September 28, 2015

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Pope pronouncements have filled the media for days. Pickerhead was reminded of an interview with Saul Bellow where an attempt was made to draw him out on a controversy de jour. Bellow, not about to join in, replied, “I am against all the bad things and for all the good things.” It is the same with Francis who is beginning to resemble Chauncy Gardiner in Being There.

Kevin Williamson starts off our look at the pontiff.

… So much of the world is Pope Francis that he communicates via Twitter (@pontifex, if you are inclined), by which means he recently sent out a request that is characteristic of the man and his public style: “I ask you to join me in praying for my trip to Cuba and the United States. I need your prayers.” The response to this request, particularly from the right, was dispiriting. “I pray for those in Castro’s dungeons whose suffering you callously ignored. Screw you, Peronista pontiff,” wrote one critic. “He’s forfeited his moral authority.” Others, apparently unaware of the actual ministry of Pope John Paul II, averred that Pope Francis’s sainted predecessor would never have met with Communist thugs like the Castros. In reality, Pope John Paul II visited Poland many times when it was under Communist occupation, and met with Wojciech Jaruzelski, the brutal Soviet proxy who ruled Poland at the time, who had imposed martial law, imprisoned some 10,000 political opponents, and murdered at least 100 for good measure. The pope had some hope that Jaruzelski, who had been baptized in the Catholic Church, eventually would come around. He did, in his way. At Jaruzelski’s funeral Mass, one of the first men he had thrown in prison, Solidarity leader Lech Wałesa, knelt in the front row.

But those were heroic times. These are piddling times.

Pope Francis has an irritating (and more than irritating) habit of saying ignorant and destructive things about economics and public policy, and conservatives, myself included, have not been hesitant to criticize him for this. Nor should we forbear — the pope has no special expertise, and no special grace, in these matters, and, like any leader of a large and significant organization, he needs to hear criticism and the forcible presentation of different points of view. …

… Barack Obama is a failed president, a practitioner of a deeply destructive, distorted, self-interested, and vanity-driven brand of politics, and every instinct he exhibits tends toward detriment, privation, and chaos. But the fever-swamp version of his presidency — that he is a foreigner, a closet Islamist, a man singularly bent upon the destruction of the United States of America — is wrong. President Obama is himself certainly no exemplar of treating political disagreements with charity of spirit — he is quite the opposite — but his failings need not be our failings.

We conservatives want liberty, for ourselves and for the world. On that front, Pope Francis, unlike some of the great men who have walked before him in those fisherman’s shoes, does not appear to be a man who is going to be a great deal of help. But what do we want liberty for? For the things of this world alone, or for something more? That, despite his lamentable adventures in political economy, is more Pope Francis’s game.

And he asks us for our prayers. Maybe the appropriate prayer is wisdom for the pontiff, and humility for his critics — for me and you and the rest of us.




Stephanie Slade, an editor of Reason, thinks if Francis wants to help the poor, he should embrace free markets. 

He has been called the “slum pope” and “a pope for the poor.” And indeed, it’s true that Pope Francis, leader to 1.3 billion Roman Catholics, speaks often of those in need. He’s described the amount of poverty and inequality in the world as “a scandal” and implored the Church to fight what he sees as a “culture of exclusion.”

Yet even as he calls for greater concern for the marginalized, he broadly and cavalierly condemns the market-driven economic development that has lifted a billion people out of extreme poverty within the lifetime of the typical millennial. A lack of understanding of even basic economic concepts has led one of the most influential and beloved human beings on the planet to decry free enterprise, opine that private property rights must not be treated as “inviolable,” hold up as the ideal “cooperatives of small producers” over “economies of scale,” accuse the Western world of “scandalous level[s] of consumption,” and assert that we need “to think of containing growth by setting some reasonable limits.”

Given his vast influence, which extends far beyond practicing Catholics, this type of rhetoric is deeply troubling. It’s impossible to know how much of an impact his words are having on concrete policy decisions—but it’s implausible to deny that when he calls for regulating and constraining the free markets and economic growth that alleviate truly crushing poverty, the world is listening. As a libertarian who is also a devout Roman Catholic, I’m afraid as well that statements like these from Pope Francis reinforce the mistaken notion that libertarianism and religion are fundamentally incompatible. …

… “The problem is [Pope Francis] doesn’t clearly make distinctions between capitalism and trade and greed and corporatism,” like the kind he would have seen in Argentina, CatholicUniversity’s Richards says. “My sense is he’s skeptical of what he thinks capitalism is, but also that he hasn’t made a careful study of these things.” 

Evidence that the pope is working with an inaccurate picture of what capitalists really believe comes from Evangelii Gaudium, wherein he wrote that we exhibit “a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.” Richards thinks Pope Francis fundamentally misunderstands Adam Smith’s key insight: that even if the people who “wield economic power” are narrowly self-interested, the market will orient their behavior in a way that benefits others. 

“Now as a matter of fact we live in a fallen world, and so the question is: What is the best economic arrangement to either mitigate human selfishness or even to channel it into something socially beneficial?” Richards asks. “Precisely the reason I believe in limited government and a free economy is because it’s the best of the live alternatives at channeling both people’s creativity and ingenuity, but also their greed.” 

The pope doesn’t see it that way. From his perspective, either you support unfettered capitalism or you care about poverty. Among free marketeers, he says dismissively, the problems of the poor “are brought up as an afterthought, a question which gets added almost out of duty or in a tangential way, if not treated merely as collateral damage.” But that is a deeply uncharitable characterization of those who see things differently than he does. The people I know who invest their time and talent into defending economic freedom do so not in spite of the effect we think a capitalist system has on the least among us, but because of it. As John Mackey, the co-founder of Whole Foods (a company that’s a leader in philanthropic giving), argues in a recent interview with Reason, one of the strongest moral arguments for capitalism is that it alleviates poverty. 

That’s not to say we shouldn’t still be working to transcend our fallen nature. Within a free society there’s plenty of space, for those who are so inclined, to heed Pope Francis’ appeal—to be less materialistic, more selfless, truer disciples of Christ. In fact, I’ve argued that only a liberalized economic order grants people the autonomy to choose for themselves to be generous. If you don’t have the freedom to accumulate treasure, how can you possibly share it with the world?




Bill McGurn wishes there was some economic wisdom in the Vatican.

… the poor fare much better in places such as Hong Kong, Taiwan or Korea, where markets and competition are relatively open, than they do in Latin America or Africa, where competition is far more limited. To put it another way, it isn’t global competition that makes nations poor but their isolation from it.

Why do critics such as Pope Francis have such a hard time seeing this? A big part is that they misconstrue the nature of market competition. They want what the pope calls a “cooperative economy.”

But competition in a free market is not like competition in a boxing match, where the outcome is one winner and one loser. It’s about sellers vying to please a third party: the customer. This is why capitalists do not think of themselves as pro-business. To the contrary, capitalists insist that businesses must earn their success by competing to please customers.

Look at it this way. Brazil has a state-run, quasi-monopoly called Petrobras, the largest company in South America. The government shields it from competition on the grounds that the people of Brazil will benefit.

But who have actually benefited? Prosecutors say it is Petrobras execs, who grew rich on kickbacks, and the Working Party politicos they are said to have bribed. Anyone really want to argue that Brazil’s downtrodden are better off with an economy that protects Petrobras at the expense of competitors who might offer workers more jobs and customers better products?

Or what about Venezuela, where Hugo Chávez nationalized huge chunks of the economy and appropriated the property of foreign companies. Are we surprised that Venezuela’s richest woman turns out to be the late Chávez’s daughter?

Come to think of it, what about Argentina? The pope’s native land used to rank among the world’s wealthiest. Today it is a synonym for crony capitalism—and decline. …




Thomas Sowell says the left has its pope.

… In 1900, only 3 percent of American homes had electric lights but more than 99 percent had them before the end of the century. Infant mortality rates were 165 per thousand in 1900 and 7 per thousand by 1997. By 2001, most Americans living below the official poverty line had central air conditioning, a motor vehicle, cable television with multiple TV sets, and other amenities.

A scholar specializing in the study of Latin America said that the official poverty level in the United States is the upper middle class in Mexico. The much criticized market economy of the United States has done far more for the poor than the ideology of the left.

Pope Francis’ own native Argentina was once among the leading economies of the world, before it was ruined by the kind of ideological notions he is now promoting around the world.




Almost four years ago the December 22, 2011 edition of Pickings was devoted to the spirit of enterprise. All of it is worth another look, but one selection about a Russian youth who would grow to become their equivalent of a four-star general is reproduced here. It is a good example of the human urge to trade and create enterprise that would be hampered if not demolished by the policies proposed by this foolish pope.  

“All of the above reminded Pickerhead of ”Years Off My Life” - the autobiography of a Soviet General – Aleksandr Gorbatov. It is an unvarnished tale that describes his time in the GULAG before he was rehabilitated on the eve of The Great Patriotic War. Gorbatov ended the war as the Soviet Commandant of Berlin and retired with four stars.

It is his youth that interests us today. Harrison Salisbury reviewed his book for the NY Times in 1965.”

… But the finest quality of Gorbatov’s book is its sheer humanity. As he describes his life as a youngster – superstitious, religious, strong-willed, ambitious, clever – he sounds again and again like young Gorky. Russia was a hard school at the turn of the century, whether you were a youngster in Nizhni-Novgorod like Gorky, a miner’s apprentice in the Donbas like Khrushchev or a peasant’s son in the Palekh country. If you survived it you could survive almost anything …

At the age of eleven, after finishing his schooling, the young Gorbatov started a small trading business to help his family. It is that story you’ll see below.


And we found lots of cartoonists who share our views.