Pope Francis’s videotaped TED talk “Why the Only Future Worth Building Includes Everyone” is full of wisdom that conflicts with the unwise economic policies he advocates.
Released recently at the international TED conference in Vancouver, Canada, the talk begins by observing that community is central to human existence: “life flows through our relations with others. … Each and everyone’s existence is deeply tied to that of others: life is not time merely passing by; life is about interactions.”
Next, Francis stressed the moral responsibility of all people to put themselves in the place of others and to help those who are less fortunate. This “solidarity,” the pope explained, was exhibited by the Bible’s Good Samaritan, who personally sacrificed to help a stranger in need.
Finally, Francis said, “The more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly.”
These themes are very much in the tradition of classical liberalism and its commitment to economic freedom: community, open social interactions, helping others, and humble, transparent institutions. What is troubling about Pope Francis is that he spends much of his time traveling the world advocating policies that undermine these goals.
Since becoming the Roman Catholic Church’s 266th bishop of Rome in March 2013, Pope Francis has endorsed a larger and more powerful role for governments and international organizations. As Hayeon Carol Park and I show in “Pope Francis, Capitalism, and Private Charitable Giving” (part of a special symposium in The Independent Review titled “Pope Francis and Economics,” Francis frequently lambastes capitalism and calls for more government redistribution of wealth and property.
Rather than “humble” institutions, Francis calls for centralized governments and international bodies to act with hubris, replacing their plans and values for those of individuals. The government-coerced-redistribution model favored by Francis has left a trail of tears and destruction everywhere it has been pursued. Foreign aid, often government-to-government transfers, generally props up dictatorial and kleptocratic governments that murder and steal from their own people.
Government and multinational spending often bails out corrupt rulers’ business cronies at the expense of what Francis calls the “discarded people.”
William Easterly demonstrates that even as foreign aid to Africa soared during the 1980s and 1990s, African economies performed worse. He thus writes in his book “The White Man’s Burden,” “Remember, aid cannot achieve the end of poverty. Only homegrown development based on the dynamism of individuals and firms in free markets can do that.”
The most effective path to lifting people from poverty by the millions is decentralized market-based entrepreneurship. Recent progress in China and India, where hundreds of millions of people have escaped some of the worst poverty on earth, was a result of expanding economic freedom.
Francis does not recognize that what he advocates would undermine the core institutions needed for this process to work. His ideas would slow economic growth and shrink the surplus that people use to start new businesses, hire more employees, and engage in effective private charitable giving. Unfortunately, the approach Francis advocates would bring more human suffering, not less, undercutting his call to help the poor. Yet he does not see the contradiction.
Francis’ talk hints at the most effective approach to lifting people out of poverty: “The future of humankind isn’t exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies. … The future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a ‘you’ and themselves as part of an ‘us.’”
This aptly describes entrepreneurs, who dedicate their lives to solving problems faced by others, and invest and risk their own time, effort and money for the good of others. Entrepreneurs are true Good Samaritans.
The most effective anti-poverty program is a job. The most effective development strategy is sustained private investment by market-based entrepreneurs.
Unfortunately, Pope Francis undercuts both with his worldwide crusade against capitalism.