In today’s New York Post, Acton’s Michael Matheson Miller discusses Pope Francis’ views on poverty, in light of the pope’s upcoming meeting with President Obama. Miller reminds the reader that the pope is not an economist or a politician. Trying to view him through that type of lens is a mistake, says Miller.
Pope Francis is not an economist or technocrat laying out policy; nor does he see the government as the primary solution to all of our problems. He is a pastor exhorting us to take seriously the “joy of the Gospel” and to integrate it into every aspect of our lives, including economics.
I think it is fair to say that some of the pope’s words on economics lacked precision, yet his comments about the corrosive effects of consumerism and the exclusion of the poor are incisive.
Miller acknowledges that the pope remains skeptical about free markets, which is problematic, given how much free markets have to offer the poor.
In La Cava, an impoverished neighborhood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, I spoke with a pastor and a local city councilman. They explained that within La Cava there is no private property, and no rule of law. The police don’t even go inside, but only drive around the perimeter.
Crime is rampant, but there is no law to protect them. Most people are hard working. They want jobs; they want to build businesses and be part of broader circles of exchange so they can provide for their families. But they are trapped. They live outside the law.
Joshua Omoga, a Kenyan shop owner who lives in Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa, tells a similar story. After years of trying to find work, he borrowed several dollars from a friend and now sells vegetables from the tiny shop attached to his house. He’d like to grow his business, but in Kibera there is virtually no titled property, so he cannot register his business. He is trapped in the “informal economy.”
The pope is correct, Miller states, that free markets alone do not bring justice to the poor, and the “primacy of the human person” must always be at the forefront of any economic system. This, Miller argues, is what free markets can and do offer the poor: “the conditions for human flourishing by enabling people to create prosperity for their families and communities.”