Opinion

With his encyclical, Francis swims in the anti-capitalist zeitgeist

In his new encyclical “Fratelli tutti” the Pope confirms his deep-seated skepticism towards the market economy and private property. The Pope overlooks a lot.

How the political left smirked in 2013 when Francis wrote: “This economy kills.” An argumentative proposition from the Catholic head of the church in Rome in the fight against capitalism and neo-liberalism! If even a pope brands the capitalist economic order as the devil’s work, incompatible with the principles of Christian ethics, then one is above all suspicion with a fundamental left-wing criticism of globalization and capitalism.

Francis, the Pope, who took the name of the mendicant monk from Assisi and demonstratively renounced the sumptuous insignia of the Vatican – luxurious bodies or sumptuous robes, for example – signed last Sunday in the crypt of the basilica in Assisi on the grave of St. Francis from Assisi his current encyclical: “Fratelli tutti – On fraternity and social friendship”. Over a good 150 pages, Francis outlines the vision of a society based on solidarity and a responsible policy. The fact that the Pope sees himself as an advocate for the poor and presents himself humbly is definitely sympathetic, especially because in the long history of the Church many of his predecessors surrounded themselves with earthly splendor and wealth and competed with secular rulers for power. Historically, the official church has rarely been a refuge of Christian charity or even a model of moral integrity.

In his current work, Francis touches on countless topics and varies many of the positions on which he has already commented. Instead of joining hands to fight the current pandemic together, peoples and states cut themselves off from each other, complains the Pope. This also applies to the common advocacy for a just world. The “storm” of the pandemic reminded people that “we are all in the same boat” and “that we are all brothers and sisters.”

With an exegesis of the parable of the good Samaritan, Francis appeals to see the stranger as a neighbor. For him, the responsibility of the wealthy especially includes a commitment to the welfare of the poor. For the Pope, this responsibility is, as it were, a categorical imperative of a real global social market economy. In the chapter of the encyclical “An Open Heart for the Whole World” you can find the Pope’s well-known positions on migration. Because “the neighbor is a migrant,” Francis sees it as “our duty to respect the right of every person to find a place where they not only meet their basic needs and those of their families, but also fully realize themselves as a person can.” With this postulate, the Pope formulates a right to migration that goes far beyond the constitutional right of asylum. The head of the Catholic Church completely ignores the fact that such a form of migration law provokes excessive demands even on rich countries, which then manifests itself in xenophobia and isolation.

At the same time, he denounces populism and liberalism as the worst excesses of globalization. The new encyclical does not read as shrill as his verdict “This economy is killing!” from 2013. Here it says: “The mark alone does not solve all problems, even if we sometimes want to make this dogma of the neoliberal creed credible.” He attacks the “dictates of the financial world,” its “speculative financial activity” and the associated creation of “fictional wealth” which he blames for the financial and economic crisis in the years after 2007/2008. Even today there is still “a back door open” for the rich and powerful because the world has learned nothing from it. Human dignity belongs at the center of an economic order. The state, which the Pope evidently trusts more than the market, has to ensure this.

Many papal accusations are almost caricatures. Even the most staunch market economist will deny that the market solves all problems. There are enough examples of market failure, especially in environmental and social policy; of course the state has to put in place guard rails. Incidentally, it is precisely the neo-liberalism reviled by the Pope that historically campaigned for such a regulatory framework in order to enforce fair competition and make “prosperity for all” possible.

But Francis does not try to make such differentiations. He completely overlooks the fact that there are both market and state failures. If, for example, the state overturns the principle of liability by rescuing highly speculative financial market players instead of punishing them with the harshest weapon of nationalization in a market economy, then it is not the market economy and its regulatory framework that has failed, but state policy. Then it was not the market that ensured that the losses were socialized and the profits privatized, but the state. Even if central banks, with the tacit or even loud approval of politicians, encourage asset price bubbles on the stock and real estate markets and artificially keep non-viable companies alive as zombies, then this is not due to capitalism, but to state laissez-faire.

As an Argentine, Francis should perhaps reflect on how the Peronists, who once took power there with the noble aim of forming a “just” society, plunged a very rich country into mass poverty and impoverishment. The Argentine social experiment should also warn the Pope against belief in the state. His predecessor, the Pole John Paul II, on the other hand, experienced communist barbarism first hand. That is why he was a staunch advocate of the market economy. The bare figures of the falling poverty rates in the world, which accompanied the triumphant march of the market economy around the globe, should give Francis food for thought. Incidentally, the official church also lives quite well from a flourishing economy. Church tax revenues rose year after year because the economy and employment were flourishing and even a mass exodus from the church did not leave a major mark on the church budget.

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