Thursday, November 28, 2013

Undoing statist distortions of Francis

The false idea of Pope Francis, anti-capitalist, has grown with the release of his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. Part of the problem is that everybody's quoting Francis on his condemnation of a "theology of prosperity" or "culture of prosperity" but nobody is bothering to transmit his definition. For a pope, this is a term of art, a technical term that does not necessarily match up with what someone on the street might guess at its meaning. The definition is right there in the same document so if the journalist actually read the thing, there really is no excuse.
In other parts of our society, we see the growing attraction to various forms of a “spirituality of well-being” divorced from any community life, or to a “theology of prosperity” detached from responsibility for our brothers and sisters, or to depersonalized experiences which are nothing more than a form of self-centredness.
Once you plug in this definition, Francis' condemnation of prosperity takes on an entirely different character. That definition, by any stretch of the imagination, is not the "ethic and ideology that underlie free-market economies" except in the fever dreams of socialists eager to paint a false picture. This culture of prosperity is a permissible choice under the free market because, properly speaking, the free market is not totalitarian. It is neutral in areas that are not in its competence (economics).

Pope Francis does not deal in specifics as to how the goods he recommends "dignified work, education and healthcare", be acquired or assured. In the US, for example, the government strictly limits the number of medical residency spots, residencies being mandatory for the practice of medicine in the US. Increase those spots or decrease the spots and you can crudely adjust the price of healthcare by adjusting the supply of doctors. Neither action has anything to do with the free market. It's an adjustment of a government allocation. If the allocation is broken, it's for the big government types to explain and justify. Similarly, there are pro-free market interpretations on improving dignified work and education. That doesn't mean that Francis is pro-capitalist. It just means that he's doing his job, leaving sufficient ambiguity that the laity so it members can legitimately take all reasonable sides in the debate while pointing to the theological and ethical goals that are appropriately Catholic.