Little more than a week ago Pope Francis published a lengthy “exhortation” called, in English translation, “Gospel of Joy”. The Vatican was careful not to call this document an encyclical, but the work is fact an encyclical. It is mainly a call to re-evangelization, or preaching, of Catholic belief, but the Pope spent considerable space criticizing the world’s current economic conditions. The ever controversial radio personality Rush Limbaugh responded by calling the Pope’s writings Marxist.
In a substantial way, the Pope is critical of classical economic theory. He does not believe that the market will, by itself, correct conditions. But he does not go so far as to say specifically say how these conditions should be corrected. Nowhere does the Pope expressly state that government should assume control over the economy. He instead admonishes business and government leaders to act with more compassion, and to change the system that “throws away” the poor.
Pope Francis is a Jesuit, and his thinking is subtle. But Rush Limbaugh does not understand subtlety. He sees everything in black and white, and will distort to express his opinions. When a prim female law student testified before Congress that women should have health coverage equal to that given men, Limbaugh responded by calling her a slut.
When the senior George Bush debated Michael Dukakis during the 1988 presidential election, Bush argued by repeatedly calling Dukakis a liberal. Bush’s argument was not valid, but Dukakis seemed unable to respond. Such is the power of name calling.
The Pope is right in saying that current economic conditions are deplorable. A relatively small number of people control most of the wealth, and poverty is ever increasing. We need to change these conditions, and stop worrying about what the bullies will say about us.