If you live under a rock like I do, you might not have heard about the recent controversy over the Pope’s words last Thanksgiving. It seems quite a few people accused him of being a Marxist. After reading over his Apostolic Exhortation, I can’t say that I’m surprised of this accusation.

Let’s put the Pope’s comment into context.

Last Thanksgiving, he issued – what I assume to be recurring – the Apostolic Exhortation. Within that document, he says: “today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality.” Basically he is calling on individuals to be aware of the suffering in every region of the world, even in those so-called “rich” nations. This is laudable.

He continues: “Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. … It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new.” As I was researching the context of the quote you posted (which was the first time I had seen it, by the way), it came to light that many people took the Pope’s words as a support of Marxism. The above quote is likely the reason for it, as it is eerily similar to the doctrine of Engels and Marx. Even still, no harm, no foul. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he is simply talking morality and not politically.

Continuing: “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 naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. … Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor … as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.

This section is partially spot on and partially dead wrong. To begin with, the free market absolutely does bring “greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.” The market economy has generated a far greater boost in wealth and overall standard of living than any other economic system in history. Period. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a “free” market. It is the incessant meddling in the affairs of individual actors by governments around the world which result in the deplorable variances in wealth and power, not the market itself. So when governments take over charitable giving from individuals in the form of welfare and other subsidies, it is no wonder that so many people feel as if it “were someone else’s responsibility.” In very real terms, everyone is forced to be charitable by the government and, as a result, voluntary charity has diminished greatly.

Another Marxist-like statement, “One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies.” But again, I give him a pass on this.

And this is where I have a big problem with the Pope’s statements: “While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.”

This statement epitomizes not only the Pope’s ignorance of economics, but that of the great majority of individuals. Governments are solely responsible for the dramatic disparity of wealth in this world, not “the market.” We would be in Heaven on Earth if there were truly “absolute autonomy of the marketplace.” Unfortunately, we have to deal with governments who claim to be “charged with vigilance for the common good” which confiscate mind-boggling amounts of wealth from individuals and redistribute it allegedly for the “common good.” Unfortunately, in real life we find that the bulk of wealth goes to those with power (e.g. the proverbial “evil” corporations everyone loves to hate). It is statements like the Pope’s which allow the government to confiscate more and more wealth from productive individuals, thus making most everyone’s life a little less well off.

Finally, the topping on the cake: “I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: ‘Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs’. … A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders.” And there we have it. The Pope is essentially challenging nations to redistribute wealth because to not do so is “to steal from them.” Thus we come full circle to forced redistribution of wealth.

If, on the other hand, he had focused his message on individuals, suggesting that they consider the benefits of assisting their fellow man out of the kindness of their own hearts and donate their own personal wealth I would have absolutely nothing against anything the Pope said. Unfortunately, the Pope mixed politico-economics with morality and never the twain shall they meet.