Taking the pope seriously on economics



Will Pope Francis’s rejection of trickle-down economics challenge voters on election day? When he chided this failed fantasy of wealthy moguls rationalizing their stranglehold, avowed capitalists like Rush Limbaugh had the effrontery to call him a Marxist. Last November in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, the pope criticized the greed of those who feel it is their privilege to soak up resources and control on the never-proved grounds that these will filter down to the masses via factories and jobs. Instead, studies have repeatedly shown that they filter down to the offshore investment accounts of the 1 percent. My question is whether conscientious voters will factor this into their choices of legislators in the congressional elections.

He decried the “naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power” as he took on by name the justification of the unfair commandeering of money that invariably results in harm to the common good. The common good is a value scorned in the ruthless and selfish manipulation of power so approved by those whom, oddly, it hurts most. Those who vote to protect the rich think they thereby will become rich. Instead this canard widens the gap between rich and poor that even Standard and Poor’s chief U.S. economist, Beth Ann Bovino, said creates boom-bust spasms and explains the slowness of the recovery from the Great Recession. This latter resulted from the piracy of hedge-fund honchos who have somehow escaped prosecution.

Pope Francis taught that “in this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market [that is, a market unencumbered by governmental laws and tax policies that bring fairness], will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust” in Wall Street potentates. Do the Washington representatives who so reliably cater to these magnates that they develop spinal curvature, earn the vote of the poor and the shrinking middle-class, whose vote got them to the legislature? Since the 99 percent of the electorate supplies far more votes than do the elite, how else do we explain the electoral power of these eminently unrepresentative House and Senate politicians?

We Americans admit that we suffer from economic amnesia and from instant gratification mania. We see the stock market reaching all-time highs but forget the carnage caused by the greed of investment buccaneers loath to have government limit the bundling of bad mortgages with good. We choose politicians indebted to mega-interests promising us short-term gains if we can overlook long-term loss. We dismiss as naïve an economy according to the church’s social teachings for the last century, which call for an economy in service of all, not just of the rich. In our naiveté we adulate the wealthy and urge our children to copy them, oblivious to the advantage many of them enjoy: they were born American, white, in an employed family enjoying a home and some resources, things many others do not have at birth. As the former Texas governor said of such, he was born on third base and thought he hit a triple.

But we Americans do not admit that our voting should be guided by such teachings about the economy. In fact we presume that popes and bishops should confine themselves to more traditionally moral issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, teen pregnancy and pornography. How many of us line up with Limbaugh when Pope Francis calls to our attention the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, not realizing that this in itself is convincing evidence of systematic unfairness to those without financial and therefore political muscle? Keeping people down with bogus arguments like trickle-down economics or like raising the minimum wage will force employers to fire workers — another canard disproven by studies — is as immoral as those issues against the virtue of chastity.

Voting has become the equivalent among our comedians of jury duty. We routinely dodge it. National holidays meant to celebrate that we are a democracy, i.e., a kind of government in which the people rule, have devolved into opportunities for mall sales. What would happen if we took to heart the obviously non-partisan teachings of our church’s social doctrine and voted accordingly? With the prosperity that even economists agree would follow, we might wonder why it took us so long.

Since these things are so, the Second Amendment must be repealed.