Commentary

More Economic Illiteracy from Pope Francis

By Daniel Mitchell | February 11, 2020 | 11:38am EST
Pope Francis meets President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky during an audience at the Apostolic Palace. (Photo credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Pope Francis meets President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky during an audience at the Apostolic Palace. (Photo credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

Back in 2013, I talked to the BBC about Pope Francis and his bizarre hostility to free enterprise.

Sadly, it doesn’t appear that the Pope took my advice (though I think it’s amusing that at least someone in the Vatican is paying attention).



 

There’s a wealth of evidence that markets are the best way of helping the poor. But the Pope wants more government.

Moreover, there’s also plenty of data showing that higher tax rates and more spending hurt the poor. Yet the Pope wants more government.

And there’s lots of research on capitalism and upward mobility for the less fortunate. Nonetheless, the Pope wants more government.

For instance, he’s once again advertising his ignorance about economics, development, and fiscal policy, as RT reports:

"Pope Francis blasted the practice of tax cuts for the rich as part of a 'structure of sin' and lamented the fact that 'billions of dollars' end up in 'tax haven accounts' instead of funding 'healthcare and education.' Speaking at the seminar set up by the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences  the Pope criticized 'the richest people' for receiving 'repeated tax cuts' in the name of 'investment and development.' These 'tax haven accounts' impede 'the possibility of the dignified and sustained development of all social agents,' claims the Pope.  He added that 'the poor increase around us' as poverty is rising around the world. This poverty can be ended if the wealthiest gave more."

Wow. Sounds more like Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rather than a religious leader.

Libertarian Jesus must be very disappointed.

In an attempt to add some rigorous analysis to the discussion, Professors Antony Davies and James Harrigan wrote a column for the Foundation for Economic Education on capitalism and its role in global poverty reduction.

"Galileo ran afoul of the Inquisition in 1633 when he was found 'vehemently suspect of heresy.' …One might think that being this profoundly wrong about something well outside the realm of theology would cause the magisterium, and the pope specifically, to tread very carefully even 386 years later. But one would be wrong. Because here comes Pope Francis yet again, offering economic opinions from the bulliest of pulpits about something he understands no better than a garden-variety college freshman. …According to the pontiff, 'the logic of the market' keeps people hungry. But 'the market' has no logic. The market isn’t a thing, let alone a sentient thing. 'The market' is the sum total of individual interactions among billions of people. …Whenever a trade occurs, both sides are better off for having made it. We know this because if they weren’t, the trade wouldn’t occur. …Not surprisingly to anyone but perhaps Pope Francis, some of the first financial speculation in which humans ever engaged involved food. Financial speculation and its more evolved cousins, options and futures contracts, evolved precisely as a means to fight hunger. …speculators took some of the risk of price fluctuations off the backs of farmers, and this made it possible for farmers to plant more food."

Davies and Harrigan inject some hard data into the debate.

If these arguments are too esoteric for Francis, there is also overwhelming evidence. Economic freedom measures the degree to which a country’s government permits and supports the very sorts of markets against which Francis rails. …If we list societies according to their economic freedom, the same pattern emerges again and again and again. Whether comparing countries, states, or cities, societies that are more economically free exhibit better social and economic outcomes than those that are less economically free. …even Francis should be able to see it quite clearly from his Vatican perch. …Extreme poverty rates for the half of countries that are less economically free are around seven times the extreme poverty rates for the half of countries that are more economically free.

Here’s one of the charts from their column.

As you can see, the state-controlled economies on the left have much higher levels of poverty than the market-driven economies on the right.

(Photo credit: Foundation for Economic Freedom)

They also share some economic history.

…if the world around Francis doesn’t provide enough compelling evidence, the world prior to Francis certainly does. At the turn of the 18th century, around 95 percent of humans lived in extreme poverty. That was at the advent of the Industrial Revolution and of capitalism. …the extreme poverty rate fell from 95 percent to below ten percent. With the flourishing of capitalism, the extreme poverty rate fell tenfold at the same time that the number of humans grew tenfold.

Amen. Videos by Deirdre McCloskey and by Don Boudreaux confirm how the world went from near-universal poverty to mass prosperity (at least in the nations that embraced free markets and the rule of law).

By contrast, there’s not a single example of a nation that became rich and reduced poverty with big government.

P.S. Mauritius is a good test case of why Pope Francis is wrong. Very wrong.

P.P.S. To learn more about why Pope Francis is off base, I also recommend the wise words of Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams.

P.P.P.S. To be fair, there were plenty of bad economics in the Vatican before Francis became Pope. And also some sound thinking.

Daniel J. Mitchell is a top expert on tax reform and supply-side tax policy and is Chairman of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. Mitchell is a strong advocate of a flat tax and international tax competition.

Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared at The Center for Freedom and Prosperity.



 

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