Pursuit of Truthiness

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Pope Francis and Economics: A Partial Reconciliation

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It is always easiest to evaluate the views of others by fitting them into pre-existing categories. When Pope Francis released his first encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium, many people pegged him as saying “left-wing economics good, free markets bad”. This lead to celebrations on the left and denunciations on the right. Some thought him to be showing ignorance of, or even Pope Paul V vs Galileo style hostility to, economic science.


After actually reading much of the encyclical, I found it much more nuanced. In particular, the Pope seems to be deeply ambivalent about the welfare state, warning of those who exploit the poor for their own political interest. He would much prefer that people earn a living through work:

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

“it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labour that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives”

Of course, he does want these workers to be earning a “just wage”. While many readers will assume this implies a government-mandated minimum wage, Francis doesn’t go there; one could just as well expect that he is encouraging just wages through increased human capital, tax credits, employer generosity, or something else.

He is generally supportive of private property and business:

“The private ownership of goods is justified by the need to protect and increase them, so that they can better serve the common good”

“Business is a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all.”

Like many on the left, the Pope is worried about inequality. But his reason for worry isn’t really about the distribution of material goods, so much as the social distance that economic inequality can create:

“the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of
spiritual care”

“No one must say that they cannot be close to the poor because their own
lifestyle demands more attention to other areas. This is an excuse commonly heard
in academic, business or professional, and even ecclesial circles”

For those worried about his Argentine background:

“I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism.”

He concedes a role for science in figuring out how best to do all this, though it does sound like he wants to make economics oikonomia again:

“Economy, as the very word indicates, should be the art of achieving a fitting management of our common home, which is the world as a whole.”

In any hundred page document, it can be too easy to cherry-pick quotes. Indeed this is what I have done here, if only to balance the much larger number of pieces that cherry-picked the quotes that seem to be from another side. But real people are usually more complex than a one-dimensional political spectrum.

Written by James Bailey

April 15, 2016 at 4:56 pm

Church softball= Moral Dilemmas

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Do *you* think it’s bad sportsmanship to cartwheel onto home plate after your best hit of the season?

‘Cause the other team and the umpire sure did.

Me, I thought it was fun.

Written by James Bailey

August 1, 2007 at 1:33 am

Posted in about me, the church

Church League Softball

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About a dozen Bangor-area churches set up a league.  It pretty fun and a good way to get to know the people in the church my family is going to.

But above all, its a great opportunity to make offensive jokes and bad puns.

Playing the Latter Day Saints:

“So, have two of them come over to your dugout and asked you to join their team?”

Playing St. Mary’s Catholic tonight,  hoping to avoid a 30-inning war ending in defenestration.

Its good there aren’t any real prosperity-gospel churches here (that I know of); losing a game as a church might cause them to lose their faith, or drive them to a week of penance so God will love them again.

Written by James Bailey

July 13, 2007 at 8:29 pm

Posted in bad jokes, the church