Wednesday 21 November 2018

Pope Francis: 'The wealthy few feast on what, in justice, belongs to all'. Is this true?

The Pope on Sunday preached
"Let us ask for the grace to hear the cry of all those tossed by the waves of life. The cry of the poor....It is the cry of all those Lazaruses who weep while the wealthy few feast on what, in justice, belongs to all. Injustice is the perverse root of poverty."
We ought to hear the cry of the poor and friendless and others that the Pope lists. Yes the wealthy few, who include everybody without money worries in Western countries, should give away their possessions to the poor, if they do not have dependents to look after or other obligations to fulfill. But do the belongings of the wealthy few 'belong, in justice, to all'? This is something else and, in fact, a strange doctrine.

Strange for Catholics, at least. As my mentor Mgr. Alfred Gilbey said, the Catholic Church, which preaches the voluntary renunciation of worldly possessions, has always been the firmest defender of property rights.

I never understood why Anglicans in our day no longer not like singing this verse from Mrs. Alexander's famous hymn All things bright and beautiful:

The rich man in his castle,

The poor man at his gate,

God made them high and lowly,

And ordered their estate.

I remember in 1992 skimming with great impatience a book by some clerical fool who criticised an Anglican catechism from 1911, for stating the idea that God makes some rich and some poor. If one is a theist this is a plain and obvious truth. I wonder why people think it is not.

Nor is inequality, which is natural and inevitable, usually 'the root of poverty'. On the contrary, sharing out the wealth of the few among the many is not only unjust in theory but in practice makes everyone poorer. Unequal societies like Hong Kong, Singapore and modern China have much higher living standards than egalitarian ones like Cuba or Mao's China.

The Pope's ideas do sound like those of General Peron, under whose rule he grew up. The socialist Peron, who came to power in an Argentina that was part of the First World and had a standard of living higher than Canada's, dragged his country down to the Third World where it remains. General Pinochet of neighbouring Chile, for all his brutality, by introducing the free market economics of the Chicago School made his country the richest in Latin America. If, as the Chilean President forecast last year, Chile becomes a First World country by 2025 Pinochet will be the man to thank.

The poor you have always with you, Jesus said, but we have far, far fewer of them now than when I went to university. As mentioned in my last post, in 1981 44.3 percent of the world population of 4.5 billion lived in extreme poverty, whereas last year 9.6 percent of a world population of 7.5 billion did. Even allowing for the huge increase in the world's population, this is a vast decrease in the number of people living in extreme poverty.

This huge change had nothing to do with socialism. Aid may have helped, though this is disputed, but most of the credit for this great change belongs to free market economics and free trade.

Socialism was condemned by Pope Pius IX and many other popes, including Pope John XXIII who said that “no Catholic could subscribe even to moderate Socialism.” Catholic leftists say that this does not apply to the mild socialism of democratic, so-called socialist parties, though I forget their arguments, but rather to Marxists and the far left. It would seem to apply, if you ask me, to saying that the rich are feasting on what really belongs in justice to all.


  1. Having a Peronist on the seat of Saint Peter is indeed not good.

    However, I would point as far back as the first paragraph of the famous 1891 Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII - that paragraph contains claims that are just not true (the material impoverishment of the people and an increase in moral degeneracy) - yes life in 1890 was bad, but it was actually LESS bad than life for ordinary people had ever been before (both materially and morally).


    1. "That the spirit of revolutionary change, which has long been disturbing the nations of the world, should have passed beyond the sphere of politics and made its influence felt in the cognate sphere of practical economics is not surprising. The elements of the conflict now raging are unmistakable, in the vast expansion of industrial pursuits and the marvellous discoveries of science; in the changed relations between masters and workmen; in the enormous fortunes of some few individuals,and the utter poverty of the masses; the increased self reliance and closer mutual combination of the working classes; as also, finally, in the prevailing moral degeneracy. The momentous gravity of the state of things now obtaining fills every mind with painful apprehension; wise men are discussing it; practical men are proposing schemes; popular meetings, legislatures, and rulers of nations are all busied with it - actually there is no question which has taken deeper hold on the public mind."

      This translation says poverty not impoverishment. People were richer than they had ever been but the masses were utterly poor.

      But Popes do not understand economics or climatology or many other things.

  2. Indeed. Free market capitalism has done more to alleviate poverty than all “social justice” programs combined. The irony is that Francis stated several times that the Church must not become an Internation NGO with rituals, but that seems to be what he is making of it.

  3. My problem with free market capitalism is that it encourages materialism. In fact it encourages atheism. It also encourages degeneracy. It encourages consumerism. It encourages hedonism. I find it difficult to get my head around the idea that free market capitalism is a Christian concept. It seems to me that free market capitalism is the most deadly enemy the Church has ever faced.

    Capitalism was the major cause of the death of Christianity.

    Of course I'm not convinced that human happiness can be measured by rising material standards of living.

    1. Economic growth encourages, I suppose, degeneracy but there was a lot of it about in Augustan Rome too. it encourages materialism yes but that you have always with you. I am absolutely sure that rising material living standards are not the secret of happiness, and for a conservative they are in some ways a threat if they rise too fast (Enoch Powell thought this too), but they are better than abject destitution. That too corrupts - and is very different from evangelical poverty.

  4. David in Belgrade22 November 2018 at 11:17

    Why do you think "free market capitalism" is a Christian concept?
    You may find "The Fable of The Bees: or, Private Vices, Public Benefits" by Bernard Mandeville, enlightening:

    It was the subject of a recent broadcast of "In Our Time". A podcast can be downloaded from BBC website. Its a good listen :).

    1. Why do you think "free market capitalism" is a Christian concept?

      I don't. I think it's an anti-Christian concept. I'm just surprised the so many Christians think free market capitalism is compatible with Christianity.

    2. I think David meant to ask why you did NOT think that "free market capitalism" is a Christian concept.

    3. I think David meant to ask why you did NOT think that "free market capitalism" is a Christian concept.

      OK, I thought I'd pretty much explained that. Free market capitalism is entirely materialistic and its worship of materialism leads inevitably to atheism. It encourages greed and hedonism. It undermines the family. It undermines morality. To the free market anything is fine if it makes a profit.

      I can't think of any system more hostile to Christianity than free market capitalism.

      And we have the evidence of history. Where free markets have gone, Christianity has died.

      I can't give you a theological answer as to why free market capitalism is incompatible wth Christianity because I'm not a theologian.

    4. @dfordoom
      22 November
      "I find it difficult to get my head around the idea that free market capitalism is a Christian concept."

      23 November
      "I think it's an anti-Christian concept."


      Thank you for trying to clarify my question but I really did ask dfordoom why he thought "free market capitalism is a Christian concept".

      He has answered but I ask a follow-up question.

      Why does he write "so many Christians think free market capitalism is compatible with Christianity"?

      This view doesn't make sense when leaders of Christian churches, e.g. Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope, are critical of the market economy and those who have become wealthy from it.