Pope Francis On Poverty Warrants Scrutiny: Samuel Gregg

by Steve Ray on November 30, 2013

Pope Francis has released his first apostolic exhortation,Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). An apostolic exhortation

…is published to encourage the faithful to live in a particular manner or to do something, e.g., post synodal documents offered to the church in summary of a previous synod and hoping the faithful will do something helpful for the life of the church…

Acton’s Director of Research, Sam Gregg, takes a look at Evangelii Gaudium at National Review OnlineFirst, Gregg points out that this is a beautiful document in many ways, with its emphasis on the Holy Spirit and Francis’ call for more collegiality between Rome and local churches.

However, Gregg also says that some of the pope’s points are “rather questionable.” Gregg mentions the subject of Islam and the pope’s assertion that it is non-violent. However, Gregg’s main focus has to do with the pope’s economic reflections.

Prominent among these is the pope’s condemnation of the ‘absolute autonomy of markets’ (202). This, he firmly believes, is at the root of many of our contemporary problems, not least because it helps rationalize an unwillingness to assist those in need.

If, however, we follow Evangelii Gaudium’s injunction (231–233) to look at the realities of the world today, we will soon discover that there is literally no country in which markets operate with “absolute autonomy.” In most Western European countries, for instance, governments routinely control an average of 40 percent of their nations’ GDP. In many developing countries, the percentage is even higher. How much more of the economy do we really want to put into the state’s hands? Is there no upper limit? In private correspondence with the British-Australian economist Colin Clark, for example, even John Maynard Keynes suggested that the figure of “25 percent [of GDP] as the maximum tolerable proportion of taxation may be exceedingly near the truth.”

Nor does there appear to be any consciousness in Evangelii Gaudium of just how regulated most of the world’s economies are. The rules and regulations that apply, for instance, to economic life in North America and Western Europe are fast approaching the status of beyond counting. The situation in most developing countries is hardly any better. So extensive is the range and scope of regulation that, as I’ve argued elsewhere, it is now creating genuine rule-of-law problems in many countries. The amount of regulation affecting developed Western economies is now so great that it is likely that even good judges with no interest in judicial activism are issuing rulings that are ad hoc and arbitrary in nature.

Gregg believes the pope leaves too many assumptions regarding economy unexamined, and that “particular realities” are missing from the pope’s thoughts here. As Gregg concludes:

If we want ‘the dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good’ to be more than what the pope calls a ‘mere addendum’ to the pursuit of ‘true and integral development’ (203), then engaging more seriously the economic part of the truth that sets us free would be a good start.

Everyone would gain — and not least those who endure poverty.

Read “Pope Francis and Poverty” at National Review Online.

Also read: Rush Limbaugh is Wrong, Karen Finney of MSNBC is Nuts: Pope Francis and Capitalism

Related posts:

  1. Audio: On NPR, Samuel Gregg Discusses Pope Francis and Economics
  2. Samuel Gregg: Is Pope Francis a Man of the Left?
  3. Can Pope Francis Deal With Toxic Contamination?
  4. Will Pope Francis Go Left on Economics?
  5. Pope Francis and Poverty

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