We all (probably) want to reduce poverty, but how do we actually go about doing that? Pope Francis has been extremely vocal about this problem, but many have taken issue with his suggested solutions.When describing modern capitalism, he’s used phrases like “globalización de la indiferencia” and “cultura del descarte” or a globalization of indifference and a throwaway culture. Beyond soundbites and one-liners, many are trying to get at the exact meaning of the Pope’s statements on economics and poverty.
During a recent trip to Buenos Aires, Acton’s director of research, Samuel Gregg, spoke to La Nacion’s Ramiro Pellet Lastra about these issues. Gregg states that the Pope’s very populist language when discussing economics and poverty suggests that he does not appear to have a clear understanding of how markets actually function. Like Pope Francis, Gregg sees the common good as very important but argues that this is compatible with free markets. In fact when you dispense with free markets and economic freedom in the name of the common good, as did Communist systems, it leads to even greater poverty.
Gregg adds that he certainly doesn’t disagree with the end goal of the Pope: lifting the global poor up. However, he points out that many of the state-centric poverty-alleviation techniques tried out in Latin America and Africa have failed. That being said, Gregg says, the market simply cannot fix every facet of human life. Under free economies, materialism and consumerism can flourish. In these areas, Gregg says, we need the church to provide cultural and spiritual formation.
Italian economist, Stefano Zamagni also sees a problem with the Pope’s rhetoric and vocab. He notes that quite often the Pope uses words that may not correctly capture his sentiment. Even in the two years since he was elected Pope, Francis’ language has changed, though the ultimate messages have not. He also points out that the Pope studied chemistry, not economics, and may struggle with some of the details and nuances of that field.