When I say the pope gets some things right, just not in the way he intends, here’s what I mean: In an important sense, we do have “an economy of exclusion and inequality.” But it is not the free market; rather, it’s interventionism, corporatism, crony capitalism, or just plain capitalism — that is, the abrogation of the free market on behalf of special, mostly business, interests. The reigning system is riddled with exclusion and inequality, the victims of which are society’s most vulnerable people. It’s easy to overlook this because the system produces a great volume and variety of consumer goods that even low-income people can afford ..
In other words, the pope is wrong when he says, “Today everything comes under the laws of competition.” It is precisely this legislated suppression and prohibition of competition that cause “masses of people [to] find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”
There’s not too much competition, but too little, because suppressing competition is how those with access to political power keep potential rivals at bay. As noted, these restrictions make low-income people (and others) dependent on wage employment: government regulations largely destroy self-employment and cooperative ventures as alternatives to a job, which diminishes workers’ bargaining power and leaves them more vulnerable to the caprice of politically protected oversized and hierarchical firms, not to mention to dips in the economy and resulting structural unemployment brought on by governments’ central banks and bubble-inflating favoritism.
So when the pope writes that our social problems are “the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace,” he’s got it exactly wrong. The autonomy of the marketplace was compromised from the beginning by those who used the state to secure privileges that could not be obtained in a freed market.
The pope’s concern with the poor and excluded is well-placed. We should not tolerate their condition or its causes. But what the poor and excluded need are freedom and freed markets — really free markets, not “the prevailing economic system” — so they may be liberated from the oppression that holds them back.
When the pope laments that the prevailing ideologies “reject the right of states [i.e., governments], charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control,” one must suppress the urge to laugh. When have states ever looked out for the common good? It is states and their elite patrons that preserve the exclusion and inequality that the pope abhors by squelching the social cooperation inherent in freed markets and the bottom-up — not trickle-down — progress they make possible. It is states that embody the worse sense of the “survival of the fittest” principle by defining “fit” in terms of prowess in navigating the halls of power. We know whom that includes and excludes.