Pope Francis’ Easter Message of Unearned Guilt

People I know who attended Catholic school in the 1950s and 1960s (or sometimes 1970s, as I did) will tell you about old-style nuns who used to tell children, “Finish your lunch. Don’t throw out that food. There’s a starving child in India.”

Check this out.

In recent Easter comments, Catholic Pope Francis says he’s praying to God to “help us to overcome the scourge of hunger, aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible.”

Since his election as the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, Francis had made defense of the poor a hallmark of his papacy, often criticizing developed nations and the excesses of capitalism and consumerism.  [Thomson/Reuters 4/20/14]

How little has changed.

Actually, it’s not just the Catholics. Economists, Presidents, and respected academic intellectuals — including many secular moralists — make essentially the same case every day. Legislation regularly passes Congress which relies on the same mistaken premise.

The mistaken premise? The idea that the way to abolish poverty is to redistribute goods and services — rather than produce them.

Consider America, still the land of plenty compared to the rest of the world, as well as human history to date. America wins that title in a landslide.

What does America have that most of the rest of the world does not have, and has never had? Production. America has been the most free, and therefore the most productive, land on earth in all of human history. Freedom refers to capitalism, free enterprise, private property, and the ability of people to own what they earn. This includes the rich, because — aside from being equally morally entitled to their own money (despite what people like the Pope or President say)– they will also spend it, invest it, or expand business, any one of which only helps the economy as a whole.

Yes, economic freedom is less true of America than ever before, and it’s becoming less true all of the time. But we’re still riding on the remnants and benefits of that economic freedom, and because the rest of the world is still no better, we still come out on top.

The Pope, like those nuns back in the 1950s and 1960s (who, to their credit, did at least teach many students how to read and speak), is fostering unearned guilt based on a false premise. He’s telling people in nations who have plenty, “You have more than you need. That’s wasteful. Spread some of it around.” Just like our President and most of our politicians, who make careers out of spreading unearned guilt. “Spread the wealth,” and “You didn’t build that,” they say. I hear those things, and to me it’s absolutely no different from a 1950s Catholic nun saying, “Stop being wasteful. There are starving children in Calcutta.” Of course, the nuns didn’t have armies, bombs, prisons and federal agents on their side. (In the Middle Ages, they did have the equivalent.)

And then there’s voluntary charity. But charity does not require unearned guilt. Americans are more generous than any people or nation in history. And logically so, because — on the whole — Americans are richer than any nation or people in history. When you produce more you create more, and you have more to give away, not in the spirit of sacrifice but out of simple generosity.

But understand: Charity will never solve the problem of production. Starving or poor nations will not become like America unless they do the things America did to become the way it is. We could tax all Americans at a 90 percent tax rate and send it all to the U.N. to distribute to other nations. Those nations will spend the money, remain poor, and now we’ll be poor along with them.

The best thing we can do for poor countries? Tell them to start producing. Teach them the theory of free market capitalism, because it’s a theory that actually works in practice. Tell them to overthrow their petty tyrants; establish a rule of law respectful of private property; and permit the best and brightest to flourish — the entrepreneurs, the business-builders, the job-creators, the wealth-producers, the people who make society rich even though their motive is success and profit, not the phony populist moralism of our Popes and Presidents.

If you only eat half of your Big Mac, or your Easter ham, and you throw the rest out, you have done absolutely nothing to harm some starving person in a third world country. That person’s condition is absolutely the same regardless of your trash can’s content.

I do not accept Pope Francis’ unearned guilt.

It’s absurd and even pathetic to feel guilt that you have more than enough to eat while someone else has nothing. You’re certainly free to give to any charity you wish, and even travel to that third world country, if you wish, to try and help them out. But be real: Nothing is going to change for people in these situations unless their attitudes, policies and governments actually change first. Charity will buy them some time, but won’t turn life into an ever-upward spiral of progress unless they have the tools — and social system — to make that possible.

Capitalism and economic freedom would take all of us to unimagined heights, if only human beings would get out of their own way.


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