Is Pope Francis Just Plain Wrong?

This article from The Atlantic by Marian Tupy claims that Pope Francis is a nice guy, but that his views on the terrible state of the world are just plain wrong.

Tupy claims that poverty, war, murder, disease and violence are all falling dramatically. He goes on to point out that governments already re-distribute a huge amount of the wealth through taxation and that poverty is falling most dramatically in those economies that have abandoned big government collectivist economies for regulated free market economies.

Paradoxically, the shrinking of the global inequality gap was only possible after India and China abandoned their attempts to create equality through central planning. By allowing people to keep more of the money they earned, the Chinese and Indian governments incentivized people to create more wealth. Allowing inequality to increase at home, in other words, diminished inequality globally. And global inequality, surely, is the statistic that should most concern the leader of a global religion.

On wealth distribution Tupy argues

Just how free the free market really is today is debatable. The United States is perceived as the paragon of free-market capitalism. And yet over the last two decades, according to Wayne Crews of the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, Washington has issued 81,883 regulations—or nine per day. Maybe the marketplace should be regulated less, and maybe it should be regulated more. But unbridled it is not.

Moreover, the government redistributes some 40 percent of all wealth produced in America—up from 7 percent a century ago. Much of that wealth comes from the rich and pays for everything from defense and roads to healthcare and education, which are enjoyed by Americans from all income groups.The top 1 percent of income earners  earned 19 percent of all income in 2010 and paidmore than 38 percent of all income taxes. The top 10 percent paid more than 70 percent of all income taxes. Maybe the rich should contribute more, and maybe they should contribute less. But contribute they do—well in excess of the biblical tithe.

Okay, the article is loaded with statistics and nothing is more misleading and open to manipulation than statistics. It would also be good to see the charts and graphs and hear the numbers from the perspective showing how awful the poverty, inequality, violence, war and horrors still are in the world. Are we to be optimists or pessimists?

What is eye opening is that Tupy shows that many of our assumptions about the world are not completely true. The more I read about the facts the more it seems to me that Pope Francis, when he talks about economics and social issues, is repeating rather tired old ideological formulas that don’t always bear up to closer examination. Tupy contends that the pope has spoken passionately in favor of the poor, but he has waded in to a complex argument without presenting any facts.

To point out the continued poverty of so many, and to call for us to do even more is the pope’s job. There is no room for complacency, and we need to do everything we can for the poor, but we must also make room at the table for professional economists and theorists who can help us understand the complexities of modern economic systems and show us how to be good stewards of our blessings for the good of all, for human flourishing and a just society. What is needed is a new understanding which helps up build a just and equitable society while avoiding the extremes of a wild free market and big government solutions.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker