Papal economics: for richer or for poorer?
Ironically, the Pope's own country of origin -- Argentina, which used to be among the richest in the world -- impoverished itself due to the socialist nonsense that he himself advocates for the world
Apologies to readers for another period of absence, again due to ill health. The news is good, and this should be the last for the foreseeable future, I am told (although I can always be run over by a Roman bus). The Italian Health Service, I am pleased to say, remains in robust health, and has done an excellent job on me.
Local news in the meantime has been the consistent popular chuckling that whilst Italy is supposed to be the European centre of corruption, the diesel emissions scandal stems from Germany and the head of FIFA is Swiss! First they copy the food….
But what I wanted to talk about was a fascinating article by Daniel J Mitchell dated 27th September about the Pope's attitude to capitalism. Read it if you haven't already. Daniel talks about the relative effects of capitalism and socialism, not on the rich but on the average.
The Pope's own country of origin, Argentina, is a case in point: at the beginning of the twentieth century it was, I think, the seventh richest country in the world. However it has, through its insane Peronist socialism, turned itself into a disaster case. By the time Francis became a cardinal, more than half the country was rated 'poor', including 70 percent of children.
This is bound to have an effect on a leader, and The Pope, it is fair to say, doesn't like business.
'Human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination but also by unfair economic structures that creates (sic) huge inequalities.'
'These days there is a lot of poverty in the world, and that is a scandal when we have so many riches and resources to give to everyone. We all have to think about how we can become a little poorer.'
But I wanted to talk from the other perspective: for the middle classes and the rich. The Givers. The bible seems to look on it more from this perspective:
'If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell what thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in Heaven.'
'It is better to give than to receive'
Christ seems not to be analyzing the effect on the poor of money being given to them but rather talking about what a better person you could become by giving to the needy.
No one in Judea 2,000 years ago imagined that the difference between rich and poor could be eliminated to the extent it has been, or that the richest men in the world could be self-made. The bible imagined the problem as semi-intractable (outside the Kingdom of Heaven) and when the King James Version brought it to the British masses 1,500 years later, thinking hadn't changed too much.
Christ did not describe -- his audience would not have understood it -- a modern state whereby taxation controlled the economy to the extent it does today.
Let us take the example of high tax states. Are these people better, morally? No, the money is taken from them. Are the poor better off? No, is the answer, they are worse off.
I read once that the film director Ingmar Bergman found he was paying a marginal income tax rate of 105 percent. The Government was offering to pay him not to work. Does that make him a saint? (Although having once sat through one of his films it might have been an altruistic gesture by the Swedes.)
What of a state with low taxation, high inequality, but whose poor are the richest relatively. Good or bad? I’d say good.
Taking money from people by force does not make them good, and Christ would never have said so.
These matters were discussed in a group called Liberation Theology in the 1950s and 1960s, in South America. Its conclusion, that wealth was somehow un-Christian, provided the bulk of left-wing thinking in Christianity that we see today. Was the Pope influenced by that?
One cannot help thinking His Holiness would have done better on his trip to the USA to have visited Bill Gates who with Warren Buffet is giving away some $60 billion. They have persuaded others to join their cause. Such a charismatic figure pleading philanthropy would go down well.
Economics is not, as Daniel Mitchell pointed out, a zero sum game. To give to the poor you have to make it first.
As the Pope sits through the synod on the family, not forecast to be his finest hour, one wonders if he will also alienate anyone with a grasp of economics.
Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here
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