Even if we do not agree, we all understand that the the leader of the Roman Catholic Church offers an authoritative voice on faith and morals. On such matters Pope Francis commands respect.
And yet, when it comes to science and political economy the pope does not command similar respect.
Pope Francis, who has done many good things to restore the good name and reputation of the Catholic Church has now chosen to publish an encyclical based in some considerable part on Argentinian leftist thought.
This follows upon his efforts to rehabilitate the leaders of South American liberation theology, an unholy amalgam of Catholicism and Marxism. This theology was rejected and ultimately silenced by Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger. Now, Pope Francis has brought it back.
Argentinian leftists-- the most famous was Che Guevara-- have long believed that North American capitalism is a scourge. They routinely denounce North Americans for exploiting and oppressing the South American continent. They believe that all the ills that have befallen a place like Argentina have been caused by predatory and oppressive capitalist colonialists.
You have to see it to believe it.
In the late 1980s a group of Argentinian physicians practicing in the United States wanted to build a new hospital and medical school in the city of Rosario, Argentina.
Many local physicians were horrified at the prospect. As they explained to me—I was travelling there at the time—if there’s an American medical school in Rosario, the next thing you know, they marines will invade Argentina.
They were not kidding. They were not undereducated peasants. Most of them had even been psychoanalyzed.
These thoughts give you a flavor of advanced Argentinian thought. Given this mix of quasi-Marxist and quasi-paranoid thinking you can understand how a country filled with educated and capable people becomes dysfunctional.
As for Pope Francis, its one thing to lead one of the world’s great religions. It’s quite another to try to pass off leftist claptrap as religious teaching. The sad part, for those who believe that religion matters in this world, is that the pope’s encyclical will (and has already) damaged his and the church’s reputation.
In his encyclical the Pope offers a riff against consumerism and air conditioning. Rich Lowry responded in Politico:
The pope writes of “harmful habits of consumption,” including “the increasing use and power of air conditioning.” This apparently is the result of an insidious capitalistic dynamic: “The markets, which immediately benefit from sales, stimulate ever greater demand. An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at such behavior, which at times appears self-destructive.”
That’s assuming the outsider lives in a very cool climate, or doesn’t mind sweating. Anyone not so lucky probably thinks the inventor of air conditioning should be canonized. In France about 10 years ago, roughly 15,000 mostly elderly people died during a heat wave, in part because they lacked the aforementioned wasteful air conditioning.
Lowry might have added that when cultures reject capitalism, by following the exalted teachings of Karl Marx, they do not have to worry about consumerism… because there is nothing to consume. As everyone knows Communist regimes have excelled in producing starvationism.
Keep in mind, when Chairman Mao launched a great movement against capitalism with his Great Leap Forward, 35 million people starved to death. Also keep in mind that the extreme poverty rate in China in 1980 was around 82%. After free enterprise was introduced the extreme poverty rate dropped to 12% in 2010.
There is little doubt that the Chinese capitalist revolution produced a massive amount of filth. And yet, one suspects that the people were willing to make a short-term problem as a trade-off to overcome mass starvation. Besides, only capitalism and industry is capable of cleaning up the filth.
Over the past two centuries or so, the lifespan and quality of life of people in places like Great Britain and America have improved dramatically. This did not happen because of socialism, but because of business, commerce, manufacturing, modern sanitation and medicine, all of which occurred because of the Industrial Revolution and free enterprise.
Lowry explains the point well:
While the pope pays lip service to technological advances, he doesn’t truly appreciate their wonders. The Industrial Revolution was one of the greatest boons to humankind. Consider the unrelieved misery — the disease, the poverty, the illiteracy — before around 1800, when if you weren’t an aristocrat, a general, or a bishop, your life was probably nasty, brutish and short. Mass industrialization launched the world on a radically different material trajectory.
“The average person in the world of 1800 was no better off than the average person of 100,000 B.C.,” Gregory Clark writes in his book, “A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World.” “Life expectancy was no higher in 1800 than for hunter-gatherers: 30 to 35 years. Stature, a measure both of the quality of diet and of children’s exposure to disease, was higher in the Stone Age than in 1800.”
Francis believes that free enterprise, industrialization and consumerism has assaulted Mother Earth. Lowry responds:
This sinful assault on the Earth, by the way, largely consisted in taking otherwise completely useless glop from the ground and using it to power economic and technical advances that enriched average people beyond anyone’s imagining. This is obviously a secular miracle of the highest order, although the religiously inclined might think: Thank God for fossil fuels, and above all, for the human ingenuity that figured out what to do with them.
And the bounty hasn’t ended. Something like a billion people have been lifted out of poverty in places like India and China in recent decades as they have embraced markets and global trade. The pope should be delighted, except he has a blinkered view of capitalism as a zero-sum game benefiting only the privileged.
Pope Francis wants to instill guilt in northern nations, the better to induce them to pay off the wages of their sin by shipping boatloads of money to the more indigent southern nations. One suspects that he is really calling on North Americans to forgive the debt that the government of Argentina has defaulted on.
In Lowry’s words:
In this vein, he [Pope Francis] writes of the “ecological debt” that exists “between the global north and south.” Well, if we are going to speak of debts, the global north gave the global south the modern world. (You’re welcome.) The best thing that can happen to the developing world now is that it can follow our example of growth driven in part by cheap energy. It will enrich them, uplift their poor, give them more wherewithal to adapt to future changes in the climate, and — over time, one hopes — foster forms of government that are accountable to their people and respect their rights.