"The immense majority strives after a greater and better supply of food, clothes, homes, and other material amenities. In calling a rise in the masses’ standard of living progress and improvement, economists do not espouse a mean materialism. They simply establish the fact that people are motivated by the urge to improve the material conditions of their existence. They judge policies from the point of view of the aims men want to attain. He who disdains the fall in infant mortality and the gradual disappearance of famines and plagues may cast the first stone upon the materialism of the economists"
Ludwig von Mises Human Action, p. 193
This quote from von Mises should be self-evident, and yet there are people the world over who despise free market "capitalism” as evil or corrupt. This viewpoint even infects the new Pope, who recently wrote a papal encyclical that devotes a section to attacking capitalism. Yet poverty was far worse prior to the triumph of free markets, and it reaches its zenith in the parts of the world where the State is most active in regulating and controlling economic activity. Freedom to pursue one’s economic interests and prosperity go hand-in-hand, but the world continues to pursue government control of economic affairs as somehow fairer and empowering.
First, what is Capitalism? Adam Smith did not invent capitalism but rather simply delineated it. At it’s core capitalism is the free exchange of goods and services with another. It was the first economic system (not really a system at all, as Daren Jonescu recently observed ) and will survive long after any sort of collectivist scheme is ended. It predates Homo Sapiens, in fact. The first time a person traded an animal skin for a fish or whatnot you had capitalism.
Capitalism is about service. It is a voluntary exchange, and as a result the capitalist must provide superior service or better quality to his customer or those customers will go elsewhere. Barack Obama, in trying to sell his quasi socialist healthcare scheme, repeatedly spoke of "choice and competition”. Why? He was using capitalist rhetoric to trick the populace. He understands that competition means superior service and products, so why was it necessary to create this government run system? Obamacare did not propose anything to spur competition, did not allow portability in products, nor relax regulations. Instead it ratcheted all of them up, because ultimately Obama wanted to kill the private system and institute a true socialist market. But that is not the point; the point is that competition breeds more of everything we desire - and Obama had to admit that to sell his scheme.
Capitalism brings prosperity everywhere it is tried. Prosperity brings more help to the poor, both through increased charitable contributions but also through lower prices and more competition among businesses. (Take Walmart, for example; I use insulin, and could not afford it were it not for Walmart who offers it within my budget. Walmart may be hated for paying less than what some would wish - and the labor unions especially hate it - but it also makes my very life possible thanks to the low prices. It can be said that the evil, greedy Walmart does more to help the poor than any government program.)
And this prosperity DOES trickle down. The most charitable nations on Earth are those with the highest levels of economic freedom. http://blog.heritage.org/2011/12/21/most-charitable-nations-are-amo... Capitalism creates enough wealth that there is plenty left over to care for the poor. This is why the Obama Administration is trying desperately to consume the private charities into the government leviathan. http://www.forbes.com/sites/howardhusock/2013/04/10/the-obama-budge...
And we have seen the fruits of command economies; the communist nations were poverty ridden and the Soviet Union fell because people could not even get enough food. Argentina - the Pope’s home country - prospered until the madness of fascist economics seized their minds under Juan Peron, and Argentina ended up an economic basket case. Statist control of the economy breeds poverty.
So Pope Francis is for greater infant mortality, poorer physical health, improper shelter and clothing, etc.
Of course he isn't, but he accuses those who advocate free market economics of these very things. If he is concerned for the poor as he claims to be he should warmly embrace capitalism as a boon to human progress.
Why doesn't he?
Well, I am mindful of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plinio_Corr%C3%AAa_de_Oliveira, who wrote in Revolution and Counter Revolution;
" Another objection to our work could arise from the fact that certain Protestant sects have an austerity verging on exaggeration. How, then, can one explain all of Protestantism as an explosion of the desire to enjoy life?
Even here the objection is not difficult to resolve. When the Revolution penetrated certain environments, it encountered a very strong love for austerity. A "clot” formed. Although the Revolution was entirely successful in the matter of pride, it was not so in the matter of sensuality. In such environments, life is enjoyed by means of the discreet delights of pride and not by the gross pleasures of the flesh. It may even be that austerity, encouraged by an intensified pride, reacted in an exaggerated way against sensuality. But this reaction, however obstinate, is sterile. Sooner or later, through lack of sustenance or by violence, it will be destroyed by the Revolution. The breath of life that will regenerate the earth will not come from a rigid, cold, and mummified puritanism."
Plinio Correa de Oliveira was discussing the more sour and judgmental Protestantism in particular, but the point is well taken; there is a strain of sensuality that enjoys austerity. His argument is that, like sexual masochists enjoy pain to produce sexual pleasure, so too a hauty disdain for wealth, for enjoyment, for the things of this Earth breeds a kind of spiritual pleasure, a sensual delight of pride. It is a sort of spiritual masochism.
And it’s not restricted to people of religious faith.
We all know them; many liberals take pleasure in their holier-than-thou attitudes towards what they see as bad things. It is a large part of the hatred of off-the-rack liberals for conservatives. "I am better than you because I don't smoke". "I am better than you because I don't eat fattening food". "I am better than you because I am not a bigot/racist/sexist/homophobe." "I am better than you because I want to HELP people and YOU don't!"
We all know the type. Liberalism attracts them like honey attracts flies, because liberalism is about controlling all human behavior, and so it allows endless judgmentalism, which is the key to enjoying this particular vice.
While many "advocates” for the poor are truly well-meaning and want to help people, I cannot help but wonder if the more virulent anti-Capitalists in the group are not perhaps indulging in this pleasure.
Consider the many programs that do absolutely nothing to alleviate the suffering of the poor. Welfare programs that increase benefits with added children, programs that are predicated on single parenthood, programs that push the poor away from meaningful work (which helps to promote self esteem and dignity), etc. One wonders if the advocates for the poor really hope to accomplish anything but keep these people in poverty so they may look down their noses at those who do not share their condemnation of Bourgeois virtues.
This holds true equally in secular society and within the Catholic Church.
There has always been a segment of the Christian population (and this is true in other faiths as well) that has seen austerity as virtue.
As Chaucer observed in A Knights Tale, "some Hold it wise …To make a virtue of necessity" which is what has happened with poverty, among other things, over the centuries. It is not a virtue, and while, as Tevye says in "Fiddler on the Rood" it is no shame to be poor it is no great honor either.
Poverty is a condition that stems from a multiplicity of sources. In the old days it was a problem of supply; there wasn't enough supply to meet the needs of everyone, and it meant there was a class of people who were poor simply because conditions were such that they weren't able to provide for themselves. But the Industrial Revolution fundamentally changed the nature of poverty, making it less a supply problem and more a problem of the mind and heart. Oh, there are still plenty of poor people around the world who work hard and try to do their best, but in the industrialized First World much of poverty is self-inflicted, the results of a culture of poverty that revolves around certain attitudes and beliefs. In America poverty stems from a culture that celebrates drugs, crime, and disdains work as some sort of selling out. Education - which is free and available - is frowned upon in America's ghetto. A sense of entitlement reigns in these places, a sense that "The Man" cheated them out of what was theirs by right of birth. This IS poverty, but it is not the result of a lack of stuff, but rather a lack of virtues.
Now, Western poverty may be unusual, but it is an example of what the free market gives to us; a world where poverty is ultimately voluntary. People can and do leave poverty all the time here in America. And it happens here, perhaps the freest of "capitalist" states (or it used to be). Why? Because the free market produces so much that the resources are available for those truly wanting to improve their stations in life.
This is equally true across the globe. Consider this report from the World Bank:
Poverty is declining worldwide, thanks to the end of Communism and the spread of free markets. Every nation that has moved away from State control of economic activity has seen a decline in poverty.
And this with just a little MORE economic freedom. As was observed in National Review:
"If, however, we follow Evangelii Gaudium’s injunction (231–233) to look at the realities of the world today, we will soon discover that there is literally no country in which markets operate with "absolute autonomy.” In most Western European countries, for instance, governments routinely control an average of 40 percent of their nations’ GDP. In many developing countries, the percentage is even higher. How much more of the economy do we really want to put into the state’s hands? Is there no upper limit? In private correspondence with the British-Australian economist Colin Clark, for example, even John Maynard Keynes suggested that the figure of "25 percent [of GDP] as the maximum tolerable proportion of taxation may be exceedingly near the truth.”
Meanwhile people flock in droves from the statist nations to the free, often with nothing in their pockets to sustain themselves. Why is that? Why does America have an illegal immigration problem?
We should rightly hate poverty. But poverty isn't going anywhere despite our best efforts; it is endemic to the human condition, a result of the curse placed on the Earth in the Garden of Eden. And to use the force of law - which is in it's essence violence - to make those who have provided for themselves provide for those who cannot or will not is immoral. The rich can and do voluntarily make provisions for those in need, and generally do so more effectively than does government. Forced charity steals the opportunity to do good from those who have, and steals the hopes of the poor who then must dine on the crumbs that have fallen from the table of Uncle Sam. The poor wind up permanently tied to the welfare state, with no hope of escape.
If we hate poverty we should embrace its antithesis. Capitalism is that antithesis.
But then, were we to actually help those in need, there would be nothing for Liberals to swell up with pride over. See THEY care about people! And YOU don't!
See more on this here http://tbirdnow.mee.nu/why_pope_francis_is_wrong_about_capitalism and here http://tbirdnow.mee.nu/a_peronist_pope
Read more from Tim and friends at The Aviary www.tbirdnow.mee.nu