Pope Francis is concerned about the state of the global economy and the impact that persistent, long term unemployment has on the dignity of those so unemployed. He has talked about this before, just a few months after becoming Pope:
"We risk having a generation that hasn't held a job. Personal dignity comes from working, from earning your bread," the pope said. "Young people are in a crisis."
More than the loss of personal dignity is the potential loss of a lifetime of productive employment. When the first steps on the ladder of experience are delayed for an extended period of time, catching up is rather difficult. The lifetime impact of persistent unemployment when young is potentially overwhelming.
He is wading in economic waters again: “Pope Francis decries idolatry of money over man”
Pope Francis denounced what he called big business's idolatry of money over man as he traveled Sunday to one of Italy's poorest regions to offer hope to the unemployed and entrepreneurs struggling to hang on.
Unemployment in Italy is at 12 percent, with youth unemployment a staggering 39.5 percent. In Sardinia and the rest of Italy's south and islands, the figures are even worse: Unemployment is nearing 20 percent with youth unemployment at 50 percent.
Francis told the crowd, many of whom wore hardhats from their defunct factory jobs, that the problems in Sardinia weren't the island's alone. He said the problems were the result of a global economic system "that has at its center an idol called money." (emphasis added)
Not that I am qualified to comment on theology when in the company of the Pope, however I will humbly suggest that he is aiming at the wrong targets and for the wrong reasons when he wades into such views about the economy.
The problem isn’t big business, but a certain type of business; the idol isn’t money, but entirely another false god.
Perhaps the most well-known verse in the Bible regarding money being the root of all evil is found in I Timothy, chapter 6 verse 10:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Alternatively, there is Francisco d’Anconia:
"So you think that money is the root of all evil?" said Francisco d'Aconia. "Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?”
Where does one turn for an answer?
Gary North is far and away the expert when it comes to the intersection of economics and the Bible. He has devoted almost forty years to a verse-by-verse exposition of economic principles to be found in God’s Word. He has published more than 30 volumes dedicated to this work. In his introduction to this work, he states plainly:
When Christianity adheres to the judicial specifics of the Bible, it produces free market capitalism….When I say that the Bible mandates a moral and legal social order that inevitably produces free market capitalism, I have the evidence to back up my position. My critics -- critics of capitalism -- do not.
It seems difficult to imagine the possibility of free-market capitalism without money – there is no effective division of labor without money. But then what does Dr. North say about this seemingly problematic verse in I Timothy? From his work on I Timothy, entitled “HIERARCHY AND DOMINION”:
The spirit of free enterprise is “serve the customer.” The letter of free enterprise is “make a profit.” If a business does not make a profit, it cannot serve the customer for long. But the focus of concern for business owners and their hired managers shifts from long-run service to the customer to short-term profits.
Paul does not tell Timothy to avoid serving people well. He tells him not to pursue riches. The goal is always service. However men measure successful ecclesiastical service—souls won, marriages saved, churches built, sermons preached, etc.—there will always be a numerical indicator of success. This indicator cannot include all of the aspects of godly service. It is merely a representative figure. Every accounting system has numbers. Every rating system has objective standards. These do not tell the whole story, but they tell that portion of the story for which performance is usually rewarded. So, some people—perhaps most people—perform in terms of the system of rewards and punishments, i.e., sanctions. (emphasis added)
Money is necessary in any division-of-labor economy. It is also a measure of service – the entrepreneur that best serves his customers in the most efficient manner is best rewarded with the money of his customers. In business, the goal is service and the numerical indicator of providing successful service is money. In this, nowhere does Dr. North find fault.
Is money, earned by providing valued service to customers, evil? Is it an idol? It cannot be; what possible evil is there in provide efficient service to customers? It does not matter if such a business is big (as the Pope contends is the problem) or small. What matters is if that business is providing valued service to customers, as measured by customers voluntarily being customers.
Where is the evil, then? Where is the idol being chased? I humbly offer the following for the Pope’s consideration:
Proud enough for you to call me arrogant
Greedy enough to be labeled a thief
Angry enough for me to go and hurt a man
Cruel enough for me to feel no grief
Never could have just a part of it
I always need more to get by
Getting right down to the heart of it
The root of all evil has been running my whole life
(The lyrics seem so disjointed when written. If you want a great example of the way that complex musical time signatures can bring such lyrics to life, take a listen.)
Does this sound like the entrepreneur described by Dr. North? Is this a description of a man who sees service as his objective, with money as the resultant measure of success or failure in providing service?
The root of all evil, the idol above all other idols, is the use of coercive government power over his fellow man – for this evil, the lyrics above describe the actor perfectly. The term often used to describe such a businessman is “political entrepreneur.” This is the actor who uses political pull to achieve what he is unable to achieve in the market. He is a failure at serving customers or he is desirous of a greater return than he is able to achieve in the market, so he turns to government to provide muscle.
Who are these political entrepreneurs? You know the list: politicians, money-center bankers, defense contractors, health insurers, lobbyists, central bankers, and on and on and on.
The political entrepreneur doesn’t view money as a success indicator of service to customers; he views money as an end in itself.
The problem isn’t big business, the problem is the political entrepreneur; the idol isn’t money, it is central planning serving those who fail at serving customers.
This is what the Pope should attack…humbly offered, of course.