Pope Francis condemned trickle-down economics and the world of inequality and exclusion it fosters in the first apostolic exhortation of his papacy:
“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 naïve 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.”
Many of the pontiff’s criticisms of trickle-down economics are true of the American experience. The policies that began with Ronald Reagan have not benefited middle and working class Americans, while deregulation spawned a reckless financial system that nearly destroyed the financial industry in a historic recession — a recession in which the most affluent have rebounded from far more easily than other Americans. Three decades of high-income tax cuts have proven equally ineffective. The Bush tax cuts aided the wealthy but did not reach the middle and lower classes as promised, resulting instead in “the worst wage and salary growth and total compensation growth of any postwar economic expansion.” In short, the wealth never trickled down…
The exclusion of the poor: Pope Francis noted that economies grounded on the relentless, selfish pursuit of wealth lead to the marginalization of the poor. The belief that only the fittest survive leads to the exclusion of those that fail to thrive. Francis asked, “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..?”
The growing inequality gap: Francis condemned the global economic system that has seen the very few profit while so many fall further behind: “While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few.”
In the United States, income inequality is at levels not seen since the Great Depression. And whether it’s billionaire Charles Koch advocating for the elimination of the minimum wage or mammoth banks bemoaning regulation, the apostles of trickle-down economics have, in Francis’ words, rejected “the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.”
The new idolatry: The blame for society’s ills, according to Francis, goes back to worshipping profits. “The worship of the ancient golden calf…has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose,” he wrote. “The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.”
I must wonder how long this new pope will be allowed to follow this very Christian course. I remember Willard Uphaus saying there is nothing wrong with old-time religion – if it’s old-time enough. Relevent here in a nation where those who wrap themselves in the fundamentalist mantle demonstrate care and concern for souls – and crap for human comfort, human progress, human rights.
It’s been a bit over 50 years since the last time a pope tried to reboot the Roman Catholic church. Pope John XXIII released Pacem en Terris in April 1963 – calling for establishing universal peace in truth, justice, charity, and liberty. It was considered such a radical document that at least one bookstore [in Texas, yes] was raided and all copies of the encyclical along with other subversive tracts were confiscated.
John died, soon after publication. He was replaced. His efforts ignored.