The pope’s divisions

December 30, 2013

The political roundups of 2013 make little mention of perhaps the most important event to alter the political landscape in the last 12 months. It was not the incompetence of the Obamacare rollout — though that will resonate beyond the November midterms. Nor was it House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) finally snapping at the Tea Party hounds who have been nipping at his heels.

No, it was the March 13 election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a cardinal from Argentina, as pope of the Roman Catholic Church.

It is significant the new pope chose as his name Francis, after Francis of Assisi, the 12th century saint who shunned comfort and wealth, and devoted his life to helping the poor and treating animals humanely. Pope Francis said he was inspired by a Brazilian colleague, who whispered to him, “Don’t forget the poor.” Since then he has rarely missed the chance to reprimand the rich and embrace the poor, as shown by his refusal to adopt the palatial papal lifestyle in favor of more modest accommodation.

The conservative saint Margaret Thatcher also embraced Francis of Assisi on being elected British prime minister in 1979. On the doorstep of 10 Downing Street, she quoted the verse attributed to St. Francis (though not written by him), “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony.”

Thatcher, incapable of irony, plainly meant what she said. Though few who lived through her reign would recognize the spirit of reconciliation in her divisive policies.

Thatcher has often been bracketed with the Polish Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan as architects of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The most pious act of adulation to this conservative trinity was The President, the Pope and the Prime Minister: Three who Changed the World by John O’Sullivan, a former Thatcher speechwriter who headed now executive editor of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty,* the federally-funded propaganda network.

Those who credit Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II alone with defeating communism do not give enough credit to the real heroes of the Soviet Union, whose constant criticism of communism eventually bore fruit. They were the intellectuals who risked their lives and their freedom. Leaders like Alexander Dubcek of Czechoslovakia, who invited a Russian tank invasion by daring to suggest “Socialism with a human face,” and above all the courageous trade union leader Lech Walesa in Gdansk, Poland, whose defiance of the Soviet gerontocracy hastened the collapse of Marxism-Leninism.

John Paul II provided strong moral support for Walesa’s Polish uprising. The pope’s actions confirmed to many conservatives that the Catholic Church was a trusted ally in battling socialism and countering the 1960s permissive revolution in personal morality. Conservatives have also claimed Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI (the German pope) as their own.

It was not always thus. In the reign of Pope John XXIII, Democrats took comfort from the popular pontiff, who came from Lombardy peasant stock, modernized Catholic doctrine through Vatican II and befriended the United States’ first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy. Indeed, in Catholic homes, Italian restaurants and Irish bars today you can still see Pope John’s portrait side by side with Kennedy.

The election of Francis, however, has called into question the nearly 50-year-long alliance between the papacy and conservatives. Francis has been so outspoken about the need to express compassion for those less fortunate that some have come to ask, Is the pope a socialist?

Of course, the pope is nothing of the sort. But his clear call for a reappraisal of capitalism and the relentless barren materialism that the market system promulgates, has left conservatives wondering whose side he is on.

Here is Francis on “the new idolatry of money”: “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. … 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. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.”

As for Francis’s view of Tea Party conservatives: “They reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born. … To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”

If anyone doubt his clarity, Francis said: “I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: ‘Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood.’”

Blimey! Perhaps Francis is a socialist after all.

You don’t have to be a theologian to understand what the pope is saying. Those who have commoditized the whole of human life, and insist that elected governments do nothing to rectify the capitalist system’s inequalities, are evil. Those conservative sages who have relied on the Vatican to condone their indifference to those who fall through the cracks of the market are understandably put out by losing the support of such a valuable and powerful institution.

One aspect of today’s U.S. conservatism is its lack of sympathy toward economic migrants. Francis’s first trip outside the Vatican, however, was to comfort survivors of a boatload of North African illegal immigrants that overturned en route to Italy.

“In this world of globalization,” Francis declared, “we have fallen into a globalization of indifference. We are accustomed to the suffering of others, it doesn’t concern us, it’s none of our business.”

In his first Christmas message last week, Francis urged non-believers to join him in bringing peace to the world. He urged diplomacy rather than direct military action to settle longstanding differences. Ignoring the “clash of cultures,” he urged peace between Muslims on both sides in Syria and Iraq.

These are not stray remarks. Francis is urging Christ’s message — treat your neighbors as you would like to be treated.

But does it matter what the pope thinks? The Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin was once asked to soften his persecution of Christians, to persuade Pope Pius XII to abandon his indifference toward Nazism. “Oho!” said Stalin. “The pope! How many divisions has he got?”

The answer is: a great many. There are 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, 40 percent of whom live in Latin America and are hugely influential among Latinos living in the United States. There are 78.2 million Catholics here and many are relatively new immigrants. In the last 50 years the number of American Catholics has increased by 60 percent.

As long as conservatives oppose immigration reform, as long as they tacitly condone racism, as long as they devote themselves to opposing government intervention to rectify the miseries caused by the unbridled free market, as long as they insist there is nothing wrong with vast differences in wealth and income, Francis will oppose them. And it could be that not many Catholics will vote for them.

Francis may not be a true socialist, but it appears he has unequivocally taken sides.

Nicholas Wapshott is the author of  Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics. Read extracts here.

* CORRECTION: The correct name of the federally-funded network is Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. It was created to present uncensored news.

PHOTO (TOP): Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead the general audience in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican, October 30, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

PHOTO (INSERT 1): Pope Francis waves as he arrives to conduct his weekly general audience at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, November 27, 2013. REUTERS/Max Ross

PHOTO (INSERT 2): Joseph Stalin   Courtesy of LIBRARY OF CONGRESS


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” . . . as long as they [conservatives] devote themselves to opposing government intervention to rectify the miseries caused by the unbridled free market . . .”

a) We’ve never had an unbridled free market, what we’ve been suffering through is better known as “Cronyism” or “Crony Capitalism”.

b) Conservatives aren’t working to oppose government intervention in the marketplace – Libertarians have had to take up that banner.

Posted by Coba | Report as abusive

To quote Hillary Clinton when questioned over the death of four human beings under her care and on her watch: “what difference does it make”? Certainly Pope Francis is a Socialist at heart, and so was Pope John-Paul. BUT he faces the same dilemma that his predecessor John-Paul did. For more than a thousand years the Church has survived as a relevant entity through “shock and awe”, not of the rich but “peasants” – using gold, silver, precious stones – all the visible trappings of wealth. Yet, it is not the peasants that Fund Church extravagance BUT the rich. That is the lesson that John Paul learned during a financial crisis during his tenure which forced him to rely on “Peters Pence”… not by circulating the begging bowl to the poor but to the rich that wish to “buy” a place in Heaven. The biggest of the Church benefactors is the Mafia Dons.

Posted by Bludde | Report as abusive

Mr. Wapshott:

Thank you for a thoughtful article.

You are quite correct to highlight the spiritual weaknesses of U.S. conservatism. The movement lacks a concern for people who are not lifted up by blind market forces and laissez-faire capitalism. The disabled, for example, present an awkward challenge for conservatism’s relentless emphasis on individualism over community.

As for Pope Francis, I believe it is a false dichotomy to label him as either Socialist or conservative. As far as I can tell, he is a sincere follower of the teachings of Jesus, and this inevitably upsets people on both sides of the political aisle.

Nevertheless, I pray that Pope Francis does not go too far in his criticisms of capitalism, and in his focus on politics and economics. As a Christian, I believe our spiritual leaders are at their best when they focus on spiritual matters, and on a message of sin and salvation.

Thanks again for your insights,
Robert J. Martorana, CFA

Posted by RobertMartorana | Report as abusive

It’s amazing to hear someone of such influence to tear down the facade of modern market capitalism. Born in 1981 all I have ever seen is an unending worship of money; tide after tide of greedy politicians, business leaders and make believe Christians preaching the holiness of the market system. It is such a relief to have someone stand up for the 90+% of us who have not benefitted from modern capitalism. I just hope he has many years to preach his message before the powerful find a way to quiet him.

Posted by anarcurt | Report as abusive

What exactly are you saying Mr. Wapshott? Nothing as usual? Just finding a hot button issue to use for profit? Just servicing the “Left” market space? Perhaps you should listen to the Pope yourself.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

@anarcurt. If you think you’d be writing comments under a Reuters article without capitalism, you’re a fool.

Posted by Het_Russ | Report as abusive

Isn’t the Pope supposed to be a Socialist?

Posted by Harry079 | Report as abusive

I would think they have far too much wealth concentrated amongst them for any of them to be mistaken for socialists – think solid gold ornaments and priceless paintings; real-estate and stocks.

Posted by deeplyCynical | Report as abusive

Since a Pope is, like any Christian religious leader, constrained by the Gospels, one would expect a Pope to be a social conservative. Regarding economic issues, however, a Pope is necessarily constrained by teachings against placing too much emphasis on wealth in organizing society (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”; “… you cannot serve both God and mammon”; and so forth). However, a Pope would be similarly constrained to be pragmatic on economic issues and not to pursue policies aimed solely at the redistribution of wealth, inasmuch as such policies would be seen as potentially futile (“The poor you will always have with you.”)

Posted by Bob9999 | Report as abusive

Bludde is dishonest: “To quote Hillary Clinton when questioned over the death of four human beings under her care and on her watch: ‘what difference does it make’?” implying that Clinton didn’t care about the Benghazi deaths.

Clinton was responding to demands to know which group was responsible, and said: “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator. Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this, but the fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information. The IC has a process, I understand, going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came out. But you know, to be clear, it is, from my perspective, less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it than to find them and bring them to justice, and then maybe we’ll figure out what was going on in the meantime.” article/2013/may/08/context-hillary-clin tons-what-difference-does-it-m/

Posted by Floridaman19 | Report as abusive

Recapitulating Mr. Wapshott’s article:

1. Some credit Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan for engineering the fall of the Soviet Union. Wapshott says the real credit to the bravery of anti-Soviet leaders behind the Iron Curtain (and I’m not really sure how Thatcher got on the list in the first place).

2. Pope Francis’ call “for a reappraisal of capitalism and the relentless barren materialism…has left conservatives wondering whose side he is on.” Wapshott asks if Pope Francis might be a socialist. Could be, but it doesn’t matter. He is going to use his bully pulpit to speak for the poor.

On a personal note, Pope Francis might be a a socialist, communitarian, a disciple of Francis of Assisi, a Christian or simply a man with his head screwed on straight. For this “sin”, the Tea Party has already begun to brand him as one of those dread “socialists”.

His apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” is available in full on the web. It’s worth reading, especially paragraphs 55 to 60 and 202 to 208.

And, while you’re at it, forget about refighting the Reformation.

Posted by AwakeInDanville | Report as abusive

When you head an organization that makes everyone give you 10% of their money, then you spread it around to the poor people and the church, that’s sort of the definition of socialism.

Posted by The_Jillybeans | Report as abusive

Let’s review the actions of Jesus. He had no possessions to speak of and expected his followers to follow his example. He tended to the sick. He had compassion for the poor. He did not look down on prostitutes. He threw money lenders out of the temple. He is on record as having said that it is more likely for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a wealthy man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

The real question is why anyone accepts that American conservatives are Christian. The Tea Party is the embodiment of selfishness. Yeah, I guess the Pope is a socialist, but so was Jesus.

Wapshott wrote “Those who credit Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II alone with defeating communism”

Anyone who does so is ignorant of history. The person mainly responsible for the fall of the USSR is Gorbachev. He refused to slaughter large numbers of Soviet citizens to maintain the empire and often announced this policy — and so the USSR fell. Totalitarian governments are only sustained if their citizens are deathly afraid of their leaders.

Wapshott wrote “As long as conservatives oppose immigration reform”

Here Wapshott showed his bias. The Senate immigration reform bill allows for hundreds of thousands of foreigners to be imported via H-1B visas. Causing Americans to be fired so that shareholders, board members, and corporate executives can earn obscene amounts of money is not a Christian thing to do.

Posted by baroque-quest | Report as abusive

This pope doesn’t want to control the global economy or even doesn’t want to wade into the global economic ecosystem, he only wants to inspire his believers’ soul. His ideology brings no damage to the material world, to the touchable world. So don’t worry.

Posted by | Report as abusive

His believers will be poorer and this is the point.

Posted by | Report as abusive

But their soul is higher.

Posted by | Report as abusive

“If anyone doubt his clarity, Francis said: “I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: ‘Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood.’””

That is not socialism. That is simple human decency. And if as a society we cannot recognize it as such, then it means we have a very warped sense of values.

Posted by delta5297 | Report as abusive

Gee, who would it be that is questioning whether the Pope is a socialist? Would it be some reporter. I have never heard anyone make pose that question. Most believe that the Pope is acting the way Christ said people should act; to care for the
weak, elderly, poor, and those of less fortune. If that is socialism then kiss religion goodbye all you conservatives.

Posted by PopUp | Report as abusive

If America adopts the socialism in which everyone shares an equal income and wealth, without considering the age, the sex, the race, the personal ability/skill or the contribution, sooner than a blink, another nation will take its place. I would be more than willing to accept the new reality. Thank God.

Posted by | Report as abusive

Is the pope a socialist – maybe; should a pope be a socialist – yes. Jesus was not a capitalist – remember what he did to the money lenders. But, the church has a long time ago abdicated to the dark force when it gave up its battle against usury. Until the church once again fights for the right things, it is nothing more that a pacifier for wealthy people afraid of death.

Posted by abinico | Report as abusive

Lao Tze is much wiser than Mr. Christ in this and everything else.

Posted by | Report as abusive

Moses is good.

Posted by | Report as abusive

The far more important question is “Was Jesus a ‘socialist’, and what’s wrong with that anyway?”

Mind you, I’m talking about the Christ who delivered the Sermon on the Mount and sacrificed everything, including his life and dignity, for others…not the perverted image created by modern-day worshipers of wealth and power.

That seems a far more important question to ponder than the color of Jesus’ complexion.

Posted by Art_In_Seattle | Report as abusive

The pope is not “similarly constrained to be pragmatic on economic issues”, as there is no requirement that he only preach ideologies that have the potential to be adopted by 100% of the world population.

Posted by VirtualThumb | Report as abusive

The term socialist is used in the headline as if it is somehow a dirty word. Capitalism in 2013 essentially stands for accumulation of personal wealth, while socialism reflects a desire for the betterment of society through redistribution of wealth. Neither should be used as if they were “unclean” beliefs or have absolute purity in application. When we have under 1% owning a huge percent of everything, globally, perhaps they could do with only $100 million instead of $10 billion with no change to their, or their families, or heirs, lifestyles, while helping those far less fortunate. Just food for thought. I will now duck the flames.

Posted by ArghONaught | Report as abusive

How dare the Pope speak out about this topic. 50% of the American public only owns 2.5% of the wealth in America. And 1% of the population owns about 38% of the wealth in America.

He should be demanding that the bottom 50% of the population pay more and we need to create more tax breaks for the top 1%. After all, it is hard work creating jobs (silly Henry Ford), so the top 1% now gambles with publicly insured (tax money) to create more wealth for themselves and they only invest in overseas jobs that maximized their profits.

Folks, Capitalism isn’t the problem it is politicians that get their election coffers filled with corporate donations that have strings attached. The monster banks and mega corporations control all the politicians while Joe six-pack thinks “their party is protecting their back.

Posted by PhillyJimi | Report as abusive

With all due respect to those who were born in 1981, it is not surprising that @anarcurt sees no value from free markets. It is all a matter of reference. @anarcurt was born in a developed economy during booming years and has never experienced life as others have. In my book, @anarcurt is unqualified to discuss the benefits.
As someone born in Mexico a couple of decades before, I can comfortably say that free markets and free enterprise have improved our lives by an order of magnitude.
Do you like your phone? I had to wait until middle school before we had one at home. And yes, it was wired to the wall. It was useless when detached. Deregulation reduced prices, expanded communication and even resulted on your glorious take-it-everywhere iPhone.
Do you like your web service? I had to wait quite a bit for mine. As I remember it, all that government could muster was a blank screen with a blinking square over which you had to write some weird thing called code. No pictures or anything resembling a google map then. Additionally, when I went to high school, I came across these weird kids who were drawing shapes on the screen of a thing called a Mac. They surely spent lots of hours staring at the bulky boxes that seemed to do absolutely nothing valuable. That was around the time when experts thought it silly for people to need a computer for personal use. It is safe to say that they also saw no need for tablets either. Thank god that markets changed their minds and that now we have them available at a ridiculous price.
Back then, cars were very expensive and the selection was dreadful. It was not until the markets opened up that competition made plenty of nice vehicles available and at much cheaper prices.
Have you ever had to get off the couch to flip the channel? What? You haven’t? Thinking about it, I also didn’t have to do such silly thing until middle school, which is when we first got our one TV for the whole family. We were able to watch any of three great channels. But of course, the dial had to be changed manually. Back then, couch potatoes actually stood up.
I imagine that the 40,000 items at your local supermarket are probably good, right? The local store where I was born was luck to carry 500. They accepted nothing but cash and were closed every Sunday, during lunch every day and at all non-business hours. You pretty much had to leave work to go buy your food. Today, markets have reduced profits and forced businesses to offer more products, during more hours and in more places. If you like Yucca, you would be happy to know that you can buy one of this Latin American root in Palm Beach for about the same price as in Bogota. Competition has made transportation costs almost zero to the consumer. Fantastic! I still remember how fantastic it was for me to walk into an H-E-B in Austin at 2:30 AM.
How about customer service? Do you like being able to call your local bank and complaint about your ATM card at any time? Do you like being able to return any item you buy at Walmart without any questions? I certainly like them. Some time ago, you could not do any of those things. Today, businesses and free market competition force suppliers to give more to consumers.
That should be enough. I don’t want to write more than necessary. I think that the message is clear that I am not part of your so called 90%. In fact, neither are you. The benefits from free enterprise have benefit 100%. That you are now spoiled and don’t want to see it is another thing. But be my guest and go back to washing by hand and not being able to hold food refrigerated. Meanwhile, I will keep what markets have given me and the rest of the 100%.
Finally (I say this as a catholic), if the Pope really wants to serve people, he should stop bashing competitive markets and should focus on corruption instead. Everybody knows that Argentina, the place that surely influenced his opinion, is full of corruption and absent free markets. He too is therefore unqualified to address the subject.

Posted by JustProduce | Report as abusive

Let’s try a different slant on Francis. Imagine classical Vatican scholars come down with an edict (Fatwa!) that Francis has gone too far and must return to the foil of the faithful.

Is it possible that a school of current Cardinals might somehow find ways and means to invoke the gospel to *impeach* him.

Posted by hariknaidu | Report as abusive

ONLY people trying to stir controversy to sell something even consider this!
Mr. Wapshott does NOT print his opinion, nor results of research. He finds a “hot button” topic and prints a far left viewpoint to market to the leftists.

Mr. Wapshott should be a NASCAR driver; left, left, left, left, left,…

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

Let’s all covert to Judaism, peace shall find us. Start from this pope.

Posted by | Report as abusive

It’s simple. This Pope makes the greedy look bad. It’s one thing to say you don’t like Obama because of his economic policies, but it’s another altogether to say the Pope is all wrong – especially when he’s advocating what Christ advocated. That’s a bit trickier for the greedy to get around.

I’m not religious, but I admire this man and respect the sincerity and quiet dignity he has brought to his faith and position.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

Is the government of the USA fascist?

Posted by XWM | Report as abusive

Since none of us has donkeys and only a few has male servants or female servants, we have to update the Old Testament a little bit. We can use a car or a flying/walking saucer to replace the donkey and use a homesteader robot to replace the male or female servant. Anything else, if we cannot find, we find from our ingenuity. After everyone of us contribute hours, Wa La! A Brand New Testament comes out, a victory of humanity, a victory of peace endorsed by the Black Hole, our dear God.

Posted by | Report as abusive

Bravo, the pope is a welcome voice for all people. Money does not buy class, this man is a class act. More power too him.

Posted by cheeze | Report as abusive

This world or any other world is reined not by a great many divisions, but by geniuses, in other words, by brain power. When the brain power isn’t good enough, the outcome is hopeless for your people, no matter how many billions you have. You have to consider for the ultimate common wealth or benefit of your people, of your believers, not from your wishful thinking or any such a weak mind. When your world is going down, another world is going up. This thing is balanced in this way.

Posted by | Report as abusive

Yes, he threw the money lenders out of the temple, because they were mixing business with religious worship.

Yes, he ministered to the poor and despised of society.

Yes, he preached compassion and duty to others as one of the first responsibilities for being a good human being.

None of these things are held in high regard by certain very, very vocal elements of the US society these days, because those vocal elements believe, fundamentally, that being poor, ill, homeless, is something that you *deserve* if it happens to you, and that only the ‘chosen’ are worthy of being healthy, wealthy, and housed. As evidenced by the fact that they are healthy and wealthy.

Posted by Burns0011 | Report as abusive

The church accidentally elect a christian to papacy. Woe is me, it’s the end of the world!

Posted by thinker72 | Report as abusive

To my understanding, the pope is not opposed to free markets per se. Yay for free markets. Problem is, markets are not free if there is no freedom of information together with equal access to markets. Good old fear and greed conspire to create unfairness by blocking information and access to the supposed free markets. Fear and greed are the basis for corruption too. Spiritual practice can unclench the grasping, paralyzing emotions of fear and greed, and allow wealth to flow. I am no Catholic, but Francis has my support on this issue. Capitalists and everyone else need to stay in touch with their authentic selves via whatever practices they find both challenging and sufficient. The result will be way better than a centrally planned economy or the Scandinavian socialist model. As more folk practice some spirituality they will become more enabled and expand their power. As more corruption is brought to light, perps will shrivel back in shame. What goes around comes around, especially in free markets.

Posted by mind_emergent | Report as abusive

Greed is a gift from God

Without greed, we all die. It is not greed that we dislike, it is stupidity that we dislike. Greed for food keeps us looking for the nutritions inner for metabolism, for all kinds of activities. If we have lost this greed, we stop eating and die naturally. So greed for food keeps our living. Greed for sex keeps our propagating. Greed for fame keeps our wandering. Greed for admiration keeps our refining. Greed for money keeps our financially balancing. Greed for friendship keeps our time consuming. Greed for curiosity keeps our knowing. Greed for fresh air keeps our refreshing. Greed for self-fulfilling keep our accomplishing. Greed for communication keeps our talking. Greed for happiness keeps our looking. Greed for perfection keeps our culminating. Without greed, we are not even a living cell. To diminish greed from a human is like to deprive his/her gift from God. This is a godless action, which needs to be condemned. When being free from stupidity, greed is divine. Don’t be confused. Greed is godly; stupidity is badly.

Posted by | Report as abusive

No he is not a socialist, he is a social democrat or as we call it in a America a liberal

Posted by ImissIke | Report as abusive

Nicholas Wapshott, why do you have politicize the social conscious of a religious leader? Your depiction of socialism is myopic.

By definition, “a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.” Being against extreme greed does not qualify one as a socialist. Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are two fine examples of altruistic capitalists who promote the same, neither of whom qualify as socialist.

You’re a pot stirrer Nicholas and you should be ashamed of yourself.

Posted by SalesDuJour | Report as abusive

Reminds me of the old Roman thing of killing the messenger.

Posted by Stanley7746 | Report as abusive

The Pope can be a card carrying Socialist when he distributes the wealth of the Catholic church among the poor of the world. Until then, he simply wants everyone with money to give it to the poor ( which in many cases they already do). So, from some of his latest comments, I say he is for telling people what to do with their money.

Posted by Lilydaisy | Report as abusive

For truth in packaging, Mr. Wapshott should have two left hands. “…the relentless barren materialism that the market system promulgates…”? @JustProduce, THANK YOU for words of wisdom in rebuttal all to often unsaid publicly.

Any “sage of antiquity” is a matter of opinion. To even imply that the legitimate wealth of one is simultaneously the property and livelihood of another is indefensible. Admittedly, that is the opinion of one who believes “legitimate wealth” is not an oxymoron.

Capitalism is the single economic theory that offer man anything beyond different faces holding the knife that divides a cake of fixed size. It is the carrot and stick of capitalism that makes for a bigger cake.

While, typically, the “average participant” in capitalistic society is better off, there are still those “above average” and “below average” as in any system. There are those who would define these as “winners” and “losers”.

This ignores the fact that there are those below “average income distribution” in a capitalistic society whose income and well being are actually ABOVE the (lower) “average income distribution” of a socialist, etc. society. In any equitable comparison between “systems”, these people also BENEFIT as “comparative winners” in terms of well being from a capitalistic system.

Mr. Wapshott accuses “those who have commoditized (sic) the whole of human life…and [accept?] the capitalist system’s inequalities, [as] evil.” Nothing could be further than the truth.

It is the “carrot and stick” aspects of capitalism from which it’s bounty arises…the “extra effort” for “extra reward”. It seems our moralists are always in denial that in real life everyone doesn’t get a trophy for just showing up.

“As long as conservatives oppose immigration reform, as long as they tacitly condone racism, as long as they devote themselves to opposing government intervention to rectify the miseries caused by the unbridled free market, as long as they insist there is nothing wrong with vast differences in wealth and income, Francis will oppose them.”

Let’s consider these same issues from another equally legitimate perspective. The American “way of life” and “living standards” as compared to the average across most of the planet are much, much higher than the median. Do we look at America as part of the rest of the world, or a “special exception” since WW II some might call “Elysium”?

A majority of Americans are NOT going to accept anyone calling for them to accept a “world median” existence in terms of income and life options to advance the arbitrary idea of income equity over income disparity. In this sense, the Pope looks at and speaks to the world, while Mr. Walshott looks at and speaks of Americans.

Apples and oranges. In America the poor DRIVE! They have cell phones, flat screen TVS, “bling” jewelry, tennis shoes, rims on their cars, skinny tires, and their Walmart shopping carts are full to overflowing! The “rest of us” pick up the tab PER HEAD for their kids…school lunches (even through the summer), medicaid, SNAP, earned income credit, etc. while they stare out the window, get each other pregnant again and again, NEVER contribute meaningfully to society, only to repeat generation after generation.

But they go to church regularly, and deliver ever-increasing votes to the American Liberal party. We have a prime example here in @anacurt, who believes the Pope stands “…up for the 90+% of us who have not benefited from modern capitalism.” Obviously we don’t have a math major here!

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

The Pope preaches care of the poor, the selfish set about defining how lucky the poor are. The Pope preaches taking care of the sick, the selfish begin defining how the sick make themselves sick.

This is the very point the Pope is trying to make, so, many of you just need to sit down, shut up and contemplate how you could be better people at heart.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

Religion is for controlling the people. It will never free them. The current religions and politicians combine to control for the purposes of power and money. This is self evident. Socialist smocialist, no such thing really. Just a fear mongering term for a specific segment of the flock. This Pope differs only in his style of manipulation, his intent is the same.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Here is a simple video explanation on the creation of a Wealth Gap SzE

Posted by JustProduce | Report as abusive

Try again SzE

Posted by JustProduce | Report as abusive

“Admittedly, that is the opinion of one who believes ‘legitimate wealth’ is not an oxymoron”

Define “legitimate wealth.”

Were the railroad barons of the 1800s examples? They were given enormous tracts of land alongside their tracks by Congress. When the land was eventually sold at a huge profit, the companies retained the mineral rights, leading to the situation we have today where homeowners cannot stop fracking under their houses.

Was George Pullman an example? He created a company in South Chicago to build railway cars. He required his employees to live in company housing, buy all goods from company stores, and be paid in company script. When the downturn of 1893-4 occurred, Pullman reduced wages but kept rents the same. His employees predictably rioted. His will required that he be buried in a lead-lined coffin under tons of reinforced concrete to avoid being dug up and desecrated.

Were the shareholders and corporate executives of U.S. Steel examples? In 1948 in Donora near Pittsburgh, a temperature inversion caused a lethal cloud which started killing people and animals. If it would have gone on a few days longer, it would have killed thousands of people.

Is Bill Gates an example? He had some good ideas in the PC arena, but he was not satisfied with his employee costs. He and other corporate types have testified before Congress many times to increase the number of H-1B visas issued, visas used to replace American workers with mostly Indian ones.

Are the bankers who brought our country to the brink of another Depression examples? You know, the ones who were given hundreds of billions of dollars with no strings attached.

“Obviously we don’t have a math major here!”

Obviously we don’t have a history or economics major here, but we do have someone who is unbelievably selfish.

Posted by baroque-quest | Report as abusive


Challenge accepted. I would begin with generally accepted definitions of “wealth”.

There is (1) a term used to describe ALL the property, possessions and means of exchange (such as money) available to an entity, be that an individual or organization such as a church, “for profit” business or “non-profit” enterprise. The term can also apply to (2) an abundance of property, possessions and/or means of exchange similarly available.

In the latter case, “abundance” is a relative term with an almost infinite range between high and low (which may be further judged “good” or bad”, legitimate or illegitimate according to one’s perspective and values. The rich and the poor will always be with us, a fact as natural and inevitable as the monsoon and the drought. By the very excess thus expressed, these conditions are extreme.

Nonetheless, the percentile of the SEVEN BILLION humans on this earth in extreme poverty has decreased more and their “standard of living” increased more in the last fifty years than in prior recorded history. That an ever-increasing number of those less well off are increasingly dissatisfied with their place and prospects is proof positive that man in inherently ungrateful and impatient.

Whenever and wherever possible there will be demands for the impossible cloaked in the disguise of “justice” and “equity”. This would give rise to the legitimate question as to what percentage qualify as “intelligent life”.

Those who would become “railroad barons” were prosperous citizens who had somehow legitimately accumulated sufficient assets (or “wealth”) that Congress induced with land no one could or would buy to fund the building and administration of railroads that would connect Americans of every locale and class access to markets and reduce population congestion and competition in the East. It was necessary, created jobs and untold wealth for others, right for “the country” and it’s inhabitant’s future. You presume to judge that decision with 20-20 hindsight some eight generations later? Please.

I need not defend George Pullman, but presume what he did was legal at the time or he would have gone to jail. Our society apparently disliked such practices sufficiently as to eventually outlaw them. Problems, sociological or mechanical, are not always evident the “first time around”. You want perfection. go to heaven ASAP.

Had I been a corporate executive or shareholder of U.S. Steel in 1948, I would not have had knowledge of the local weather patterns near Pittsburgh to know in advance when a potentially lethal temperature inversion might occur. London had it’s “black fog”, and no one was strung up. Some things we just don’t know in advance. A term commonly used for such occurrences is an “act of God”.

You don’t like Bill Gates? Your problem. He has never wrongfully taken a dollar from my pocket or anyone I know. He funds “good works” generously and intelligently. That’s better than much of what Washington does.

His software has infinitely improved the efficiency and effectiveness of countless American individuals and businesses. If he also pursues laws and quotas that open opportunities here in America for educated Indians, those “American workers” who suffer as a result of such laws and quotas are free to boycott or otherwise legally oppose same.

The bankers and those in government that have facilitated their bad faith actions should be stripped of their ill-gotten gains (which should be restored as best possible to those victimized), strung up and left to rot in public as an example of what Americans find unacceptable.

I don’t have to have a history or economics major to perceive what has gone on during the seventy-three years I have been present. If YOU deem it “selfish” to be grateful to the capitalism that has been the economic engine of success of the country of my birth, which has provided every generation since WW II with unprecedented comfort and economic stability even as the information age brings about greater change than the Industrial Revolution, I plead “guilty” with more than a little pride in my small part of that process.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

“Challenge accepted. I would begin with generally accepted definitions of ‘wealth’.”

I did not ask you to define “wealth.” I asked you to define “legitimate wealth.” Wealth is easy to define: gold, stocks, real estate, land, jewels, etc. But there is a world of difference between someone who created a business through hard work and someone who was essentially given that opportunity via government favors.

“This would give rise to the legitimate question as to what percentage qualify as ‘intelligent life’.”

I am not a liberal — I hate them as much as I hate the Tea Party — but that comment paints you as someone who believes that certain races are more intelligent than others, i.e. a racist. Have you ever considered the possibility that the reason Americans have been so successful in the world is both hard work and luck, not only the former? In other words, if the Pilgrims had landed on a continent without oil, some of the best farmland in the world, great weather for farming, etc, the U.S. would be a very different place? No, I didn’t think so.

“Congress induced with land no one could or would buy to fund the building and administration of railroads that would connect Americans of every locale and class access to markets and reduce population congestion and competition in the East”

If you had bothered to research this, you would discover that the land was hardly unwanted. It was a stupendously generous gift to oligarchs — 6,400 acres per mile of railway. And the railroad barons understood very clearly that there would be mineral and oil deposits in the land they received. The consequences of that massive giveaway still resonate in the country today.

“I need not defend George Pullman, but presume what he did was legal at the time or he would have gone to jail”

Certainly, but you missed the point entirely. That’s the world of “no regulation,” the world that the Tea Party pines for. That’s what happens when oligarchs are allowed to do as they please. And the fact that he demanded that he be buried in a lead-lined coffin under tons of reinforced concrete proved that he knew his actions were anti-social.

“Had I been a corporate executive or shareholder of U.S. Steel in 1948, I would not have had knowledge of the local weather patterns near Pittsburgh to know in advance when a potentially lethal temperature inversion might occur.”

My point was that toxic clouds, whether in the air or water bodies, are a logical consequence of allowing companies to dump chemicals anywhere they please.

“You don’t like Bill Gates? Your problem. He has never wrongfully taken a dollar from my pocket or anyone I know.”

I do not dislike Gates; I dislike government favors given to large companies for no valid reason. The creation of large numbers of H-1B visas is corporate welfare. You constantly rail against welfare for humans, yet you approve of it for corporations. And you must never associate with software engineers and other technical workers, because hundreds of thousands of them have lost their livelihoods due to the abuse of H-1B visas by Microsoft and other companies. You are clearly ignorant of the abuse of H-1B visas.

I find it simply amazing that you defend the railroad barons receiving enormous tracts of land and Gates receiving the economic benefit of H-1B visas, yet you rail against the bailouts given to bankers, as all were government favors.

“If YOU deem it ‘selfish’ to be grateful to the capitalism that has been the economic engine of success of the country of my birth, which has provided every generation since WW II”

That’s right, every generation since WWII has done really well — until the turn of the century or so. You ignore the fact that the middle class was finally allowed to shine, which is the main reason our country became great. But we are now regressing back to the days of Pullman because people like you cannot see that corporate welfare is no different than governments stealing from the people.

Posted by baroque-quest | Report as abusive


I’m not going to go back and repeat concepts I related clearly to you in the first place, i.e. wealth and the legitimacy or lack thereof. All I can say about your “take” on my comment about “intelligent life” as racist is that your mind is too immature to grasp the concept thus presented.

“…there is a world of difference between someone who created a business through hard work and someone who was essentially given that opportunity via government favors”. You don’t understand. To be given an opportunity is NOT the same as being given success.

America has been successful over time because of the results of capitalistic incentives over time. There are always more ways to fail than succeed. You conveniently ignore the fact that life was HARD and eased only a little for the “common man” up to WW II.

At the time the “grand bargain” was made to induce prosperous Americans with “legitimate wealth” to build what would become the American system of railways, there were few miles of track and the locomotive as a transportation system was in it’s infancy. The commercial value of your “…6,400 acres per mile of railway…” was all potential and no reality.

The value of oil at that time was next to nothing and the only “mineral deposits” of worth were gold, silver and coal physically present which the technology of the time could utilize. Value FOLLOWED development.

As in all times, the government went to those people you deride as oligarchs is that, as Willie Sutton said, “That’s where the money was”. The bargain was, “Invest your money and efforts in this enterprise which the country needs and you will prosper even more. There were many such “deals” back then, and more than a few lost everything they had and died penniless. Those that succeeded BECAME “railroad barons” along the way, but had to be competent and dedicated to their enterprise. You cherry-pick those you deem villains from history with 20-20 hindsight. What’s your point?

So George Pullman represented the world of “no regulation”? So did slavery. We don’t live in those worlds any more by any definition. They are gone forever. Once again, what’s your point? The many societies on this planet are STILL learning what resources, compounds and “wastes” are toxic when stored or disposed of improperly.

The “toxic clouds” of which you complain were of less threat to the local population than those posed by the cold of then unpredictable winter storms. Your apparent premise that individuals,, industry or societies should do nothing before until all ramifications are both clear and deemed proper is naive at best even if it has found a home in our EPA agency of today.

The H-1B visas are but one of many government functions that can be and perhaps are abused. We each pick and choose our “battles” if we are to be effective and heard. That’s not one of mine. The reason I “…rail against the bailouts given to bankers…” is that they made loans under government directives that were known unsound without public protest.

They then packaged these sub-standard instruments with others of like kind such that ordinary Americans and businesses as then “invested” in them would sooner or later “loose out”. Integrity is required in certain of life’s functioning, enshrined by practice and, occasionally law. They knowingly and intentionally acted in bad faith to the detriment of the “public interest” and are not being made to “pay the price”. Such only encourages more of such behavior in the future.

So you don’t think our country was great BEFORE the explosion of our middle class after WW II during economic conditions that will never return? To bring your thinking into reality would take more time and words than I can offer. Go back to school. You missed too much.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

definition of wealth – the amount of riches (property, assets, cash, etc.) that someone wealthier than me has accumulated.
legitimate wealth – are you wanting a moral or an ethical answer.
it is unreasonable to assume that all (or even a large percentage of the US or world is “intelligent” in the sense that they understand the politics, banking, legal systems, economy, social behavior of masses and the consequences. Thus, I do not necessarily believe that the “intelligent” statement as being racist.

Posted by ready2013 | Report as abusive

What total nonsense. The socialist, extreme left in this country, watching the rolling disaster of their prime piece of socialism in the U.S., Obamacare, is desperate for a savior. That they would try to find it in the new head of a Church they hate, despise, and would like to destroy is a real irony. What has Pope Francis said that is any different than what previous Pope’s have said? NOTHING! John Paul II frequently took the side of the poor and spoke about the dignity of, and solidarity with labor, and he also spoke against our commercial consumer society. When he would do that the democrats and the left would tout his support and some on the right would worry that he was too socialist in his approach. Of course, John Pau II had direct experience with Socialism. First with the National Socialist of Germany, the NAZI’s, and then with the Socialist/Communist Russian imposed Government in Poland. He had to live in a Socialist Paradise that claimed to be on the side of “The People” “Equality” and the Greater Good. Pope Francis is standing up for the Poor and the oppressed, and reminding us of our Christian Duty to be our brother’s keeper, but you can bet that he knows that socialism, atheism, and tyranny go hand in hand. Pope Francis is neither a Capitalist nor a Socialist, he is the Vicar of the Roman Catholic Church and the Shepard of its people, actually of all people whether Catholic or not. I wouldn’t count on him siding with the increasingly atheistic, authoritarian, and socialist democratic party of the United States, or any other socialist authoritarian movements. He may not have lived under that nightmare like John Paul II, but he knows better even as he champions the poor and reminds the wealthy of their obligations to succor the poor and downtrodden as Christians! You can bet he knows what socialism is truly about!

Posted by valwayne | Report as abusive

Jesus was NOT a socialist, you dimwits. He did NOT advocate forcible confiscation of anything.

Posted by Travlnmn41 | Report as abusive

“unbridled free market”

On the contrary, the Code of Federal Regulations has more than doubled in the last 30 years to 174,545 pages.

Posted by PolicyObserver | Report as abusive

One is tempted to think Nicholas has finally recognized that “government action” has given us more Stalins than Gandhis and he has therefore looking to faith as the answer. That would explain the sudden interest in things Catholic manifested in this column.

Or perhaps it is simply a Wapshott dogma that God dislikes “Teaparty Republicans” and the Pope doesn’t watch Duck Dynasty. Therefore God and the Pope must support Mayor Deblasio. Or something else…

The Roman Catholic Church is trying to survive in post-Christian, socialist Europe. The peculiar history of Christianity in Europe is that churches have been servants of the rich, the powerful and often the evil. Just watch Tosca. Pope Francis has a brand to rehabilitate or Christendom will die in Europe and perhaps in North America. The Pope’s spin-doctors may be smarter or more sincere than Jay Carney, but the operation is the same. Perhaps God will grant the Pope the miracle he has, so far, denied this administration.

Or perhaps the Papacy itself is caught in an irreconcilable paradox. Only by adopting the narrative of your average Brussels functionary can God be made attractive to the media and political elites of Europe. But such a strategy also robs the Roman Catholic Church of its unique identity. It becomes just another NGO. It is still bigger and richer than Planned Parenthood or PETA or UNESCO, but if the Pope joins them, he will become like them.

Posted by lordbaltimore | Report as abusive

It must be a source of discouragement on the Left that so many voices here have something to say about Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Francis.

The thoughtful Progressive will note nobody is talking about Al Gore. Nobody is fainting anymore when President Obama drops a platitude reflecting well on Obama and all his works. Earth has not gotten a whole lot warmer. The rising seas are not yet lapping at my doorstep. Nobody remembers Occupy Wall Street but surprising numbers of people wonder what the Vicar of Christ has to say about justice, work and wealth.

How odd and unfair to the secular, materialist Left. They will tell you they are smarter than you are in ways designed not to offend you. They will assure discretely assure you they have thrown-off the fables and myths that make lesser people kneel in church. They want a Pope who shares their views secretly. Indeed, the idea that Pope Francis might secretly sympathize is more exciting. It flatters an elite that adores “nuance”– which is 21st Century for “lying”. A plain, open statement by the Pope that faith is okay–if you like that sort of thing–but politics is where it’s at would be too obvious.

On January 22, in the winter cold, over a hundred thousand people will gather in Washington for a day of protest against abortion in America. Most of them will be Catholic laypeople, joined by people of other denominations. (Perhaps a few Tea Party Republicans will take a break from poisoning the wells and stop-by.)

The real question for Nicholas is why these people still come in their thousands to support a supposedly hopeless, backward cause. We have been told by our Supreme Court that abortion is okay. We are lectured and hectored by media personalities that abortion is “women’s health” and nothing more. Why do these people still think and feel differently after all these years?

It is a question for Reuters and perhaps for the Pope.

Posted by lordbaltimore | Report as abusive