Jan Michał Małek
Picture: Pope Francis signs his new encyclical in Assisi Oct. 3, 2020
For some time now, opinions have been expressed in Catholic circles that we lack an Encyclical, or at least Pastoral Letters from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, or other authoritative reminders addressed to the faithful for a proper evaluation of the enormous abuses by the State. Under various slogans, including pretexts such as the fight against poverty, the struggle for human dignity, or the need to redress social inequalities, the State, with “full consent of the law,” massively robs its citizens of their property, including the fruits of their labor, leading to various economic and social crises and problems (such as family breakdown and poverty). These opinions are accompanied by hopes and suggestions that the Church – as the faithful flock – should attach greater importance to economics, which is the science of human activity of an economic nature, constituting, in fact, a major component of all human activity. It is not an indifferent matter to the economy and human destinies whether these activities are carried out in conformity with the principles of faith or not. Essential in this area are the Seventh and Tenth Commandments of the Decalogue, which prohibit theft and the coveting of other people’s goods, and which are commonly violated if only to “realize the principles of social justice.”
Meanwhile, last October (2020), Holy Father Francis’ Encyclical Fratelli Tutti was published, in which His Holiness discusses the current situation of humanity and its ills as He sees them and calls for fraternal brotherhood and the practice of mercy, especially towards the randomly disadvantaged. He rather leaves to the faithful the choice of definitive actions and ways to improve the lot of poor people, communities, and nations.
Although the Encyclical is principally concerned with the beautiful concept of fraternal brotherhood, based on charity, it does contain a few references to economics, even if only indirectly; in the ten paragraphs of the section entitled “Restoring the Social Function of Property,” Pope Francis discusses the question of property and the universal destination of goods. He stated that the right to private property can only be considered a secondary natural right and derives from the principle of the universal destination of created goods, which has exact consequences that must be reflected in society’s functioning.
Based on the above statement and the words found in the Holy Scripture, it is evident that since God created the Earth with its riches, allowing for their everyday beneficial use by mankind, it must be concluded that: a) for this purpose, He predestined these goods for man so that he could use these goods as best he could for himself and others; b) for this purpose, He established private property as a natural right, so that man could use it as an instrument enabling or facilitating him to make the best possible use of these goods; c) for this purpose, He established as many as two Commandments prohibiting the appropriation of private property (i.e., the property of one’s neighbor), namely, by way of the Commandments “Thou shalt not steal!” and “Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s goods!” This was done in order to make it easier for man, by stressing the particular positive significance of private property for humanity, to secure the fruits of these goods for his use, as created by God.
Therefore, no statutory law, action, or recommendation to help the poor, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, and others can, from a Christian perspective, take place if it conflicts with these Commandments.
However, this is the case when the aid in question consists of robbing or stealing from certain people in order to distribute the proceeds to others. An example is the forcible deprivation, by means of state taxation, of the fruits of labor of some citizens in order to distribute these acquired funds to various more or less needy other people, including also officials who collect the taxes and redistribute them.
This is what the rejection of the principle of respect for private property leads to:
Based on the experience of millions of people and a massive amount of facts and documentation about the living conditions of people in communist countries where private property has been “nationalized” or severely restricted, it is well known that human misery, a sense of enslavement, and hopelessness run rampant there. Whenever they can, people flee from these countries, even at the risk of their own lives, to countries where private property is legally protected from theft and remains inviolable, where this property protects the freedom of the people, and where the power of the government, which generally tends to violate the right of the people to property, is limited, and where, therefore, people in these countries have the opportunity to enjoy widely available goods and to prosper.
Paragraph 185 of the Encyclical reminds us: “Charity needs the light of truth!”
Some of the statements found in the Encyclical regarding the economy are incomprehensible or unclear and may be misunderstood (in conflict with the truth) by the faithful.
For example, Paragraph 21 of the Encyclical states, “Wealth has increased but together with inequality.” From the context of this statement, it would seem that wealth is evil and equality is good. This is what communists think, and when they can, they act, often by force, to make everyone equal except those that are “more equal.”
In Paragraph 22 of the Encyclical, it would appear from the negative evaluation of the “profit-based economic model” that the loss-based economic model is something desirable. This is a serious misunderstanding. One can suppose, therefore, that it came about, perhaps, from a deficiency of economic knowledge on the part of Pope Francis and his advisors, and from the misidentification of profit with exploitation. **
The message contained in Paragraph 109 of the Encyclical under the chapter heading “A universal love that promotes persons” is difficult for a Christian to understand because it states that someone who is born into a poor home needs a proactive State, while those born into wealthy families do not need a proactive State. This statement clearly implies that the State is to be concerned with practicing the virtue of mercy toward the poor! Why should not neighboring people (from local communities and charitable organizations) do so, following the principle of subsidiarity advocated by the Church?
In Paragraph 118, the Pope states that “The world exists for everyone because all of us were born with the same dignity. Differences of color, religion, talent, place of birth or residence, and so many others, cannot be used to justify the privileges of some over the rights of all. As a community, we have an obligation to ensure that every person lives with dignity and has sufficient opportunities for his or her integral development.”
This is an important message, but one must be very careful not to interpret it from the Marxist position, according to which, for example, an entrepreneur who has made a fortune is the beneficiary of an unjustified privilege and not the holder of the fruits of his work, his prudence, and his various sacrifices, while a member of the ruling party and the recipient of various special benefits granted to him by the authorities is not considered to have benefited from an unjustified privilege.
The last sentence of the paragraph mentioned above, namely, the assertion that as a community, we are to provide a dignified life and opportunities for the integral development of every human being, in the Marxist interpretation would lead to the conclusion that society is responsible for the life situation of every human being, while in a Christian understanding man is responsible for himself, where “Every man is the architect of his own fortune” and should behave and live with dignity, and not be limited by others in his opportunities of development.
Paragraph 168 states that the marketplace, by itself, cannot resolve every problem. Of course, there is no economic or another man-made system, even the best, by which all issues can be resolved. Only God is all-powerful. We should always bear this in mind because some ideologies hostile to Christianity put the State in place of God and, unfortunately, many Christians are beginning, in conflict with the First Commandment, to regard the State as a kind of idol to be turned to for the solution of every pressing economic or social problem. As regards the most efficient economic system, each system must be judged by its results. So far, everything indicates that the most beneficial system for mankind is the free market system, based on the respect for private property required by Christianity. In less than two centuries, this system has led the United States to a comprehensive civilizational development of humankind unprecedented in the history of the world.
Paragraph 172 mentions the possibility of establishing international institutions empowered to eliminate poverty. However, since in Paragraph 21, the poor are not those who lack the necessary means of subsistence but those whose standard of living is below the average, it can be inferred that these organizations would be concerned with equalizing this standard of living throughout the world.
I do not attempt to examine where the funds for this equalization would come from. for lack of space. In any case, if these funds were to be taken by force (meaning, by thievery) from some people in order to distribute them to other people, this would be a violation of God’s ban on stealing. Therefore, organizations of this kind could not be approved by Christians, especially since their goal of eradicating poverty would be utopian, for as Christ stated, “You will always have the poor among you…” (John 12:8).
It is worth noting, by the way, that international institutions are bureaucratic organizations and, like any such organizations set up to achieve a goal, have no interest in achieving that goal, because then they would lose their raison d’etre, but they do have an interest in endlessly pursuing that goal. Bureaucratic institutions also seek to grow and grab as much money and power for themselves as possible, in this case, world power, paving the way to a world government.
Paragraph 177 emphasizing that “politics must not be subject to the economy, nor should the economy be subject to the dictates……and economics without politics cannot be justified…” is incomprehensible in the messages it is attempting to communicate.
Of course, politics cannot be subordinated to economics, or physics, or mathematics, or any other science, but must take into account their achievements in the form of the natural laws governing the world they discover, and never violate these laws, so as not to harm people. Moreover, since “politics is the activity of overcoming conflicts of interest and concerting the behavior of interdependent social groups and ….., serving the shaping and protection of the social order…” and “economics is the science of human economic activity in the whole of society, and the laws that govern this activity,” a serious and honest politician, or any other person in power, must at least know and understand the basic laws of economics, or else s/he may cause by his/her decisions their violation, thus causing significant, and sometimes even catastrophic, although usually seemingly invisible, economic damage resulting in shortages and poverty.
Paragraph 185 of the encyclical, as it were, follows on from Paragraph 177 above and disavows it, for it very rightly states that Charity needs the light of truth… This also presupposes the development of the sciences and their irreplaceable contribution to finding the concrete and surest means of achieving the desired results. When others’ good is at stake, it is not enough to have good intentions, but it is a matter of effectively achieving what they and their peoples need to be fulfilled.
In Paragraph 186 of the chapter on the exercise of political love, the Pope speaks very positively of the politician who creates a job for a poor person, from which one might mistakenly conclude that it is up to politicians to create jobs.
Meanwhile, it is well known that jobs created by politicians cost society many more jobs lost in the labor market. However, as the brilliant French economist Frederic Bastiat wrote in his pamphlet “What is Seen and What is Not Seen” in the middle of the 19th century, unfortunately few people notice these losses. Few also notice that one of the main factors of these losses is that, on average, the jobs created by the State through its politicians and bureaucrats are less useful than those created by entrepreneurs. This is indicated by the fact that under communist regimes, where there are no entrepreneurs, and practically every citizen has a job assigned to him/her by the State, its low efficiency is manifested in the form of a continually limping economy and chronic shortage of various, even basic, products for the population.
T o s u m u p the above discussion of some points concerning the Encyclical “Fratelli tutti,” I would like to conclude that:
1) The content of any of the points of the Encyclical “Fratelli tutti” should not be interpreted from the point of view of Marxist ideology striving to weaken the importance of private property towards its liquidation;
2) When discussing questions of social inequality and social justice, let us always do so in the light of the primacy of the Commandments of the Decalogue so that, as Christians, we may not fall into the sin of coveting others’ property or committing theft, or persuading others to do so;
3) Remember to educate ourselves in the science of real economics, i.e., economics based on and in harmony with natural laws, to which private property belongs. It is especially important for the clergy and politicians to understand at least the basics of economics, so that they do not make mistakes in their statements and actions, ignoring the existence of the “steadfast” laws of economics, and risking moral and material harm to the people who trust them, as well as harm to their own authority and that of the institutions or organizations they represent. With regard to the Catholic clergy, it would be highly advisable to introduce compulsory courses on the fundamentals of economics into the curriculum of young students in theological seminaries.
The article is also available in Polish on the website of PAFERE – Polsko-Amerykanska Fundacja Edukacji i Rozwoju Ekonomicznego:
* Europa Christi supplement no. 26 to the “Tygodnik Niedziela” weekly of March 29, 2020:
“A reflection is urgently needed” by Marian Miszalski…and Europa Christi supplement no. 29 of June 28, 2020: “The Missing Encyclical”, by Michał J. Wojciechowski.
** Europa Christi supplement no. 26 to the “Tygodnik Niedziela””weekly of March 29, 2020: “Let us deal with the economy in a Christian spirit” [Pol.: “Zajmijmy się ekonomią w duchu chrześcijańskim”], by Jan Michał Małek.