“That [38 Euros] is what the people who died were being paid. This is called slave labour,” he said. “Today in the world this slavery is being committed against something beautiful that God has given us – the capacity to create, to work, to have dignity. How many brothers and sisters find themselves in this situation!
“Not paying fairly, not giving a job because you are only looking at balance sheets, only looking at how to make a profit. That goes against God!
“There are many people who want to work but cannot. When a society is organised in a way that not everyone is given the chance to work, that society is not just.”
Another faux pas from the Pontiff and, alas, one which shows an amount of superficiality and shallow thinking that cannot but greatly alarm.
The start is good, with the Pope rightly lamenting the exploitation to which too many are still exposed, most notably in the Third World. One could discuss at length to which extent the decolonisation is responsible for it, but there is no denying the Holy Father expresses here a perfectly legitimate concern. The fraud on the pay is a sin that cries to Heaven for vengeance, and I am unable to see how shameless exploitation of a situation of great need would not amount to it.
Where the Pontiff derails in an embarrassing manner – and you see all the difference with a refined thinker like his predecessor – is in the easy populism, sweeping generalisations and general anti-Capitalist sentiment with which he builds on the premise. These slips into easy populism show a mediocrity of reasoning that would rapidly kill even the prospects of a Labour politician. Decidedly, this Pope bears all the marks of the Jesuit from South America.
The first one is the slip with the balance sheet. Every company who wants to survive looks at the balance sheet first, second and third. Those who don’t, fail. Prudence in expensive decisions – like the one whether to hire – is the Alpha and Omega in a company’s success. This prudence, this insisted looking at the balance sheet, is what makes companies and all their stakeholders – shareholders, employees, clients, & Co. – also thrive. When the Pope blames companies who “look only at the balance sheet” he is certainly not thinking at sweat shops in Sri Lanka, but rather at Capitalism as an economic phenomenon, because here he is not complaining about exploitation, but about decisions from which the life itself of a company depends.
What else should a company look at, one would want to ask the Pontiff, if not at the balance sheet? If General Electric were to say “come on, let us hire one person we don’t need for ten we do; we can’t look only at the balance sheet after all”, how long does the Pontiff think General Electric would survive? And where does he think would be the profit if this company were, in the long term, to whither and then die? Will, then, this “not looking only at the balance sheet” be very profitable to the hundreds of thousands of families deprived of one, or all income? Make no mistake, this is nothing resembling Catholicism: third is third-rate Peronism of the kind that causes hyperinflation, widespread misery and military coups.
Then there is the other pearl, the one with the unjust society that does not give work. What the Pope says is that if a society fails to ensure full employment, this society – and the economic system it uses – is unjust.
Where I hail from, this is called diritto al lavoro, meant as “right to be employed by someone”. The decade-long flag of the Italian Communist Party, this most cretinous slogan has been for decades the epitome of everything that is absurd, albeit it clearly aimed at something positively evil but not at all absurd: communism.
Now as then, the stupid readily believe such crap, as the idea that work be something they just have an entitlement to is very appealing to them. This goes, in my experience, together with another observation: that those so ready to talk about their right to have a job aren’t generally very noted for their desire to work hard, and vice versa. I wonder if there is a link?
Now, I do not want to say Vatican populism in matters of employment has started with this Pope; but it is fair to say such South-American whiffs of Anti-Capitalism are fairly new not only in the virulence of the attack, but most importantly in the incredible superficiality of the delivery. This isn’t even parish priest level; this is incompetent parish priest level, and frankly gives ground – not for the first time – that this is by far not the smart brain that was sold to us. Smart people are smart even when they go around sloganeering. This one tried to swim once where he can’t touch, and almost drowned.
This is what happens when the Cardinals pick as Pope a Jesuit from South America. Mark my words, this Papacy won’t be any fun. Except, of course, for those blessed by a strong sense of humour and able too see the Pope’s exploits sub specie aeternitatis.
A beautiful blog post on Rorate Caeli about the way Capitalism and Catholicism are compatible (or not).
The matter is, of course, one of definitions. If by Capitalism we mean, with dictionary.com
an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, especially as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.
then it is clear that not only is this system not in any way in contrast to Catholicism, but by encouraging the production and distribution of wealth and free time like no other system in the hystory of humanity (you would not, and I mean not, find any other system allowing so many to become so successful by so humble origins; not a system creating such a huge means to support the less fortunate) it is certainly conducive to improvement in the spiritual and material conditions of Christianity. Today, most people can access, say, the summa theologica online and have the time and means to enjoy it in comfort. Try that in North Corea, or in any rural society that is not the fruit of the naive imagination of hopeless dreamers.
The problem lies, as so often, in the distorted perception some have of the present world, and in the non-existent historic perspective of too many.
On the one hand, the indefatigable supporters of the theory of the Great Conspiracy of some very fat and very rich – invariably cigar-smoking – “fat pigs” lets some people – often unemployed, frustrated and, in general, losers – choose them as the scapegoat of everything that runs below their own perfect standard, and of the culprits for all the differences with the perfect world they would most certainly create if they only were allowed to run it.
On the other hand, it would be foolish to deny that Capitalism has gone, like a savagely growing teenager, through a phase of hormonal tempest and disordinate growth, a phase during which it was probably not unfair to say that with all the wealth and possibilities created by capitalism, it was possibly reducing more people to brutes than was helping to raise to a better life, and the rather vivid descriptions of the Dickenses, Zolas and Conan Doyles of this world move one to think whether the old pre-capitalistic society was not in the end a better way of life – though with, in absolute terms, less certainly and possibly less to eat, as proved by the huge number of people attracted by the slums of the great cities and the rather savage work in the mines – than the security, paid at great price, of the employment in a mine or a mill, let alone a life of expedients and utter misery.
What many, I think, struggle to understand is that Capitalism is smart. It is self-healing like skin, durable and supple like leather. When growth became inhordinate and, at times, inhuman, Capitalism corrected itself and transformed into a system able to distribute wealth and free time with such liberality as to … assure its survival and thriving. When Communism threatened it, Capitalism made possible and financed the greatest arms race humankind had ever seen, and got rid of the problem (thanks, Gipper!) in a couple of decades. When smog and dirt were disfiguring the landscape, destroying life in the rivers and changing the faces of the most beautiful cities, Capitalism created ways to “clean itself” and make life better for everyone, poor or rich, young or old. “You can’t trust air you can’t see”, was the sad joke in Los Angeles in the Fifties. When Capitalism creates too much statalism, entitlement mentality and exploding public debt capitalism creates… the Tea Party, and the self-healing mechanism starts another round of self-reform.
Those who, today, rant again Capitalism generally do so from their own laptop, at home, or perhaps from the nearby cafe with wifi connection. They are “poor” – when they are – at a level inconceivably high for every generation before them, bar none. Many of them not only do not know poverty; they do not know work, passing judgement over a system which maintained them every day since their birth. Think “Occupy”.
You could of course say that Capitalism led to the loss of the spiritual backbone of the West, but I would disagree. If we look at Europe, some of its richest corner are among the most Catholic (Bavaria in Germany; Triveneto in Italy), and the most powerful country of the planet is still the most Christian among the major ones. The problems of Catholicism – and of Christianity – do not come from the wealth (everyone of us know, and history puts in front of us inifinte example, of people very rich, and very pious) but from the betrayal of Christianity from the side of the clergy, the Catholic clergy as well as many Protestant ministers. When, though, the Christian ministers do not abdicate to their role Christianity is robust and expanding, and the importance religion is having in the current presidential run once again show how Capitalism and Christianity – or more specifically, Cathlicism – are not only compatible, but mutually beneficial.
It beggars belief that a “crisis” that left the Western world, perhaps, 2% back from the top is lived as some biblical catastrophe, or taken as a sign – as some some particularly stupid person did; an archbishop of Westminster come to mind – of the “end of capitalism”.
Fools. Capitalism will bury them and all their blabbering as it has buried poverty, communism, pollution and so many other threats and evils.
Please visit Rorate Caeli and enjoy the many beautiful quotes from past Popes, putting them – of course – in their own historical perspective. Even JP II, generally so prone to under-the-beltline populism when the talk is about such themes, gets it entirely right.