Is Pope Francis a Distributist?


I'm still unpacking the pope's apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium.  There is much to glean here, but at this point I think it is now safe to say that the mainstream media got it 100% wrong on Pope Francis. He is not the liberal-modernist "hippy pope" they made him out to be. Quite to the contrary, the pope is a conservative, a radical and a traditionalist all rolled into one.  He is John Paul II + Benedict XVI + Leo XIII + Pius XI + a massive dose of steroids!  I'll be mining this apostolic exhortation in the weeks to come. Today, however, something stood out in a very glaring way. There is no way around this one.  Pope Frances does not support supply-side ("trickle down") economics. In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, the Holy Father had these stinging words to say about Western capitalism...
53. 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. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape. 
Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “disposable” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”. 
54. 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. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and na├»ve 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. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.
Now this is not some news media characterisation of his comments.  These are his actual penned words. The pope is no fan of capitalism in the modern Western understanding of it. This is a blistering attack on the supply-side form of Western capitalism popular among many U.S. Neoconservatives, Republicans and Libertarians.

Essentially, there is nothing new here.  Pope Francis has said the exact same thing as previous popes, going back 120 years to Leo XIII, with the only difference being that Francis has said it with more force, and more stinging clarity.  From this we can learn that the supply-side ("trickle down") economic model is essentially incompatible with Roman Catholicism. Now before Keynesians and socialists throw a victory parade, the pope went on to speak against their solutions as long-term economic models. He sees them more as temporary measures in times of crisis and that's about it. Rather, the economic model the pope supports, while not giving it a specific name, is based in the Church's teaching of: Solidarity + Subsidiarity = Catholic Economics.  He is not the first pope to talk about this, and he won't be the last.  The one and only economic model ever developed based on papal teaching is distributism.  While it is unfitting for a pope to openly declare himself of a particular economic mindset, I think it's fair to say that the only economic model based on 120 years of papal teaching is probably the one the pope subscribes to.  I believe the pope is a distributist.


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