4 Reasons the Pope Is Wrong on Capitalism
"The Pope... has the responsibility, as Christ's ambassador, to remind the rich to help the poor, not to endorse any government to force people to. This is what Christians call free will."
This was said to me yesterday by a close friend and long time client of mine, Andrew. He said this in response to Pope Francis's apostolic exhortation, an 84-page document released this week. The document, which amounts to an official platform for his papacy, attacked unfettered capitalism as "a new tyranny."
Andrew is a good man and good Catholic. He, along with his three brothers (also good men and good Catholics) run a manufacturing business near Philadelphia. They employ 75 people. They have good marriages and good kids. Andrew teaches chess three times a week to underprivileged children and will be helping high-school age students find summer jobs this year. His business makes it a point to contribute heavily to charities, hunger relief drives and community organizations. Andrew is significantly involved in his church. The Catholic religion is an enormous part of his life. If there is a heaven, Andrew will go there. If Jesus is there, He will welcome him.
Unfortunately I'm not so sure Pope Francis understands a man like Andrew. I'm not sure he understands Andrew's need for free will. This is a good Pope and a kind person. He is saying the things a Pope should say. He also practices what he preaches. I like him. I respect him. But what the Pope said yesterday was wrong. Wrong in four ways.
1.The Pope is wrong to attack the "idolatry of money." Idolatry means the excessive or blind adoration, reverence or devotion of something, particularly something that's not religious. As an entrepreneur Andrew does indeed revere money. Maybe excessively, maybe not. Good for him. It is because of Andrew's devotion to making money that he has money--more money than many in his community. Is this so bad?
The money allows him to provide for his family and not be a burden on the state. He uses the money to help others, provide jobs and pay for his employees' healthcare. His savings are invested in stocks and bonds that are used by other corporations to build more wealth and employ more people. Business owners like Andrew who idolize, revere, adore and like to make money are the ones who have contributed to an enormous increase in living standards for billions across the world over the past two hundred years.
2. The Pope is wrong when he asks politicians to guarantee all citizens "dignified work, education and healthcare." Governments don't do this. People do this. Businesses do this. It is the taxes that businesses like Andrew's pay which enables our elected officials to provide work, education and healthcare. The Pope should be reaching out to Andrew. He should be saying "what more can I do for you, Andrew, to help you grow your business and make more money so that you can give people jobs?" We don't want handouts. It demeans us. What makes people happy is work. A paycheck. Being able to educate and provide for one's children. This is the essence of a useful life. And it is business owners like Andrew who can do this better than any politician, assuming he's given the freedom.
3. The Pope is right to implore the wealthy to share their wealth, but is wrong when he suggests that "today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills." There will always be a percentage of society who will be poor, whether they are on Caesar's grain dole or getting U.S. food stamps. But this trend has significantly reversed over the past two centuries. Why? Inequality.
People say they hate those celebrities on the red carpet, the sports star who makes $20 million or the CEO who reaped a billion on that public offering. But we really don't hate them. We want to be like them! Inequality motivates people. Humans are innately greedy and never happy with their lot in life. Let us celebrate the rich. And give us all the opportunity to be just like them. It's our rationale for getting up and going to work in the morning. It's our reason for pushing our children to get an education.
4. The Pope is wrong when he complains that when a homeless person dies of exposure it is not news but "it is news when the stock market loses 2 points." He's wrong because, as sad as it is, a homeless person dying affects one person. A drop in the stock market affects millions of lives. It takes away security. It stops business owners like Andrew from buying products, employing people and investing in new ventures that create jobs and opportunities for others. It inhibits companies from raising money that funds future pharmaceuticals, schools, food, energy and all the ancillary industries that support these efforts. The death of the homeless man is tragic. But not as tragic as the impact that a significant loss of wealth has on world progress.
Free will. The encouragement to create more wealth. Investment. Jobs. This is what the world needs. This is what the Pope should be supporting, not lamenting. And this is why he should be reaching out to Catholics like my friend Andrew. Because Andrew is the kind of Catholic and the kind of business owner that is what's good in this world.
GENE MARKS | Columnist | Owner, Marks Group
Gene Marks is a columnist, author, and small-business owner. He oversees the Marks Group, a 10-person technology consultancy to small and medium-size businesses. A certified public accountant, Marks has also worked in the entrepreneurial services arm of KPMG. He writes for The New York Times, Forbes, and The Huffington Post.