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Conservative commentators in the United States have sharply criticised Pope Francis’ trenchant critique of “trickle-down economics”, made in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, published by the Vatican last week.
The right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh dismissed Francis’s comments as “pure Marxism”. He told listeners to his show: “It’s sad because this Pope makes it very clear he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to capitalism and socialism and so forth.”
Conservative Catholics have been more measured in their response, but critical nonetheless. Samuel Gregg, research director for the right-leaning Acton Institute wrote: “It is difficult not to come away from reading Evangelii Gaudium thinking that there are just too many unexamined assumptions about the economy that have made their way into this document.”
Mr Gregg argued that the Pope had created a fallacious argument in criticising the “absolute autonomy of markets”. “There is literally no country in which markets operate with ‘absolute autonomy’,” he said.
At Crisis magazine, Wendy Warcholik, a Catholic and a research fellow at the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs, wrote: “Admittedly, I worried about his views coming out of the more liberal Jesuit order … now he would seem to confirm some of my worst fears, especially as an economist.”
But she noted that economic activity could be generated by a host of morally illicit enterprises, from gambling to the abortion industry. “Overall, I can’t help but think that Pope Francis really isn’t criticising America’s free market so much as he is criticising America’s waning Christian faith,” she concluded.
In Evangelii Gaudium the Pope wrote: “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 sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”
He went on to suggest that the increasing rich-poor gap was “the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation”.
As well as critics, Pope Francis’ exhortation has had plenty of defenders in the US. Stephen Schneck, director of Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, in Washington DC wrote: “It is … the Pope’s plainspoken and sometimes shocking analysis of the self-inflicted wounds of modern times, and his call to see God in the weak and the lowly, that makes his exhortation so important. The contemporary economic system is one of those wounds.”