Pope Francis and ‘trickle-down’ economics

General Audience, 4 September 2013

General Audience, 4 September 2013 (Photo credit: UK in Holy See)

A friend posted an article on her Facebook yesterday, shedding light on Pope Francis’ view of ‘trickle-down’ economics.  The title of the article, “Pope Francis denounces ‘trickle-down’ economics,” does not do the article justice.

The title is in fact an over-dramatization and encourages further division in our society.  Those of us who cannot use our “critical thinking” skills seem content to form our political biases before we even read, or as we read, the article.  Such pre-formed biases and lack of critical thinking distort our interpretation of Pope Francis’ message and the purpose of his message.  Yes, I said “interpretation.”  We interpret what is said and use it to justify our own biases…we all do it, some of us more often than others.

The Washington Post should not have used the word “denounces” in its title, because the truth is that Pope Francis “criticized” trickle-down economics (as stated in the article’s first paragraph).    Here’s what I choose to emphasize:

52.  …We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications. . . .

53.  Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? . . . .

54.  …some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion…expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. . . . To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. . . .

56.  No to a financial system which rules rather than serves

57.  …Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside of the categories of the marketplace. When these latter are absolutized, God can only be seen as uncontrollable, unmanageable, even dangerous, since he calls human beings to their full realization and to freedom from all forms of enslavement.Ethics – a non-ideological ethics – would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. . . .

58.  …I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.

No to the inequality which spawns violence

59.  When a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programmes or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility.

60.   Today’s economic mechanisms promote inordinate consumption, yet it is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric. Inequality eventually engenders a violence which recourse to arms cannot and never will be able to resolve. . . . Some simply content themselves with blaming the poor and the poorer countries themselves for their troubles; indulging in unwarranted generalizations, they claim that the solution is an “education” that would tranquilize them, making them tame and harmless.

As a Catholic and a relief worker, I am glad that our Pope has spoken out against greed and power that corrupts.  I am all for capitalism…CONSCIOUS capitalism.  Trickle-down economics work only when ALL of us, with and without power, can exercise restraint and not fall prey to greed and corruption.  It is up to each and every one of us.

Which would you choose…A world where each person cares for no one but himself/herself, always on the lookout hoping that no one stabs us in the back?  Or a world where each of us considers the welfare of you, me, and all of society?

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