James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute explains for National Review Online readers why he does not buy into the notion that Pope Francis’ recent remarks about economics represent the full-fledged attack on capitalism that has been portrayed by commentators on both the left and right.
Certainly now is not a time for “end of history” triumphalism that fails to recognize every human construct is imperfect and generates tradeoffs. We live in a fallen world. Such understanding is actually crucial to conservatism. Leave utopianism through “smarter policy” to the Left. Pro-market advocates need to consider that faster GDP growth may be necessary but not sufficient, that a rising tide may not lift all boats if accelerating automation means a vast swath of workers face unemployment or stagnant wages, as some economists on the left and right warn.
Of course those on the left have quickly highlighted bits of the pope’s statement that superficially support their cosmology — as when he writes that “the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root” and “inequality is the root of social ills.” Not surprisingly, these liberal pundits and media accounts have tended to neglect those parts of Evangelii Gaudium that don’t fit with the “progressive pope” meme, such the pope’s call to move “beyond a simple welfare mentality” for the poor that meets basic needs but fails to integrated them into the economy and provide creative jobs that allow them to “express and enhance the dignity of their lives.” Tea-party GOPers should certainly approve of the pope’s description of debt as a burden that makes it “difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies.” (And, of course, many on the left have little use for the pope’s call to show “particular love and concern . . . [for] unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us.”) …
… But one doesn’t need to be Catholic or a Christian of any kind to realize that it is impossible to understand the pope’s message if one fails to view it through the lens of Jesus’ teachings. Of course Pope Francis doesn’t believe market capitalism — although the greatest wealth generator ever discovered and the economic system most supportive of human freedom — is the ultimate cure to what ails humanity or the key to true human flourishing. It’s not the Bain Way one should expect to be at the heart of the pope’s message, it’s Christ’s.