First, throughout history, free-market capitalism has been a great driver of economic growth, and as my colleague Ben Friedman has written, economic growth has been a great driver of a more moral society.
Second, “trickle-down” is not a theory but a pejorative used by those on the left to describe a viewpoint they oppose. It is equivalent to those on the right referring to the “soak-the-rich” theories of the left. It is sad to see the pope using a pejorative, rather than encouraging an open-minded discussion of opposing perspectives.
Third, as far as I know, the pope did not address the tax-exempt status of the church. I would be eager to hear his views on that issue. Maybe he thinks the tax benefits the church receives do some good when they trickle down.
Here is Pope Francis arguing for an ethically grounded economic system:
I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings.
There are lots of possible ways to interpret this, of course, but it is ultimately an appeal to regrounding economics in its ethical roots.
Here, by the way is Adam Smith, who also wrote eloquently about the exclusion of the poor:
The poor man … is ashamed of his poverty. He feels that it either places him out of the sight of mankind, or, that if they take any notice of him, they have, however, scarce any fellow–feeling with the misery and distress which he suffers. He is mortified upon both accounts; for though to be overlooked, and to be disapproved of, are things entirely different, yet as obscurity covers us from the daylight of honour and approbation, to feel that we are taken no notice of, necessarily damps the most agreeable hope, and disappoints the most ardent desire, of human nature. The poor man goes out and comes in unheeded, and when in the midst of a crowd is in the same obscurity as if shut up in his own hovel.
The problem with modern capitalism — a problem that escaped the scrutiny of His Holiness — is not too much freedom, but too little. The regulation of free markets by governments, the control of the private means of production by government bureaucrats, and the unholy alliances between governments, banks and industry have raised production costs, stifled competition, established barriers to entry into markets, raised taxes, devaluedsavings and priced many poor out of the labor force. The Pope would do well to pray for those who have used government to steal freedom so as to satisfy their lust for power, and for those who have bowed to government so as to become rich from governmental benefits and not by the fruits of their own labors.
Traditional Catholic social teaching imposes on all of us a moral obligation to become our brothers’ keepers. But this is a personal moral obligation, enforced by conscience and Church teaching and the fires of Hell — not by the coercive powers of the government. Charity comes from the heart. It consists of freely giving away one’s wealth. It is impossible to be charitable with someone else’s money. That’s theft, not charity.
And here is LingoSteve summarizing some of the evidence for capitalism’s good elements:
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