Guest post by Chris Lubbers
How can anyone take Pope Francis seriously about economics? What does he know about it?! I mean, listen to this “social justice” nonsense from his speech today.
Any economist knows that businesses hire people only if both sides freely agree to the terms of employment. But the pope argues that employers have an enormous advantage!
“It is not… difficult to foresee which of the two parties must, upon all ordinary occasions, have the advantage in the dispute, and force the other into a compliance with their terms. … In all such disputes, the masters can hold out much longer. …[A] master manufacturer, or merchant, though they did not employ a single workman, could generally live a year or two upon the stocks, which they have already acquired. Many workmen could not subsist a week, few could subsist a month, and scarce any a year, without employment. In the long run, the workman may be as necessary to his master as his master is to him; but the necessity is not so immediate.”
Then the pope suggests, again contrary to what every economist knows, that our job creators are being selfish and inconsistent in opposition to a minimum wage!
“Our merchants and master manufacturers complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price, and thereby lessening the sale of their goods, both at home and abroad. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits; they are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains; they complain only of those of other people.”
He argues, further, that capitalists would exploit the poor until their minds turn to mush, if not for the government’s help!
“In the progress of the division of labour [read: industrialization], the employment of the far greater part of those who live by labour, that is, of the great body of the people, comes to be confined to a few very simple operations; frequently to one or two. … He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of [mental] exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become. The torpor of his mind renders him not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment, and consequently of forming any just judgment concerning many even of the ordinary duties of private life. …
[T]his is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall, unless government takes some pains to prevent it.“
Pope Francis follows that with the audacious claim that great wealth entails great inequality, and that governments are instituted to maintain it!
“Wherever there is… great property, there is great inequality. For one very rich man, there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many. The affluence of the rich excites the indignation of the poor, who are often both driven by want, and prompted by envy to invade his possessions. It is only under the shelter of the civil magistrate, that the owner of that valuable property, which is acquired by the labour of many years, or perhaps of many successive generations, can sleep a single night in security. …
The acquisition of valuable and extensive property, therefore, necessarily requires the establishment of civil government. Where there is no property, or at least none that exceeds the value of two or three days labour, civil government is not so necessary.”
This, “Pope Economist” argues, creates a vicious cycle: just as great inequality necessitates a stronger government to protect the rich from the threat of redistribution, a stronger government protecting the rich causes even greater inequality.
“Civil government supposes a certain subordination. But as the necessity of civil government gradually grows up with the acquisition of valuable property; so the principal causes, which naturally introduce subordination, gradually grow up with the growth of that valuable property.”
According to this pope, the actual, in-practice purpose of government, then, is this:
“Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is, in reality, instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”
Which, Pope Francis declares, results in a gross perversion of justice:
“This scheme of making the administration of justice subservient to the purposes of revenue, could scarce fail to be productive of several very gross abuses. The person who applied for justice with a large present in his hand, was likely to get something more than justice; while he who applied for it with a small one was likely to get something less. Justice, too, might frequently be delayed, in order that this present might be repeated. The [penalty], besides, of the person complained of, might frequently suggest a very strong reason for finding him in the wrong, even when he had not really been so. That such abuses were far from being uncommon, the ancient history of every country in Europe bears witness.“
Oh, wait, this wasn’t Pope Francis at all. These quotes are from An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, by the “father of modern capitalism,” Adam Smith.
Chris Lubbers is a graduate of Calvin College (BA, Philosophy and Math), has an MA in Philosophy from the University of Florida, has done doctoral research at UF in philosophy of language and metaphysics, and is currently ABD. He teaches philosophy at Muskegon Community College. You can find Chris advocating for justice and compassion in Holland, MI, or philosophizing over a pint at Pub Theology.