A market economy enjoys real legitimacy only if it is set in the context of a moral culture that promotes the virtues of fairness, justice and respect for others. This is precisely why the moral relativism and indifference that holds sway in many parts of the West — fostered by the breakdown of the family and the attenuating of religious practice — poses such a threat to the economy.
 CNS photo/Brendan McDermid, Reuters

No enemy of capitalism

  • July 30, 2015

Following publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ and his recent speeches in Latin America, many supporters of capitalism might be forgiven for thinking His Holiness has something against them.

Again and again, the Pope excoriates an economy based on materialism and greed, and he rails against a new colonialism that exploits the labour of those in poorer countries. With startling bluntness he characterizes the dominant economic form in the developed world as “an economy that kills.” Moreover, speaking in Bolivia, a country ruled by a socialist president, the Pope seemed to be calling on the poor to seize power from the wealthy and take command of their own lives. What do we make of this?

Pope Francis’ remarks, though strong, even a bit exaggerated in the prophetic manner, are best understood in the framework of Catholic social teaching. One of the most significant constants in that tradition is a suspicion of socialism, understood as an economic system that denies the legitimacy of private property, undermines the free market and fosters a class struggle between the rich and the poor.

Modern popes, from Leo XIII to Benedict XVI, have all spoken clearly against such systems. Economies in the radically socialist or communist mode have proven to be at best inefficient and at worst brutally oppressive. Catholic social teaching clearly aligns itself with the market economy. 

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