Pope Francis has been making waves since his ascension to the Papacy. Referred to by many as the internet’s darling, his increased social cache and ability to garner audiences is causing him to draw fire. Interestingly enough, the fire is coming from a few right-wing talking heads who fear that the pope may be taking a turn for liberalism.
“He’s had some statements that to me sound kind of liberal, has taken me aback, has surprised me.”
“This is pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope. Unfettered capitalism? That doesn’t exist anywhere. Unfettered capitalism is a liberal socialist phrase to describe the United States.”
“His (Pope Francis’s) encyclical is about economics, and it reveals a disturbing ignorance. I say this with deference and respect.”
“The pope seems to prefer common ownership of the means of production, which is Marxist, or private ownership and government control, which is fascist, or government ownership and government control, which is socialist. All of those failed systems lead to ashes, not wealth. Pope Francis must know this.”
These individuals’ attempts to draw more interest in their own media shouldn’t be misunderstood as “competent” or responsible criticisms of economic theory. In fact, it has been offered that the competent economic student would recognize more of the theories of Karl Polanyi in the pope’s statements than those of Karl Marx.
Regrettably, Pope Francis is just the latest target of the Right’s continuing efforts to undermine discussions about economics that find merit in arguments that aren’t necessarily pro-corporation. Instead, the pontiff is espousing a portion of an economic theory that finds that capitalism is an effective means of distributing wealth but an ineffective and, in fact, often harmful means of distributing justice.
This means that the economy is a tool to serve the needs of society, not that the society is a tool to serve the economy.
For wholistic capitalists, this distinction is a deathknell. It would mean that something other than the all-powerful dollar would dictate the direction of industrial effort. Instead, we may find capitalism is a tool for the generation of wealth, one of many. It has proven itself to be a highly effective tool in this regard. However, capitalist thinking cannot be allowed to dominate in areas where strict adherence produces disastrous ends.
Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.
54. In this context, 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. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.
Francis responded specifically to claims that he was speaking Marxist philosophies by saying, “The ideology of Marxism is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.” He then moved the conversation, “There was the promise that once the glass had become full it would overflow and the poor would benefit. But what happens is that when it’s full to the brim, the glass magically grows, and thus nothing ever comes out for the poor. … I repeat: I did not talk as a specialist but according to the social doctrine of the church. And this does not mean being a Marxist.”
Joshua is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow him on Twitter @Joshual33.