Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium and the free market

dont-tread-on-neighbor300I am sure we are all busy this Thanksgiving week, so I considered my self lucky to have found the time to read through Pope Francis’ letter titled Evangelii Gaudium on Tuesday, but I hadn’t really figured out my reaction to parts of that letter that might be read as hostile to the free market.

This morning I was checking my email–waiting for most of my family to arrive for Thanksgiving dinner–when I received this message from a fellow named Kris who was troubled by the same concerns. I took a few minutes to hazard a response (which time may later help me to refine). Here is Kris’ letter and my early thoughts:

From: Kris Mxxxxxxxx
Subject: EVANGELII GAUDIUM

Dear Mr. England,

I came across a couple of your posts on catholic.com while searching for conservative/libertarian responses to Catholic Pope Francis’ newly released Encyclical.

Coincidentally, I own a copy of your book, Free Is Beautiful, and have read some of it. I admit I was disappointed by it because I don’t think it acknowledges that although Catholicism and libertarianism are compatible, the Church has worked against libertarianism in many ways throughout its history.

I’d like to know what your reaction to the Pope’s new Encyclical is. In particular, the remarks about “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” and “ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.”

As a fellow libertarian Catholic, I found those statements disturbing. Should I?

Sincerely,
Kris Mxxxxxxxx

————————————————————————–
Randy England <randyengland@gmail.com>
11:59 AM

Hi Kris:

Thanks you for your thoughtful message. I’ve only read the letter once, and it is clear there are no doctrinal issues that I have any trouble with. There a couple things I wish could be clarified. One is his harshness with what Pope Francis calls “unfettered capitalism.” Neither you nor I, nor the Pope has ever seen unfettered capitalism. I assume he must be condemning our modern corrupt, crony capitalism which any decent person ought to condemn.

I would like to see a free market in which anybody–especially the poor–can practice their occupations, subject only to the need to please the people they serve. They should be able to do it without government permission.

They shouldn’t need a license or government permission to practice a trade out of their homes; to sell their wares as a street vendor; to braid, cut, color hair or apply makeup; to have all the garage sales they want, to care for children in their homes, to bake & sell bread, to to use their vehicles to drive other people around inexpensively; to raise small animals in town; and on and on.

These are ways the market could be “unfettered” and I think our Pope might agree.

As to “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,” I don’t think that the rich getting richer necessarily helps the poor, but I cannot overlook the fact that a poor man today lives a better, longer, cleaner, healthier life than did a king 200 years ago. He can travel further, faster, use the phone, electric lights and probably see his children’s children born and raised, instead of watching them die. This is progress and the poor man participates as much as a king, arguably more.

I would give anything to be able to discuss these things with our Pope, but I have to trust in God that the Church will grow its understanding of liberty as government becomes more obviously corrupt and oppressive.

I am not worried about the past. It took the Church over a 1000 years to BEGIN to eradicate and finally condemn slavery (because of the “hardness of our hearts” as Jesus said). This may be that sort of thing. It can take time for understanding to develop. I really believe that liberty under non-aggressive institutions is the future.

God bless you and your family this Thanksgiving. It’s time for dinner!

Kind regards,
Randy England

———————————————————-
Kris Mxxxxxxxx
8:10 PM

Dear Randy,

Your response has made me much more comfortable being a Catholic libertarian. Thank you. I also believe that liberty under non-aggressive institution is the future. How could the kingdom of God be any other way? Please feel free to use this exchange in your blog if you feel it would help others like me.

Yours in Christ,

Kris

voluntary

3 thoughts on “Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium and the free market

  1. I think another key point would be that when he says “free market” he probably means it in the same way that vulgar libertarians use it, i.e. not actually a free market but neoliberal statism dressed up in market clothing. South America’s been through some bad stuff because of that.

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