Acton Institute Powerblog

What capitalists can learn from Pope Francis

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In a May 16 address to four new Vatican ambassadors, Pope Francis denounced the “cult of money” in today’s culture, stating that we are now living in a disposable society, where even human beings are cast aside.

Phil Lawler, at asks if this means the pope is a socialist. Not so:

Socialists make their arguments in moral terms, because if the argument is stated purely in practical terms, the socialists will lose. By the same logic, capitalists prefer to state their arguments in practical economic terms. Unfortunately, in doing so, they cede the moral high ground to their opponents. With rare exceptions—one thinks immediately of Michael Novak and of the Acton Institute–defenders of capitalism have not taken the trouble to state their case primarily in moral terms. And that’s unfortunate, because a powerful argument can be made that capitalism, tempered by a Christian moral framework, is the best available solution to the problem of poverty.

Nothing that Pope Francis said—nothing that any Pope has said—would rule out that approach. (Pope John Paul II opened the door to a Christian defense of capitalism in Laborem Exercens, then pushed it wide open in Centisimus Annus.) To be sure, the teaching magisterium has been critical of the excesses of capitalism, and of capitalism raised to an all-encompassing ideology. Pope Francis today repeated that condemnation of “ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good.” Hard-core libertarians will be uncomfortable with that language, certainly. But then hard-core libertarians are often uncomfortable with the Ten Commandments.

Read “What capitalists should learn from the Pope’s critique” at

Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.


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  • RogerMcKinney

    “But then hard-core libertarians are often uncomfortable with the Ten Commandments.”

    That’s simply not true. No hard-core libertarian wants a society without the rule of law. Just as the ancient Jews did, libertarians would separate the moral (Sabbath and coveting) from the civil law (murder and theft). Courts would enforce the civil law and leave God to enforce the moral laws.

    Thanks to I have read quite a lot of economic writings by Popes. They clearly oppose communism, but not socialism. And they clearly oppose free markets. That’s why both sides find a bone they can chew on. Seems to me the Popes prefer the welfare state or market socialism of Western Europe and the US. They want a tiny space for freedom in the market because they have seen the disastrous results of excluding it completely. But they want as small a space for free markets as is possible and the people not starve.

  • RogerMcKinney

    It’s a straw man to argue that anyone supports the “absolute autonomy of the market”. The term “market” refers to people interacting with each other to buy and sell. All people are held to the natural law prohibiting theft and fraud.

    I think it would be more appropriate to say that the Popes are socialists but not communists. They seem to favor the same market interventions as most socialists who are not communists.