Pope Francis in his recent major pronouncement, “Evangelii Gaudaum,” or “The Joy of the Gospel,” makes defenders of unregulated capitalism unhappy or angry.
Shedding an amiable demeanor, the pope acts like Superman. He uses verbal fists of steel to smash unfettered capitalism, denouncing it as “unjust at its roots,” a faulty theory “which defend(s) the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.”
This soft-spoken pontiff, who flashes a winning smile, isn’t afraid to turn bluntly pontifical against a “trickle-down” economic policy most conservatives endorse. His style turn-about, from soft-spoken to stern, mirrors Virgin Mary’s abrupt change. Usually, she’s pictured as quiet and reflective. In the “Magnificat,” however, Mary barks like a drill sergeant against financial inequality. Her intent meshes with God’s who “has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty” (Luke 1:53).
Usually, Pope Francis doesn’t use harsh words to enforce Roman Catholic dogma. Although he hasn’t backpedaled from regarding homosexuality and abortion sinful, he doesn’t dwell on them. He’s like Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent, principled and personal without sounding condemnatory. “If a homosexual person is of goodwill and is in search of God, who am I to judge?” he asked.
Much like Superman battling evil, the pope deems unregulated capitalism deficient in creating a just society. He warned conservatives in the U.S. not to be swept along by a monetary stream trickle-down economics promises for robust financial times.
What’s enticing about trickle-down economics, which President Ronald Reagan popularized?
When economic doldrums slow the U.S. economy, conservatives clamor the answer is not to first help consumers on tight budgets. Rather, give producer/business tycoons capital to start new firms and hire more people. Stimulate risk-taking in business expansion. Lower investors’ taxes. Allow faster depreciations. Reduce regulation. Offer investment incentives.
Trickle-down enthusiasts say the government is a drag on the economy. Their solution to most economic ills is to get Uncle Sam out of the way. With fewer taxes, the rich prosper. They build new plants with cheaper production costs. Their profits trickle down to the masses. More middle class citizens with fistfuls of cash become wealthy. An expanding middle class pulls people from poverty. Everybody wins when the rich become richer.
Pope Francis realizes how bogus this errant fiscal policy is. Even with a roaring stock market, capitalists have chosen to park large chunks of their money off-shore, away from Uncle Sam’s taxes. Money banked in the United States is put into huge cash stockpiles because “the future is too uncertain for savvy investments.”
The result: “In 2012, the top 1 percent of earners in the U.S. collected 19.3 percent of the country’s total household income — an all-time high,” reports Dominic Barton, the managing director of McKinsey & Company. In a Wall Street Journal article he warns, “The disparity is growing rapidly as well. Incomes of the top 1 percent grew by 31.4 percent from 2009 to 2012, compared to just 0.4 percent for the remaining 99 percent.” No wonder the economy is sluggish for most citizens.
Pope Francis doesn’t greet this ominous news with a nice-guy style, reminiscent of Clark Kent. He swoops in like Superman and attacks the alleged merits of unchecked capitalism.
His tough critique makes conservatives wince. “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” Pope Francis wrote scornfully in his 84-page apostolic exhortation.
“This opinion,” he concludes, “which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacrilized working of the economic system.” Trickle-down wealth dries up once it flows beyond the 1 percent.
“Meanwhile,” the pope disdainfully adds, “the excluded are still waiting.”
Onlookers overlooked Clark Kent because he lingered in the background. But they couldn’t avoid Superman’s scrutiny of their evil ways.
Today, Christian communities shouldn’t ignore the pope’s warning. Those tethered to trickle-down economics must heed the papal call to cut these ties. “There’s no way a Catholic who is a serious intellectual can ever again not address the issue of income inequity, of the structural sins of our economic system. This is front and center,” confesses Michael Sean Winters, a fellow at Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.
“This is a pastor’s voice,” adds Winters. “He’s (Pope Francis) saying, ‘If we’re serious Christians, we need to be knee-deep in this stuff.’”
Nix trickle-down economics. Applaud the pope for acting like Superman. He fights against economic injustice, just as the Man of Steel helped the helpless.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.