COMMENTARY | Was Pope Francis preaching the works of Karl Marx or old-fashioned charity in his 50,000-word Evangelii Gaudium? The new Pope, a noted populist from Argentina, has routinely made waves for his humble style and enthusiasm for meeting with common people. While he has yet to thrill more liberal Catholics by announcing new revelations regarding the role or status of women or homosexuals in the Church, he has appealed to many by reinvigorating the call for traditional economic liberalism. According to CNN, the Pope’s call for more social welfare in the global economy has provoked the ire of a potent foe: Rush Limbaugh.
Limbaugh, perhaps America’s most widely-known conservative commentator, has blasted the Pope’s negative critiques of modern capitalism as de-facto support of Marxism. Controversially, he is labeling the head of the Roman Catholic Church a Communist, claiming that Pope Francis’ commentary would have been unthinkable years ago when John Paul II, a Pole renowned for standing up to the communist Soviet Union, was pontiff. Of course, many supporters of Pope Francis are pushing back, angry at Limbaugh for equating charity, social consciousness, and a disdain for rampant greed with hardline communism.
So, is Pope Francis really a card-carrying Communist? Hardly
Disdain for modern capitalism, which is driven by corporations and stock markets, hardly rises to support for communism. The Pope has not advocated for any abolishment of private property or personal rights. He has not criticized entrepreneurship. He has not said that everyone should only be allotted an equal share. The value of competition and innovation has not been challenged. Adam Smith would be far from rankled.
Rather, the Pope dislikes the modern drive to maximize profits by reducing costs, typically by minimizing worker compensation. Corporations have an incentive to do this in order to elevate stock prices, benefiting shareholders and corporate officers at the expense of the workers whose compensation has been cut. “We’re making healthy profits!” is what the CEO trumpets, neglecting to mention that the healthy profit margins are due to low costs rather than increasing revenues.
The Pope values the capitalist pillar of innovation, not that of cost-cutting
Limbaugh waxes eloquent on how only the private sector, not government, can lift the poor out of poverty by providing jobs. Well, why aren’t private sector employers hiring? The Pope rightly mocks the notion of trickle-down economics, pointing out that the poor are not benefiting from today’s record stock values. Despite record stock prices, corporations are not hiring more people. They argue against tax increases by saying those tax increases will hurt job creation…but when taxes are lowered they don’t hire anyway! Tax cuts intended to boost hiring are therefore wasted and misused by wealthy employers.
No, charity is not communism and the Pope has many valid points in his critique of modern capitalism. Rush needs to take a few Economics classes. I teach it six periods a day at a high school in America’s most conservative city – he would fit right in!