The economic beliefs of Pope Francis — Marxism or capitalism?

Buenos Aires Herald. 27 de abril de 2016.

Pontiff seeks greater concern for poor by Church

As part of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, the Centesimus annus encyclical written by Pope John Paul ll promotes what capitalism has not yet accomplished: allowing universal access to knowledge. But it strongly denies too that Marxism is the solution. On the contrary, by questioning whether capitalism is acceptable, the pontiff affirms: “If by ‘capitalism’ it is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a ‘business economy,’ ‘market economy’ or simply ‘free economy.’”

The social doctrine of the Church teaches that the state must contribute to growth indirectly, according to the principle of “subsidiarity” — by creating favourable conditions for the free exercise of economic activity, which will lead to abundant opportunities for employment and sources of wealth. And it must contribute indirectly, according to the principle of solidarity. By defending the weakest, by placing certain limits on the autonomy of the parties who determine working conditions, and by ensuring in every case the necessary minimum support for the unemployed worker.

The Church supports capitalism if it means an economic system which recognizes the fundamental role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity.

“You know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother-cardinals have gone almost to the end of the Earth to get him but here we are.” By these words in his initial speech from Saint Peter’s Basilica, Francis began a new era at the Holy See. It is a new age of austerity and a great concern for the poor, but one which has absolutely nothing to do with Marxism.

Francis has pursued Holy See diplomacy, showing continuity with his predecessors and the long-standing principles of protecting human dignity, economic thought and religious freedom, albeit with some occasional misunderstanding.

His forays into social justice and capitalism have often been misquoted, or taken out of context.

Francis has criticized capitalism in depth in the papal encyclical Laudato si’ and on other occasions, while one of US President Barack Obama’s main claims to success is having rescued capitalism from the global financial crisis of 2008-9.

This papal concern for social justice (also manifested in his earlier career, e.g. his encouragement of Buenos Aires’ slum priests) should not cloak a lifelong doctrinal orthodoxy, despite some of his sound-bites over the last couple of years, which do not change doctrine if examined carefully.

The common good

In his work Evangeli gaudium, he states that it is the responsibility of the state to safeguard and promote the common good of society. Based on the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, and fully committed to political dialogue and consensus building, it plays a fundamental role, one which cannot be delegated, in working for the integral development of all. This role, at present, calls for profound social humility.

Francis clearly expresses that “the state is responsible for caring and promoting the common good of society, based on the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity.”
He writes: “In the dialogue with the state and with society, the Church does not have solutions for every particular issue. Together with the various sectors of society, she supports those programmes which best respond to the dignity of each person and the common good. In doing this, she proposes in a clear way the fundamental values of human life and convictions which can then find expression in political activity.”

“Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded,” says Francis, adding “some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the consecrated workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”

The pope, then, clearly follows the social doctrine which emphasizes the right to private property of productive assets and recognizes the positive role of the state in the defence and promotion of this right. Subsidiarity provides that the state is structured to fulfill those functions that individuals may not perform properly, and not to absorb what they can carry.