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Free Minds & Free Markets

Lighten Up, Francis

The Pontiff ought to stick to flock-tending and lay off capitalism.

Pope Francis carries his own bags, and sleeps in the Vatican guest house. I like that in a pope.

It's definitely better to have the kind of pontiff who flops out on a futon than one of those Borgia popes with such decadent tastes the BBC is forced to write a miniseries about him. That said, Francis sure gibbers a lot about economics, and when it comes to market forces the man is anything but infallible.

Take his latest and rather pointed jab at libertarianism. Sayeth his eminence, "I cannot fail to speak of the grave risks associated with the invasion of the positions of libertarian individualism at high strata of culture and in school and university education."

Having performed standup routines on college campuses for Students For Liberty, I can tell you nobody is losing sleep over fears of a libertarian takeover of academia. Hillsdale College and George Mason University produce handfuls of classical liberals every year, but that still leaves pretty much every other college on the planet. (In the same screed he also describes libertarianism as "fashionable," which comes as quite the shock to my online dating profile.)

Pope Francis no doubt sees libertarianism as hand-in-hand with the other evil he frequently warns his flock about: capitalism. Spake Francis in his 2013 Evangelii Gaudium, "Inequality is the root of social ills." He also opines, "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."

Ouch. Let us all light a candle for the departed soul of Milton Friedman, no doubt condemned to the toasty bosom of Purgatory.

Before we start breaking down these (literal) pontifications, let's get one fallacy out of the way: just because someone is an authority in their field doesn't mean they know anything about another field. If Paul Krugman started lecturing Catholics about theology, they wouldn't seriously listen to his musings on the filioque. What next, taking Krugman's economics seriously? Pope Francis appears to know about as much about economics as Prince Charles knows about lawn mower maintenance.

His Holiness' apprehension of evil people like myself springs from the assumption that we're all very selfish, and happy about it. But classical liberalism doesn't endorse selfishness as a virtue, it just champions individuals as the primary decision-makers of society. Yes, there are some folks who go on and on about how terrific selfishness and social Darwinism are, but it's not like we invite them to cocktail parties. In fact a lot of us volunteer and donate to charity. We just don't like being required to.

I stumbled onto libertarianism in part when it became apparent to me that the free market had lifted more people out of poverty than any government aid program. Rooting for rich guys in top hats doesn't emotionally resonate in a world where greed is mortal sin, but the counterintuitive thing about capitalism is that it harnasses self-interest to benefit society at large. The rising tide lifts all boats.

Adam Smith pointed out that your baker doesn't sell you bread out of the goodness of his heart, he does it to earn a living. When you throw self-interest and competition into the mix, bread prices plummet and scales of economy crank out enough bagels that for the first time in human history entire societies are more concerned about gluten intolerance than starvation.

If anyone in the Soviet Union had raised a serious alarm about "gluten intolerance," they would have been laughed out of the breadline and then probably shot for good measure. Socialism, despite the best of intentions, impoverishes people. Socialism has so ruined the economy of Venezuela that shopkeeps are weighing stacks of worthless money rather than counting bills, and people are resorting to eating zoo animals.

Finally, let's look at the pope's stated root of all social ills: inequality. If we lived in a feudal state where lords become wealthy by plundering serfs, inequality would indeed be a heinous evil. Fortunately we don't live in that zero-sum world.

Bill Gates didn't become a billionaire by impoverishing America—quite the opposite. And if we doubled everyone's income tomorrow many people would be lifted out of poverty, but the gap between us and whoever Bernie Sanders wants to hang this week would be even greater. Poverty and inequality simply aren't the same thing.

Again, I like Pope Francis. He seems to be a deeply compassionate and humble man. Also he wears a cape. There are lots of things to admire about him.

His failure to distinguish between personal virtues and macro economics is not one of them. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I suspect it's also publicly funded.

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  • colorblindkid||

    Great kicker at the end.

  • Arcxjo||

    Where's a great kicker in the end when you need one?

  • timbo||

    He's a god damned idiot.

  • Jerryskids||

    "Inequality is the root of social ills."

    No, it's the desire for equality that's the root of all social ills. It's wanting to have what your neighbor has or, barring that, seeing to it your neighbor doesn't get to have it either that's the problem. I know the Pope's Catholic so he may not be familiar with the Bible, but there's some choice bits in there about what God thinks of people who are envious and covetous and greedy for shit that doesn't belong to them.

  • creech||

    Sorry, just like the Constitution, the Bible was written by old white men back before modern times and is subject to interpretation by the current authorities. Therefore the 8th and 10th commandments no longer apply.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Some of them Old Testament guys were even slaveholders.

  • KBeckman||

    Much like the 9th and tenth amendments.

  • Redcard||

    The 3rd should be the first to go.

  • sasob||

    I know the Pope's Catholic so he may not be familiar with the Bible, but there's some choice bits in there about what God thinks of people who are envious and covetous and greedy for shit that doesn't belong to them.

    Yes, especially the part about the shit that belonged to the Midianites.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The Church doesn't mind if we're poor so long as we do it together and in imitation of Christ.

  • Rat on a train||

    Don't forget to tithe.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    The Jesuits are paper-thin from swelling with socialist joy anywhere the fucking eyeball rolls up and between, down and through.

    Every fucking country the Catholic guilds erupt within be sure the shadowy doors open behind oiled and oozing the vaunted robed impresarios to literally any fucking politic that provides it with unparalleled excess to the gargantuan souls of nation. China is fixed in its glance and when the bleat tolls the next dark ages will seep.

  • John C. Randolph||

    The man's job is promulgating superstition. I have no reason to give his opinion on ANY subject any weight whatsoever.

    -jcr

  • Agile Cyborg||

    -jcr

    Mountains timbered with gold and silver and ghosts famous form the geography of the popes who long lost penned journeys of power that pass through even your generation and mine and up until the many next. The Catholic penchant for longevity is misunderstood by even time itself.

    'No weights given' is but a butterfly's dip of its vast tongue.

    Power was resolved many centuries ago and its calculus roars like biting sands and glides like lakes of snakes silent under powdery magenta skies.

    I think we are all the timbre of sonnets built beneath iron castles housing ancient demons.

  • Set Us Up The Chipper||

    If you want to read some fiction written by somebody who REALLY, REALLY hates Catholics, read the Hyperion novels by Dan Simmons.

  • TMLutas||

    Good job maximizing support for Pope Francis. Was that on purpose?

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    What if it were only regular stition?

  • hpearce||

    "The Pontiff ought to stick to flock-tending and lay off capitalism."

    Reason makes a mistake by trying to defend capitalism when all they have to do is defend the free market of which capitalism is one form.

    Moreover, the free marketed when defined as a market based upon our civil right to freedom of association provides its own moral proof - something writers have been searching for ages to do with capitalism with little sucess.

  • rudehost||

    That's a fair point. You don't have to defend capitalism to defend people's right to live their lives as they see fit. If people want to live a socialist lifestyle that is fine by me as long as it is freely chosen. As it turns out in practice the socialist lifestyle is generally chosen at gunpoint with a stack of burning bodies in the background to emphasize the alternative option.

  • TMLutas||

    People voluntarily choose socialism all the time. They generally do it for a few days to a few months and then have had enough of it as its reality educates them.

  • ThomasD||

    "Moreover, the free marketed when defined as a market based upon our civil right to freedom of association provides its own moral proof - something writers have been searching for ages to do with capitalism with little success."

    This. The solution to the problem being to step out of the trap of economics and recognize that the over arching issue is moral autonomy.

    Defending a word defined by expressed enemies of the free market is guaranteed to fail. That failure is by design. There are three reasons why people continue to employ the word capitalism - ignorance, laziness, or mendacity.

  • sasob||

    I suspect that moral autonomy is one thing that the Church would find even more objectionable than capitalism. After all, it can't have people questioning or deciding for themselves what is or isn't moral, what is or isn't the word of God, whether there really is a God or what that is - even though, of course, no one else can actually believe, decide or choose for them. "Ah, but a human's decisions are subject to human fallibility, whereas God's or the Pope's are infallible," they'll say, neglecting to consider that making the latter choice is also one subject to human fallibility.

  • Bubba Jones||

    He worships ancestors and idols. Why would you think is economic policy makes any more sense?

  • American Memer||

    Which ones?

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    Capitalism sucks, but popes are real cool!

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cadaver_Synod

  • Mark22||

    Apostolic succession FTW.

  • American Memer||

    Times like these make me miss Fusionist. I am Catholic myself, but unless you go to a site specifically for Catholics, it's easy to get the impression there are very few of us around the 'net.

    AFAICT Pope Francis is a good man acting on VERY bad intel. He genuinely wants to alleviate suffering in the world; his ideas on how to do so read like something by the kind of college professor who insists that REAL communism has never been tried. I don't know enough about his background to know how those ideas got into his head.

    I would very much like to see him speak with an actual libertarian sometime (shoutouts to Ms. Slade), as he seems to have liberty confused with something alike to Rand's objectivism. Liberty is very conducive to the social goals of Catholicism (specifically stuff like feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, etc etc etc) and it saddens me that Francis apparently does not recognize this.

    I miss the era when the papacy spoke out against oppression instead of insisting upon it.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    The papacy thrives on chains, you fucking Memer.

  • Sevo||

    "Times like these make me miss Fusionist."

    Yeah, his lies, misdirections and general mendacity were quite amusing.
    Not.

  • sparkstable||

    Tom Woods is a Catholic and in his podcasts he has spoken put against the economic rubbish coming from this pope. Its only 1 or 2 podcasts put of several hundred... but they were good. He also has some writings about it IIRC.

  • ThomasD||

    " Liberty is very conducive to the social goals of Catholicism..."

    Actually liberty is essential to the ultimate goal of Catholicism. Salvation can only be achieved by the individual based upon the acts and intentions of the individual. Compulsion erases all responsibility, souls are only judged upon that which is freely and knowingly chosen. There is no collective form of moral agency.

  • Mark22||

    Compulsion erases all responsibility, souls are only judged upon that which is freely and knowingly chosen. There is no collective form of moral agency.

    Yet, in Catholicism, the threat of hell is itself a form of compulsion, and the Church itself imposes moral judgments on its members, yet also claims to be able to (effectively) erase moral responsibility.

    Protestantism is a better deal, acknowledging the existing of an absolute morality and teaching it, while at the same time telling believers that figuring it out and negotiating with God over it is their own, personal responsibility. I think that's also why Protestantism has produced societies that have functioned a lot better than Catholic societies.

  • Mark22||

    AFAICT Mussolini Hitler Marx Stalin Pope Francis is a good man acting on VERY bad intel. He genuinely wants to alleviate suffering in the world

    When does the lesson sink in?

  • Hank Phillips||

    Just as rhetorically, the Cardinal's Choice might retort that the dead who listened to Pascal and bought His product no longer suffer. So there! Nanny nanny boo boo.
    Death is the one painkiller that merits the universal approval of all mystics.

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    Socialism has so ruined the economy of Venezuela that shopkeeps are weighing stacks of worthless money rather than counting bills, and people are resorting to eating zoo animals.

    That's just bad luck, blasphemer!

  • sasob||

    The money is worthless only because those selfish, greedy shopkeepers insist on demanding so much of it for their goods and services. They ought to be public spirited and willing to sacrifice for the public good. How dare they show so little regard for the selfishness of others!

  • Warren||

    Wow a Stripes reference, you don't see many of those anymore.

  • Principal Spittle||

    The full quote is more appropriate as l believe it is a version of what visitors to the Vatican are told before entering.

    "The name's Francis, but everybody calls me Psycho. Any of you guys call me Francis, and I'll kill you.
    Also, I don't like no one touching my stuff. So just keep your meat-hooks off. If I catch any of you guys in my stuff, I'll kill you. And I don't like nobody touching me. Any of you homos touch me, and I'll kill you."
    Sgt. Hulka- "Lighten up, Francis."

  • ipsum||

    Whats a Pope?

  • Mark22||

    The Pope is a Carnival character characterized by a big funny hat and speaking in tongues (often called "Latin").

  • ToCa81||

    Great article. Short and to the point with a nice touch of humor. Kudos.

  • Mark22||

    Pope Francis carries his own bags, and sleeps in the Vatican guest house. I like that in a pope.

    All that shows is that the Pope is good at PR and pretense, and that you're easily fooled.

  • Warren||

    If he does those things then they're real. A lot of people understand the PR value of carrying their own bags but don't because it's a fucking pain in the ass and they don't have to. Even as they're being subpoenaed.

  • Principal Spittle||

    What dose it say that he likes the cape?
    I think both comments were just humour

  • Hank Phillips||

    So, what's his position on mixing cocaine and wine? Back when the papacy was infallible the best of them toasted Mark Twain and Freud with Vin Mariani. If there is there any doctrine of stare decisis in Vatican political dogma, who knows? Papa just might realize that freedom from coercion isn't always the worst thing in the world.

  • Redcard||

    So, will reason.com Republicans posing as libertarians comment on this or not?

    http://wapo.st/2pS08pm

  • jay||

    "His Holiness' apprehension of evil people like myself springs from the assumption that we're all very selfish, and happy about it. But classical liberalism doesn't endorse selfishness as a virtue, it just champions individuals as the primary decision-makers of society. Yes, there are some folks who go on and on about how terrific selfishness and social Darwinism are, but it's not like we invite them to cocktail parties. In fact a lot of us volunteer and donate to charity. We just don't like being required to."

    Classical liberalism doesn't endorse selfishness as a virtue. Hmm

    "Adam Smith pointed out that your baker doesn't sell you bread out of the goodness of his heart, he does it to earn a living."

    Maybe if you would stop lumping defenders of selfishness in with supporters of social darwinism, maybe those people could help you because right now those people who you don't invite to cocktail parties may not look very highly in your eyes, but the consequences of that, is that adam smith isnt looked at very highly by anyone either.

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: Lighten Up, Francis
    The Pontiff ought to stick to flock-tending and lay off capitalism.

    Yes, the Pope should tell what countries should to with their money just like leaders of said countries should get up on the Pope's pulpit and tell the masses what would Jesus would re-distribute on Sundays.

  • Panglossy||

    The headline "Lighten Up, Francis" made me chuckle. But who in the flock is he preaching at?

  • Barry Gold||

    We keep running into these apparent contradictions. Yes, "the free market had lifted more people out of poverty than any government aid program." Anybody who wants to dispute that just hasn't been paying attention to history.

    But we have these other weird facts: the states that are most "liberal"/"progressive", like CA and MA, have thriving economies. The states that are most "conservative" and that embrace "trickle-down" economics, have economies that just plain don't work, MS being probably the worst example.

    Now maybe it's because the anti-sex, pro-(our favorite brand of)Christianity laws have an even more deleterious effect on the economy than the rent control, pro-union, welfare-state laws of CA etc. Or maybe the interaction between Government and economy is a bit more complex than the Chicago school thinks.

    Here's the simple truth as it exists today: we do not have a science of economics. We have a few broad brushstrokes that seem to work -- the "law of supply and demand", free markets mostly work better than controlled ones, etc. But as for making any predictions that you could actually apply, "this change will add/remove this many jobs," or "this tariff will cost us $N", forget it.

    The problem is too complex, and nobody has been able to cut through the complexity well enough to put any numbers on any predictions.
    From The Notebooks of Lazarus Long: "what are the facts, and to how many decimal places?"

  • Renate||

    Mr. A Heaton: Thank you for an enjoyable read.

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