Tuesday, December 03, 2013

The Pope, Rush Limbaugh And The Great Economic Debate

In this season of Advent, it appears that Pope Francis has strayed into controversy regarding a papal letter called Evangelii Gadium (The Joy of the Gospel) and his view on capitalism and consumerism.
Why it seems controversial enough that radio talker Rush Limbaugh weighed in on the letter and well he didn't like it.
And this link is to the whole 224 page letter from Pope Francis. Trust me, no one has read the whole letter. But the pages that seem to have evoked controversy are pages 52-75 and also pages 186-216.
From what I can tell in reading this is that Pope Francis thinks that what we call capitalism is somehow an economy of exclusion. A point is made about a homeless woman dying from exposure and a two-point loss in the stock market on the same day. What makes for the bigger story? The Pope believes that the stock market loss would be more spoken about than the homeless woman. Actually, the homeless woman dying to exposure would be the direct result of the evils of capitalism according to the leftywhore media. So both would get publicity in the American media.
Before that, however, the Pope insinuates that because a homeless woman died that a capitalist economy kills people.
I cannot disagree more.
That is a broad-brush example. Even in the most communistic nation still left on earth, there are homeless people and yes they die on the street as a direct result of the harsh, socialist economy of their land. There are forced labor camps in which people die every day. Just ask refugees from North Korea.
The Pope actually believes that capitalism in the West and especially the United States is so rampant that there is this survival of the fittest and that it has left the vast majority in the dust.
No, what has happened and has been happening for a long time is crony capitalism that does pick winners and losers and has kept the economy in the doldrums for a long time. Especially in the United States.
And as the letter goes on, I have to admit at a level it makes me think that this part of the letter is straight from the Democrat National Committee. This is the following direct from the letter:

 In this context, 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. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and na├»ve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

While I can agree with some of this, the Pope does not realize that there has not been a real free market. A market-based economy is not the same as a free market. The use of "trickle down" is clearly a condemnation of the economic system known as capitalism. It even implies that it does not bring people economically upward but that no one who supports a market and or free market economy is somehow Snidely Whiplash. In fact and indeed there are many who prosper in this economic system and do freely give back to those less fortunate. And not through taxes but in supporting charity and programs, some religious and some secular, to help those help themselves to bring themselves up economically. Just as the government cannot do all, the church and other charitable organizations cannot do it all alone. And even the Pope realizes this. As pointed out in this rebuttal from Roman Catholic priest, Fr. John Truguilo, Jr., in the letter the Pope makes the case that welfare should be a temporary situation and not what it has become for many, a way of life:

Welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses.

That is directly from the Pope's letter. 
It is on that where there is disagreement in the United States especially about the overall role of government and whether or not it can or solve what is referred to as inequality. 
Now here is where Rush Limbaugh comes in. 
Rush spent time on last Wednesday's show discussing this letter. And needless to say that Rush did not like all that he read. 
His disagreements are by and large respectful and mostly correct. However, I agree with Fr. Trugilo that Rush did make a mistake about one aspect of his critique.
This is what Rush said:

"Pope Francis attacked unfettered capitalism as 'a new tyranny' and beseeched global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality, in a document on Tuesday setting out a platform for his papacy and calling for a renewal of the Catholic Church. ... In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticizing the global economic system, attacking the 'idolatry of money.'"

Now what the Pope said is that unfettered consumerism is a  new tyranny. 
And on that, consumerism for the sake of want is not a good thing when it does make any individual feel less than human if he or she does not have the latest, greatest new thing like whatever. 
Actually, I do have an example that to me shows a certain desperation that is disturbing.
While many if not most Americans celebrated Thanksgiving there were way too many people getting caught up in stores that were opening on Thanksgiving evening to get a start on the Christmas shopping season. 
In this article there are some, IMHO, losers that started to camp out on Tuesday to be the first in line for whatever perceived bargain or bargains that they can get. 
Here is the comments of Thomas Carlos Dudley:

“I like camping out; to me, it brings more excitement,” Dudley said. “I’m the type of guy who always tries to get a better deal. I do most of my Christmas shopping ... (on Black Friday).”

Dude, its not all about some bargain that you have to wait three frickin days for.
I think that this is what disturbs the Pope and also myself.
But where I would differ is that look, while we are bombarded by ads online, print, radio and television about Thanksgiving and Black Friday specials, one can and should practice something called restraint if you do not want to get caught up in all the hoopla.
There is a fine line between capitalism and consumerism. Sometimes, no most of the time, we on all sides cannot seem to separate the two and they should be.
That is the fault of all of us.
Parents have given up teaching their children the kind of values that would be back the kind of consumerism that drive people like Mr. Dudley to wait in line, in tent, for three days to maybe get some unbelievable bargain on whatever electronic product? You know, it maybe there in the afternoon as in the morning. Really, it could.
The message should be that capitalism is really a good economic system. Consumerism is not because it creates an immorality that debases capitalism.
We all need to know the difference before we make any critiques on both.
Pope Francis and Rush Limbaugh both got it right and wrong. But the Pope, good a man as he is, is a man. He is not above criticism and Rush did so, a little off, but very respectfully.
We can have a great economic debate which is always worthwhile but I just wished that we call could get some of it right before we get into such a debate.

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