With the headline of this post alone, I’ve probably lost a vast number of knee-jerkers who’ll not hear a tid-bit of anything that goes against what they perceive this Pope to be. He is, in their eyes, a de facto Marxist and no amount of substance to the contrary will budge them from their cemented (and demented) perspective.
This post is not aimed at that level of ignorance. Someone much smarter than I once proclaimed the folly of fixing stupid and I’ve learned, albeit slowly, to not make the attempt.
This is aimed instead at people who while wincing at the Pope’s economic critiques are open to the notion that there might be solid reasons for his frequent harangues. Doing the aiming for us is Tim Hoopes over at Aleteia:
In their book Good Capitalism/Bad Capitalism William J. Baumol, Robert E. Litan, and Carl J. Schramm point out that there are four capitalist systems.
One is oligarchic capitalism—where the upper class gets capitalism and the lower classes get the shaft. This was the capitalism Pope Francis saw in Argentina, and he lived through the Great Depression that it sparked there. He hates it, and so should we.
Another is state-guided capitalism: This is the capitalism of China or Dubai—and, increasingly, of the West, where as Alisdair McIntyre put it, “What we confront today is a new leviathan: the state and market in a monstrous amalgam.” This is the system that marries corporate greed to government greed to our ruin, according to Francis.
Another capitalism is “Big Firm Capitalism.” This predominates in America, and Pope Francis specifically criticizes it, using the example of large firms crowding out small farming, hunting and fishing (No. 129) and diminishes us all: “This paradigm leads people to believe that they are free as long as they have the supposed freedom to consume,” he writes (No. 203). “But those really free are the minority who wield economic and financial power.”
The fourth kind of capitalism is Entrepreneurial Capitalism—the “business creativity” which Pope Francis praises and the subject of much economic thought recently, often using the moniker “think small.”
This is an economy that puts people in the first place, and values products by how they create real value in customers’ lives. What would this kind of economy look like? I think the old parable of the investment banker and Mexican fisherman sheds some light on the question.
The story goes like this: An Investment banker is vacationing in Mexico when he sees a fisherman pulling his boat onto shore in the late morning. “You fish for a living?” he asks. “Tell me, what’s your typical day like?”
“I wake up late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs,” he says.
The investment banker scoffs and offers him some advice: “You should start by fishing longer every day. Catch and sell extra fish, and buy a bigger boat. That means more fish and more money and you can keep adding trawlers until you have a fleet. Forget selling to the merchants in town. Get a contract with the processing plants in the city. Then you can leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York. In 10 to 20 years you can take your company public and make millions.”
“And after that?” asks the fisherman.
“After that you’ll be able to retire and live the good life. You can live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife, and spend your evenings playing guitar and drinking with your friends!”
Which man’s world do we live in? Which would we rather live in?
To fill out the story, you can imagine the “throwaway culture” the banker or the fisher-CEO would have to embrace to live his lifestyle: The international trips, the hotel stays, eating on the run, the damage to his family relationships and the relentless search for solace in entertainment.
As Pope Francis put it, “a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption” (No. 50).
Pope Francis does not reject capitalism—but he does reject the current system where some get rich off of speculation, while the rest of us live, rest and recreate in order to be better wage slaves for our god Mammon while suffering epidemic levels of anxiety-related disorders—or line up in government offices as de facto wards of the state.
You who are reasonable and thoughtful and who are still reading I hope will seriously munch on Mr. Hoopes words and inwardly digest them.
Disagreeing with the Pope on this is allowable of course but at least you get a better sense of what he’s critiquing and what he’s proposing while seeing that it’s all quite Catholic and not Marxist.
Hoping so anyway.
Crossposted at Brutally Honest.