campaign for liberty.  Our future freedom and prosperity depend on it.

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