Pope Francis and ‘legitimate redistribution’
“POPE URGES ‘LEGITIMATE REDISTRIBUTION’ OF WEALTH,” blares the Associated Press headline, followed up by this opening paragraph: “Pope Francis called Friday for governments to redistribute wealth and benefits to the poor in a new spirit of generosity to help curb the ‘economy of exclusion’ that is taking hold today.”
Well, no, that’s not actually what the Pontiff said. He did mention “legitimate redistribution,” and there’s no question such phrases carry a certain political payload to Western ears, at every point in the political spectrum. Noting that early reports of this address from the Pope to U.N. officials in Rome tended to, shall we say, condense his remarks into an endorsement of totalitarian socialism, some have argued Pope Francis’ full remarks are very nearly the opposite - a call to voluntary private charity, using the Biblical example of Zacchaeus, a corrupt tax collector who sees the error of his ways after meeting Jesus. One gets the impression that many of the left-wingers applauding the Pope’s remarks missed the rather salient detail that Zacchaeus was a thieving abuser of government power who enriched himself by looting taxpayers.
It is, however, a stretch to claim that Pope Francis saw no role for government authority in his vision of “legitimate redistribution.” (And it’s not his fault that listeners on both Left and Right might interpret “redistribution” as something other than what he meant.) The entire text of his speech has been posted by the Vatican here, so everyone interested in responding to the Pope’s ideas can read the whole thing, rather than settling for any media organization’s summary of it. This is the section that has drawn so much attention:
Today, in concrete terms, an awareness of the dignity of each of our brothers and sisters whose life is sacred and inviolable from conception to natural death must lead us to share with complete freedom the goods which God’s providence has placed in our hands, material goods but also intellectual and spiritual ones, and to give back generously and lavishly whatever we may have earlier unjustly refused to others.
The account of Jesus and Zacchaeus teaches us that above and beyond economic and social systems and theories, there will always be a need to promote generous, effective and practical openness to the needs of others. Jesus does not ask Zacchaeus to change jobs nor does he condemn his financial activity; he simply inspires him to put everything, freely yet immediately and indisputably, at the service of others.
Consequently, I do not hesitate to state, as did my predecessors (cf. JOHN PAUL II,Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 42-43; Centesimus Annus, 43; BENEDICT XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 6; 24-40), that equitable economic and social progress can only be attained by joining scientific and technical abilities with an unfailing commitment to solidarity accompanied by a generous and disinterested spirit of gratuitousness at every level. A contribution to this equitable development will also be made both by international activity aimed at the integral human development of all the world’s peoples and by the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the State, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society.
Consequently, while encouraging you in your continuing efforts to coordinate the activity of the international agencies, which represents a service to all humanity, I urge you to work together in promoting a true, worldwide ethical mobilization which, beyond all differences of religious or political convictions, will spread and put into practice a shared ideal of fraternity and solidarity, especially with regard to the poorest and those most excluded.
I presume the citations of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI were added by the Vatican transcribers to buttress Pope Francis’ contention that none of this represents a new or novel stance for the Church.
First of all, anyone on the Left interested in claiming Pope Francis as an advocate for tax-and-spend redistribution needs to also accept his call for “an awareness of the dignity of each of our brothers and sisters whose life is sacred and inviolable from conception to natural death.” He is explicitly stating that such awareness is inseparable from what he says about “giving back generously and lavishly” to those beloved brothers and sisters. We’ll talk some more about whether this Pope is an ally of the American Left after you’ve dismantled the abortion industry and redistributed all that Planned Parenthood money to charitable endeavors.
Also, let us not overlook the Pope’s statement that “equitable economic and social progress” requires “a generous and disinterested spirit of gratuitousness at every level.” Not a single government in the Western world currently meets that standard; the government of the United States most certainly does not come anywhere close to it. That means no Obama luxury vacations on Air Force One, no glittering palaces full of six-figure bureaucrats along the Potomac, no lifetime politicians retiring with millions of dollars in the bank plus lavish taxpayer benefits. Remember that the Pope begins with the story of a tax collector who made himself rich through graft. An essential component of this notion of “legitimate redistribution” he advances is a humble and prudent State.
Conversely, a parasitic mega-government that enriches itself from the labor of honest citizens, and spends titanic amounts of money on endeavors that have nothing to do with alleviating desperate poverty, is not engaged in “legitimate” redistribution. Furthermore, what Pope Francis discusses here is charity and love toward the “poorest and those most excluded,” not the “income inequality” ideology used by arrogant leftists to claim the power to fine-tune middle-class salaries to meet their notion of “fairness.”
Socialism only pretends to concern itself with the desperately poor – people who will suffer and starve without assistance, through no fault of their own. There isn’t enough power and money to be harvested from genuine “safety net” programs of that sort, so nowadays Big Government is more interested in arranging compulsory tax subsidies for people who make $50,000 a year, but still can’t afford to buy overpriced government-mandated health insurance. If our government was wholly dedicated to the kind of “legitimate redistribution of economic benefits” Pope Francis is describing, buttressed by the voluntary cooperation between private sector and civil society he encourages, few people in any income bracket would find much cause to complain about it.
We hear a lot of talk from politicians about how they’re wiser and less “selfish” than the private sector, so they should be given power to chisel a more just and equitable society out of the rough clay presented by their subjects. But in practice, all around the world, one of the biggest human problems is kleptocracy. It’s the cause of almost every regional crisis you can name. It’s one of the major reasons for the Euromaidan movement in Ukraine, which ultimately deposed the government of Viktor Yanukovych… evicting him from an opulent private estate equipped with its own zoo. It’s one of the reasons Boko Haram got organized in Nigeria, before they began indulging in terrorist atrocities. Kleptocracy of a somewhat less outrageous tone and timber can be heard every time a millionaire politician emerges from his limousine to declare that everyone else needs to sacrifice more in taxes to keep the government running… and keep money flowing to his cronies in politically-favored corporations.
We keep hearing about how the Left will install a wise and selfless ruling class to spread fairness across the land… but nowhere in the world do we ever actually see anything like that. Instead, it’s Zacchaeus all over the place. That is, very obviously, not what Pope Francis wants to see more of.