Sunday, 30 April 2017

When Will The Pope Stop Being A Crazy Cat Over Capitalism?


Pope Francis had harsh words for libertarians at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences on Friday. He pontificated about the ills of 'radical selfishness'; said that the libertarian individual is 'anti-social' and that he 'denies the value of the common good'.

If I were a Catholic, I'd be thoroughly embarrassed that the head of my church was so abjectly uninformed about such a big subject. I know Catholics believe in miracles - well here's one right in front of them, because it's fairly miraculous that one individual could cram so much nonsense into one short speech.

On the charge of 'radical selfishness' - it's true that a free market is about individuals pursuing their own goals - but as Adam Smith reminds us, this acts as a social mechanism that channels collective objectives toward meeting the needs of the people that make up that society, by ensuring competition between buyers and suppliers, which channels the profit motive of individuals into providing products that society desires at prices they are willing to pay.

In other words, a society of individuals pursuing their own good leads to an increase in the common good, not a decrease, because trade improves the lives of all who partake in it. And far from making us anti-social, it encourages social co-operation as providers must seek the needs and wants of society in order to provide what they require. Pope Francis's attack on libertarianism is a straw man attack, completely misunderstanding the thing he condemns.
 
Moreover, the Pope's anti-capitalist narrative is contradictory. Suppose I wanted to see a physically healthier Britain but I also wanted to quell the evils of physical exercise, you'd probably think me quite a strange and misguided fellow. My mistake would be a silly one to make, but it's not all too dissimilar to the mistake the Pope makes when he talks about how we need to temper the woeful profit motive of capitalism if we are to bring an end to poverty.

The free market is literally the aggregation of the billions of mutually beneficial exchanges between willing suppliers and consumers every day all over the world. Profit is made when value is created, and value is only created when people supply things that consumers need or want, whether it's food, clothes, electricity, computers, holidays, new technology, fresh knowledge or better medicines.

I'm all for encouraging people to be motivated by love, kindness, generosity and philanthropy, but being down on the profit motive is, in most cases, to be guilty of picking the wrong battle based on an erroneous interpretation of the so-called enemy.

If the Pope is concerned about helping eradicate poverty, as he is perfectly right to be, he would do much better if preached the kind of message conveyed here, here, here, here, and here.

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