Pope trope

" ... Will it ever stop? Yo – I don't know. Turn off the lights and I'll glow ..."

” … Will it ever stop? Yo – I don’t know. Turn off the lights and I’ll glow …”

Greg Mankiw on the unfortunate economic musings of Pope Francis:

First, throughout history, free-market capitalism has been a great driver of economic growth, and as my colleague Ben Friedman has written, economic growth has been a great driver of a more moral society.

Second, “trickle-down” is not a theory but a pejorative used by those on the left to describe a viewpoint they oppose. It is equivalent to those on the right referring to the “soak-the-rich” theories of the left. It is sad to see the pope using a pejorative, rather than encouraging an open-minded discussion of opposing perspectives.

Third, as far as I know, the pope did not address the tax-exempt status of the church. I would be eager to hear his views on that issue. Maybe he thinks the tax benefits the church receives do some good when they trickle down.

I’d like to add, fourth, that the Church did such a great job that it only took seventeen-hundred years before it significantly improved the quality of life of all Europeans, which just happened to coincide with the Industrial Revolution and the rise of capitalism.

h/t Instapundit

UPDATE: David Harsanyi elaborates. A must-read. (h/t Kathy Shaidle)

UPDATER: Ludwig von Mises:

Of course, as a rule capitalists and entrepreneurs are not saints excelling in the virtue of self-denial.  But neither are their critics saintly.  And with all the regard due to the sublime self-effacement of saints, we cannot help stating the fact that the world would be in a rather desolate condition if it were peopled exclusively by men not interested in the pursuit of material well-being.

(h/t Cafe Hayek)

  1. #1 by Your big sister on December 3, 2013 - 2:14 pm

    Have you actually read “Evangelii Gaudium”? (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium_en.html). It blows my mind that all Greg Mankiw got out of it was an argument on economic theory. You might also want to read this (http://www.ucatholic.com/news/the-pope-and-rush-limbaugh/) – not necessarily the Rush Limbaugh defense, but the other information regarding the Church’s role in the economic and charitable development of our society.

  2. #2 by Rob Huck on December 3, 2013 - 3:01 pm

    I read it now (thanks) and I don’t presume to know all of what Greg Mankiw got out of it. Here, he was just concerned about the economic argument.

    However, the economic argument is also the moral argument, in that the free market has enabled a massive increase in the quality of life for billions. To bemoan this because people can become obsessed with “stuff” is missing the point (at best).

    Prior to the industrial revolution, most people in the West were merely obsessed with not starving from famine, praying they won’t get the plague, and keeping their heads low in hopes that brigands won’t take them off. People at large were at the mercy of their environment, and there was little opportunity to move beyond their environs.

    Salvation for the soul may still be the domain of the church, but salvation for the body rests in economic development. And the economic development which started in the west did as much to encourage and reward proper moral behaviour than all the excoriations of the Church in the centuries prior.

    That being said, I am not a Church basher. Among other things, I appreciate the role the Church played in countering the power of feudal nobility in the Middle Ages as well as their ongoing role in charitable development. However, charity is only a stop-gap, and does little in the long run to advance a great many people out of poverty.

    This is not to say that charity is wasteful or bad or counter-productive.On the contrary, I like giving to charity, I support several and probably should support several more. However, I do not see the reason why charitable works should be elevated on a higher moral plane than the proven benefits of the free market, which in itself is fueled by the consumer’s demand.

    And it is our demand for better, for more, for cheaper which drives development for everyone. In this way, those items which were once unattainable luxuries eventually become basic necessities on their way to common consumables. We all benefit from this.

    Hence, consumerism is ethical and moral, and this should be celebrated or, at the very least, not denigrated through the use of straw-man derogatory terms like “trickle-down economics”.

  3. #3 by Your caring sister on December 4, 2013 - 10:13 am

    Really. Try running that by the African slaves last century, or the young one who made the shirt you’re wearing because it was such a good price. I for one will not be celebrating consumerism as ethical or moral. Your children are getting goats for Christmas – goats that will be kept by a young boy in Paraguay.

  4. #4 by Rob Huck on December 4, 2013 - 11:34 am

    Slaves, by definition, aren’t part of a free market. As for the kid working in a sweat shop, I suppose he would be better off forced to work in a disease-ridding rice paddy, or working as a prostitute to help support his family? We’re talking about comparisons here. What is their alternative?

    Markets work because they allow people to build capital and become wealthier. This progress takes time and requires the proper institutions. It look 300 years for the West to get where it is today, 75 years for Japan, 60 for South Korea, and China, Vietnam and others are catching up. Just because we’re all not there yet doesn’t mean there hasn’t been progress.

    Capitalism and its components — including consumer demand — isn’t a panacea, but it is the best system there is to create wealth and improve the quality of life. It’s a pity that the Church’s leader doesn’t appreciate this.

  5. #5 by Your increasingly annoyed sister on December 5, 2013 - 3:32 pm

    I’m not sure where you get that the Church’s leader doesn’t appreciate capitalism. He is simply pointing out that a free market, while perhaps improving our quality of life, does not necessarily ensure social justice. “The pontiff was merely reiterating consistent Church teaching that supports a free market, but also reminds the moral obligation to act responsibly, honestly and prudently. No one can command generosity but it is something which should be encouraged and promoted.” (Fr. John Trugilio Jr., Phd, Thd)
    “54. …some people…assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium)

    Slavery is most definitely part of a free market, as businesses strive to find the lowest bottom line in order to provide us with the cheap goods we increasingly demand and in turn increase profits. In fact, slavery is a very good example of what our pontiff tries get us to hear: have your “things”, but not at the expense of other human beings.

    If, as you propose, consumerism were truly moral and ethical, there would be no slavery, no poverty, no economic injustice of any kind.

  6. #6 by Rob Huck on December 6, 2013 - 10:46 am

    If a person is a slave, then he is not free and the fruits of his labour is not his own. This is not free enterprise. It is slavery, even if the slave master markets the slave-produced product elsewhere. Hence, the difference between a market and a free market.

    In addition, while businesses have an incentive to keep labour and other costs low, in a free market, labour and vendors generally have an option to work with other employers or clients, or at the very least, to not work at all. Under slavery, the worker doesn’t have this option. If this trait didn’t exist, you wouldn’t see people leaving their jobs for something better because businesses “enslave” their workers.

    The pope would be more convincing of his capitalist bona fides if he didn’t insist on using the message and rhetoric of anti-capitalists, Marxists, hard-left socialists, etc. That “economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice … has never been confirmed by the facts”? Really? As compared to what?

    The richest, most affluent nations are much safer, their contracts more reliable, their rights more protected, than anywhere else in the world. This is a demonstrable fact and it is no coincidence. The very institutions which allowed for these benefits were developed in hand with the emergence of the free market system. This is because the free market relies on trust and cooperation to work, thus encouraging good and just behaviour. Trade of goods and services is done through mutual benefit, even as this benefit is self-interested, and a result the justice of society benefits from its action.

    As to your last comment, no one claims the free market system is perfect, but only that it is the best system in eliminating poverty and raising wholesale the quality of life. To condemn capitalism and its components (including consumerism) because of its flaws is to condemn the Church in its entirety because of pedophile priests and the Inquisition.

    I challenge you tell me of another economic system which has done so much to raise the standard of living, increased longevity, and created so much social peace amongst its people.

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