Let me be clear up front: I generally like what I see in Pope Francis. He is no John Paul II in terms of gravitas, leadership charisma, or intellectual depth and he differs from Benedict XVI in his theological depth and his priorities, but he is very refreshing in his style of leadership as what we Protestants might call a “man of the folks in the pews”, he seems to have as an important priority the overdue reform of the Vatican curia, or bureaucracy, and he is deserving of Time Magazine’s designation as Person of the Year.
But in his recent highly publicized exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, it is clear that he needs to keep his day job and not stray too far into the weeds of economic policy pronouncements. He shows a basic misunderstanding of capitalism and its relationship to the moral order, uses pejoratives such as “trickle down economics” to characterize supply side policies that have lifted more people out of poverty than any policy of demand side theory or government redistribution, attributes the cause of poverty to “financial speculation”, and chases the pipe dream of eliminating the “structural causes” of poverty. In sum, as well noted by First Things editor R. R. Reno, the exhortation suffers from the usual dangers of populism and the “latent power of the people” in solving social problems.
He has become the darling of the left commentariat in his message that has been interpreted to convey a certain sympathy for basic reforms in Catholic orthodoxy, possibly even a tendency to “cafeteria-style Catholicism”. From my reading, this is completely off base. The notion that he will break from his immediate two predecessors in Catholic teachings or that he is “soft” on the hot button social issues is simply not in evidence.
So God speed, Pope Francis, and do make a point to spend some time with genuine capitalists and advocates of free markets.