Washington Post Article Commentary:
Pope Francis has released a sharply worded take on capitalism and the world’s treatment of its poor, criticizing “trickle-down” economic policies in no uncertain terms.
In the first lengthy writing of his papacy — also known as an “apostolic exhortation” — Francis says such economic theories naively rely on the goodness of those in charge and create a “tyranny” of the markets.
“In this context, 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,” the pope wrote. “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 sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”
While popes have often warned against the negative impact of the markets, Francis’s verbiage is note-worthy because of its use of the phrase “trickle-down” — a term that came into popular usage as a description for former president Ronald Reagan’s economic policies. While the term is often used pejoratively, it describes an economic theory that remains popular with conservatives in the United States today.
The theory holds that policies benefiting the wealthiest segment of society will also help the poor, by allowing money to “trickle down” from the top income levels into the lower ones. Critics, including President Obama, say the policies, usually focused on tax cuts and credits that primarily benefit upper-income Americans, concentrate wealth in the highest income levels and that the benefits rarely trickle down to the extent proponents suggest.
In his exhortation, the pope also attacked economic inequality, suggesting Christians have a duty to combat it to comply with the Ten Commandments — specifically the prohibition on killing.
“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality,” the pope wrote. “Such an economy kills.”
The pope also likened the worship of money to the biblical golden calf.
“We have created new idols,” Francis wrote. “The worship of the ancient golden calf … has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”
The pope also attacks “consumerism”: “It is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric.”