POPE FRANCIS AND FREE MARKETS
In a commentary on the CNN website about the visit of Pope Francis, Sean Duffy rushed to reassure conservatives that it is not “un-Catholic to support free markets.” He ignored that Pope Francis implored Congress to regulate free markets for the common good. Instead he dismissed the Pope’s message by linking it to Marxism and Che Gueverra. He claimed that Pope Francis has offended conservative Catholics.
It is convenient for ultra-conservatives like Sean Duffy to twist the words of Pope Francis and sell him short as some sort of communist. Rush Limbaugh has done the same. Reasonable people, though, are not confused when Pope Francis says politics “cannot be a slave to economy and finance”. In his encyclical, Laudato Si, he wrote: “Finance overwhelms the real economy. By itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion.”
That should be obvious. Every recession in the last few decades ends with fewer good paying jobs, more people out of the labor market, lower family incomes and a greater spread between the very wealthy and the rest of us. Some blame the loss of unions for that; others blame greed.
I think Pope Francis gets it right: people, through their elected representatives must regulate markets and the economy for the common good. There is still plenty of room in a regulated market for the smart and entrepreneurial among us to make a lot money. No problem, as long as that wealth is not built on the suffering of many.
The minimum wage debate is a good example. We’ve come out of the last recession with an even larger number of low wage service jobs. Yet “free market” conservatives think that business should be able to pay as little as possible, without the restraint of a “minimum wage”. People can’t support their families on $7.25 per hour, not without a lot of state assistance like food stamps and health insurance. Family support is an essential goal of a just economy, Pope Francis said, yet assuring that wages can sustain a family in reasonable dignity is a big problem for Congressman Duffy.
Congressman Duffy ended his CNN commentary by piously stating his belief in family, faith, and personal charity. But he used the body of his commentary to describe his belief in an economic theory, just a theory, that his Pope said needs some tweaking. I’m going with Pope Francis on this.