Friday, December 6, 2013

The Pope should NOT shut up

An earlier post of mine "Does the Pope read Tom Woods?" lamented some of the lame leftist support for Pope Francis's recent comments on economics. Many, if not most, of these lefty lame-os were happy to hijack the Pope's moral authority to push statist economic policies, while ignoring the greater part of the Pope's document, which had little or nothing to do with economic policy. My post also lamented the Pope's misunderstanding of basic economics and his failure to appreciate that the freeing of markets has raised billions out people out of poverty over just the past two decades.

As summed up by Patrick Deneen (Would Someone Just Shut That Pope Up?), some commentary from the right was as silly as that from the left (HT: Susan Mangels, my colleague at Lindenwood). Judge Napolitano, for example, said of the Pope: “I wish he would stick to faith and morals, on which he is very sound and traditional.”

Napolitano, as representative of the "Pipe down, Pope!" crowd, is mistaken if he thinks it is possible to talk about economic policy without talking about faith and morals. I suppose that, on a technical level, economics can be said to be independent of faith and morals.  But the actual application of this technical understanding to economic policy is inherently a question of faith and morals. By the same token, faith and morals aren't particularly useful for making economic policy without an understand of economics on a technical level.

Pope Francis's error was not that he tried to apply Catholic teaching to economic questions, but that he did so without understanding that his implied policies would actually end up harming those he wishes to help.  The shallowness of his economic thought is apparent in his sloppy use of throw-away phrases such as "trickle-down theories", and by his conflating of free-market capitalism with the exploitive kleptocracies found throughout his native Latin America. One doesn't have to be a professional economist to avoid this sort of mushiness, but the Pope doesn't appear to think that he needs anything more than faith and morals to address economic issues.

I don't wish for the Pope to shut up about economic policy.  Far from it.  I want the Pope to weigh in on economic issues because I believe that the Church's teachings can be a useful moral guide for economic policy. I just wish that he would do so only after learning a little something about economics and the morality of markets. In addition to the Tom Woods book I mentioned in my earlier post, Pope Francis might learn something from this book by Rebecca Blank and William McGurn, or this summary of the book by Douglas Bandow.

Update: Michael Novak says, among other things, that it was the English translation of Evangelii Gaudium made the Pope's thoughts on economics appear much sloppier tgan they really are. The original Spanish appears to be much more nuanced and thoughtful.