Pope's 'Redistribution' Comments Spark Criticism

Tuesday, 13 May 2014 08:40 AM

By Edward Pentin

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Pope Francis’ recent calls for state redistribution of wealth have led to widespread criticism, with many arguing that he misunderstands how the market economy works.

His defenders, meanwhile, say his comments need to be seen in the context of combatting an “economy of exclusion” and a “throw-away culture” that are the consequences of an economy devoid of ethics.

On Friday, the Pope told the heads of U.N. agencies, including Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, that they should urge world governments to back "the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the state, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society."

Francis: Who Is Pope Francis? Book Reveals the Man

He made similar comments on Saturday, when he told a group of lay Catholic business leaders that the global economic crisis has “profound ethical causes which worsened this 'allergy' to words such as solidarity, just distribution of goods, work priorities.”

His comments to the U.N. leaders drew a strong response from conservative radio talk show hosts.

Michael Savage told listeners Friday that if Pope Francis wants income redistribution he should start with his own church. The Pope, he said, is “Karl Marx in a papal outfit."

Rush Limbaugh also criticized the Pope’s demand that the U.N. should use its influence to get member states to redistribute wealth. “That's Marxism. That's socialism. That's not charity,” he said. “The church is the place where that kind of thing, charity, should come from.”

Savage claimed that Pope Francis was shaped by liberation theology — a popular theory in Latin America in the 1970s that interprets Christ’s teachings as liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions. The Vatican rejected it in the 1980s, saying the theology contained “Marxist concepts.”

Francis opposed liberation theology during the 1970s but he accepts its premise, believing the church should have a “preferential option for the poor” without it becoming a political ideology.

His latest comments have also drawn criticism from Catholic economists. Philip Booth, program director at the Institute of Economic Affairs in London, said that the Pope's understanding of economics and the market economy “is quite typically Argentinean” and he appears to approve of a “sort of Peronism,” a predominantly working-class ideology espousing corporatism and based on legacy of former Argentine President Juan Domingo Perón.

Peronism has led to a relationship between the state and business “which is far too close and corrupt,” Booth said, and this “often leads critics to identify problems of these corrupt relationships as being problems of the market economy as such.”

Kishore Jayabalan, Rome director of the Acton Institute, a free-market think tank, said Pope Francis's comments show that he “sincerely believes” in the state's ability to redistribute wealth to assist the poor. “That does not make him a Marxist because just about every Western market economy already has progressive income taxes and transfer payments that are directed to the poor,” he said, but he questioned whether these policies “actually do help the poor.”

“Those of us who believe that it is better to focus on wealth creation rather than wealth redistribution by the state would say no,” he said. “It should be obvious the state can't redistribute what it doesn't have in the first place, which the crisis of the modern welfare state is making abundantly clear."

“We just have an honest disagreement with the Pope on this," he said. Booth agrees that what is needed “is a vibrant free economy” which provides the “greatest opportunities for prosperity through employment and from saving” and which is “naturally intertwined” with civil society through professional associations, unions, and other such bodies.

He pointed out that the amount of “legitimate” redistribution of wealth is “relatively limited” in the tradition of Catholic social teaching. He also argued that the need for redistribution would be “much reduced if we had the kind of vibrant market economy, which Pope Francis often gives the impression of opposing.”

Francis: Who Is Pope Francis? Book Reveals the Man

He further said: “The great story of the last 25 years is the reduction in absolute poverty amongst the world's poorest people. This has come about largely as a result of globalization which is a phenomenon that the Pope also seems to oppose — contrary to his predecessors.”

Booth said an "economy of exclusion" arises in “socialistic systems and systems beset by corruption and regulation.” This would not happen “in properly-functioning market economies."

Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
 

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