We're living at a far more equal, peaceful, and prosperous time than the pontiff acknowledges....
Pope Francis is Times’ Person of the Year, an excellent pick in my estimation. He strikes me as man with incredible integrity. I’m enjoying watching him live into this new calling.
Of particular interest to me has been response to his Evangelii Gaudium, with the left gleeful about his condemnation of capitalism and the right going apoplectic about the same. In our age of bumper sticker sound bites, I don’t think either side is listening with appropriate nuance. I haven’t read and digested the whole document but I have read the sections that deal with economic issues. I don’t see a radical departure with what previous Pope’s have written.
Twenty years ago Pope John Paul II wrote the following in Centesimus Annus:
Can it perhaps be said that after the failure of communism capitalism is the victorious social system and the capitalism is the victorious social system and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path of true economic and civil progress?
The answer is obviously complex. If by “capitalism” is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property, and the resulting responsibility for the means of production as well as free creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy,” “market economy,” or simply “free economy.” But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative. (Centesimus Annus, 42)
I don’t find Pope Francis saying a great deal different although his emphasis may be a little different. We need to remember that John Paul II ministered under the tyranny of Soviet Communism while Francis did so under the tyranny of right-wing dictatorship. These differences are surely a factor.
The part that does trouble me some, as it does with an overwhelming number of religious figures who speak to economic issues, is a distorted picture of what is happening in the world. It isn’t what is said. It’s what’s missing. For the past century or two we have been living through the most astonishing surge in human flourishing in history. That reality needs to be brought into discussion every bit as much as the challenges and the injustices.
David Ropeik in How Risky Is It Really: Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match the Facts shows that we are innately inclined to fixate on threats and negative developments. People who do so aren’t stupid or ideological … they are human. All of us do it. The inclination to focus on threats is instinctive and has served human beings well over millennia. But in the face of very complex issues we need to bring our concerns into perspective with more objective analysis. Otherwise we run the risk of doing more harm than good. We need to approach problems with warm hearts and cool heads.
I have some minor quibbles with Tupy in the article but it brings important balance. I’ve documented some similar factors in past series like American Social Indicators and World Social Indicators, two series I intend to update next year. I think the challenge is to hear the Pope’s important calls for inclusion of the poor and his warning against our propensity to justify indifference. Not heeding the Pope's warnings is also to misunderstand the world. But we need to heed the warnings with an informed understanding of what is unfolding in the world. Read the Atalantic article and see what you think.