Reaction to Pope’s remarks on worshipping ‘god of money’

The blogosphere, especially the libertarian quadrant, is mildly aflutter over recent comments the Pope made over money.

Pope Francis made one of his strongest attacks on the global economic system on Sunday, saying it could no longer be based on a “god called money” and urged the unemployed to fight for work.

Francis, at the start of a day-long trip to the Sardinian capital, Cagliari, put aside his prepared text at a meeting with unemployed workers, including miners in hard hats who told him of their situation, and improvised for nearly 20 minutes.

“I find suffering here … It weakens you and robs you of hope,” he said. “Excuse me if I use strong words, but where there is no work there is no dignity.”

He discarded his prepared speech after listening to Francesco Mattana, a 45-year-old married father of three who lost his job with an alternative energy company four years ago.

I want to note three things quickly before I go any further. First, we do not have an English translation of what Pope Francis actually said; we only know his remarks through news reports. Second, anyone who makes improvised remarks is not going to say everything he wants to say in a precise manner. Passion sometimes overwhelms the speaker at the expense of clarity. Finally, when priests of the Keynesian faith have a hard enough time understanding economics, I’m not going to be overly concerned about whether a religious figure, even a Pope, is going to fully understand the nuances of how economics works.

Having said all of this, at the risk of pointing out the obvious, the Pope is the Pope. People pay attention to what he has to say. (However, he did say, refreshingly, in an interview he gave before his recent remarks that the Church is indeed larger than the hierarchy.)

So what to make of what he said? I humbly offer three points.

First, Bionic Mosquito (h/t Robert Wenzel) suggests that Pope Francis should consider focusing on the effects of the “political entreprenuer”:

The root of all evil, the idol above all other idols, is the use of coercive government power over his fellow man …  The term often used to describe such a businessman is “political entrepreneur.”  This is the actor who uses political pull to achieve what he is unable to achieve in the market.  He is a failure at serving customers or he is desirous of a greater return than he is able to achieve in the market, so he turns to government to provide muscle.

Who are these political entrepreneurs?  You know the list: politicians, money-center bankers, defense contractors, health insurers, lobbyists, central bankers, and on and on and on.

The political entrepreneur doesn’t view money as a success indicator of service to customers; he views money as an end in itself.

The problem isn’t big business, the problem is the political entrepreneur; the idol isn’t money, it is central planning serving those who fail at serving customers.

This is what the Pope should attack…humbly offered, of course.

Mr. Mosquito (heh) asserts that money “is necessary in any division-of-labor economy.  It is also a measure of service – the entrepreneur that best serves his customers in the most efficient manner is best rewarded with the money of his customers.  In business, the goal is service and the numerical indicator of providing successful service is money.” (Emphasis added.)

Second, Robert Wenzel highlights a passage from Mises’s Human Action that addresses Francis’s contention that one who solely seeks profit is acting against God:

Theism and Deism of the Age of Enlightenment viewed the regularity of natural phenomena as an emanation of the decrees of Providence. When the philosophers of the Enlightenment discovered that there prevails a regularity of phenomena also in human action and in social evolution, they were prepared to interpret it likewise as evidence of the paternal care of the Creator of the universe. This was the true meaning of the doctrine of the predetermined harmony as expounded by some economists. The social philosophy of paternal despotism laid stress upon the divine mission of kings and autocrats predestined to rule the peoples. The liberals retorted that the operation of an unhampered market, on which the consumer–i.e., every citizen–is sovereign, brings about more satisfactory results than the decrees of anointed rulers. Observe the functioning of the market system, they said, and you will discover in it the finger of God.

Finally, there has been an increasing sense of despair among the shrinking middle class in the Western world, particularly since the 2008 meltdown. The world they thought they understood is slowly withering around them. Pope Francis was talking to people who live within that despair. He may have been imprecise, and he may not fully understand the economic concepts he’s addressing, but at least he’s acknowledging and attempting to address the pain they’re feeling. That’s what religious people do, and that’s what they ought to do.

Francis wonderfully analogized local parishes as “field hospitals” for the soul. So if parishioners are the wounded soldiers, priests and other religious are the field surgeons, doctors and nurses. They can only heal if they have the proper education and equipment. If it’s up to them to treat the wounded, it’s up to us to educate them in a loving and compassionate way how economics really works. That way, everyone wins.

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