pope francis puts down trickle-down and those wielding economic power

IN THE SUMMER OF 1964, I was not quite 13-years old. I was trying to stay awake in the hot, crowded, non-air-conditioned confines of St. Ann’s Chapel in Kingston, Pennsylvania. Father Devlin was performing the Mass, his sonorous voice chanting the Latin in his mildly monotonous manner which had a hypnotically soothing effect.

I was bored. But then I was always bored, as religion and all of its trappings bored me. Even Christianity, which is a fairly mystical religion—virgin births, walking on water, turning water into wine, rising from the dead, and bodily assumption into Heaven, etc.—is rather boring in its modern version.

I have always thought that The Church of Rome would benefit by a ‘modern’ pontiff that placed the values of Jesus—empathy, compassion, generosity, charity, and a ‘revolutionary’ spirit and towards the philistines—above the interests of The Church.

Needless to say, I have had little intellectual or spiritual use for or appreciation of the various men who have been elected Pope in my lifetime.


Pope Francis: The Holy Ghost as depicted in a stained glass window at All Saints Catholic Church in St. Peters, Missouri. 

The Holy Ghost as depicted in a stained glass window at All Saints Catholic Church in St. Peters, Missouri. 

But that day in 1964 I was saved from boredom: midway through mass, the Holy Spirit alighted upon my shoulder and gave me a message from on high: You will not find God in church—you must seek Him elsewhere.

Even at that age I knew that I should not tell anyone—not my parents or my brother and sister or my best friend and certainly not anyone associated with The Church—that the Holy Ghost was visiting me at St. Ann’s and telling me that I was wasting my time at there.


Cover of Time magazine with Pope Francis as 2103 Man of the Year.

President Reagan on trickle-down theory

In the summer of 1980, the Rep*blican Presidential primaries saw Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush vying for the top spot. Reagan planned to bring supply-side economics to the US economy if elected. Bush sneeringly called Reagan’s plan “voodoo economics”—which one of the highlights of his career as a public speaker.

Rep*blicans spent a lot of time denying that supply-side economics was just another name for an older theory known as trickle-down economics, a theory that carried with it a particular odor that no one wanted associated with Reagan.


This essay was cobbled together from four pieces originally published in 2014, each sub-titled “Me And Francis.”


Following the election, President Reagan’s budget director David Stockman acknowledged that supply-side economics was, in fact, another name for trickle-down economics: *“It’s kind of hard to sell trickle-down, so the supply-side formula was the only way to get a tax policy that was really trickle-down. Supply-side is trickle-down theory.”

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith noted that trickle-down economics had been tried before in the 1890s: “Mr. Stockman has said that supply-side economics was merely a cover for the trickle-down approach to economic policy—what an older and less elegant generation called the horse-and-sparrow theory.”

Galbraith also stated that the horse-and-sparrow method was partly to blame for the Panic of 1896, a stock market crash centered around a series of bank collapses in Chicago.

The horse-and-sparrow theory was simple: If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.


Photo of Pope Francis and President Obama laughing together.

Two people who look genuinely happy to be in each other’s presence.

Pope Francis on trickle-down theory

On March 13, 2103, the Catholic Church welcomed its 266th head Pope Francis. Throughout his public life, Francis had been noted for his humility, emphasis on God’s mercy, and concern for the poor. He is credited with having a less formal approach to the papacy than his predecessors, and maintains that the Church should be more open and welcoming.

While he maintains the traditional views of the Church regarding abortion, marriage, ordination of women, and clerical celibacy, he does not support unbridled capitalism and he opposes consumerism, overdevelopment, and supports taking action on climate change.

The Pope quickly garnered worldwide headlines when he criticized economic inequality and free markets. Francis spoke out against an ‘idolatry of money’ in western culture and warned that it would lead to new tyranny.

“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 naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”

And here is where I get to say, “Wow! I never thought I’d quote a sitting pope because he favors my position on anything political.


“I first heard it when Ronald Reagan went in. How long are we gonna wait for the trickle? Thirty years later: we got the down, but we never got the trickle.” – Reverend Al Sharpton


Statements such as these brought harsh criticism from some and hardy praise from others. The paragraphs below are taken from an article titled “Pope denounces ‘trickle-down’ economic theories in critique of inequality” by Zachary A. Goldfarb and Michelle Boorstein for The Washington Post (November 26, 2013).

“Although Francis has previously raised concerns about the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor, the direct reference to “trickle-down” economics in the English translation of his statement is striking.

The phrase has often been used derisively to describe a popular version of conservative economic philosophy that argues that allowing the wealthy to run their businesses unencumbered by regulation or taxation bears economic benefits that lead to more jobs and income for the rest of society.”


Cover of The New Yorker magazine with art depicting Pope Francis making an angel in the snow.

Bloody well about time

Pope Francis’s birth name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio; he chose the papal name of Francis in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi. There are several much more interesting facts about the new pope:

• Francis is the first Jesuit pope.
• Francis is the first pope from the Americas.
• Francis is the first pope from the Southern Hemisphere of our world.

“Pope Francis, while affirming the present Church teachings, has stated that Catholics have concentrated officiously on condemning abortion, contraception, and homosexual acts while neglecting the greater need for tenderness, mercy, and compassion.

Furthermore, the Pontiff emphasizes the Christian obligation to assist the poor, destitute, and marginalized in society, while upholding the orthodox teachings of the Catholic faith with clemency and optimistic tone.” (Wikipedia)

To which I say, “It’s bloody well about time!” Um, but there is one more thing: Exactly where does our Jesuit Pope stand on Liberation Theology?


Cover of The Advocate magazine with Pope Francis as 2103 Person of the Year.

Transform society for the better

I was pleased to find this article as an answer of sorts: “Is the Pope Getting the Catholics Ready for an Economic Revolution?” by Lynn Parramore for AlterNet (November 30, 2013). The following paragraphs were lifted from that piece:

“[Pope Francis’] recent comments on capitalism suggest that he is a man who understands something about economics—specifically the link between unbridled capitalism and inequality:

‘Just as the commandment Thou shalt not kill sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say Thou shalt not to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.

As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.’

Whoa! Where did that come from? To understand the answer, you need to know something about liberation theology, a Catholic phenomenon centered on actively fighting economic and social oppression, is the fascinating place where Karl Marx and the Catholic Church meet.


“Ronald Reagan loved America so much he created two of them—one for the haves and one for the have-nots.” – Reverend Michael Grego


Though Marx was certainly an atheist, Catholics who support liberation theology understand that his attitude toward religion was nuanced. He saw it as a coin with two sides: a conservative force that could block positive changes as well as a reservoir of energy that could resist and challenge injustice.

Gustavo Gutiérrez, a Peruvian Catholic priest who grew up in abject poverty, used Marx’s ideas about ideology, class, and capitalism to develop a perspective on how Christianity could be used to help the poor while they were on here on Earth rather than simply offer them solace in heaven.

As Latin America saw the rise of military dictatorships in the 1960s and ’70s, Gutiérrez called on Catholics to love their neighbor and to transform society for the better. Followers of the new liberation theology insisted on active engagement in social and economic change. They talked about alternative structures and creative, usually non-violent ways to free the poor from all forms of abuse.

The official Church hierarchy has had a tense relationship with liberation theology, but some Francis-watchers detect that a new chapter in that history is opening. In early September, the new Pope had a private meeting with Gutiérrez.

The Catholic world has now snapped to attention as the faithful pore over the Pope Francis’s recent communication, which calls upon politicians to guarantee ‘dignified work, education and healthcare’ and blasts the idolatry of money.”


Cover of The New Republic magazine with Pope Francis.

Benefitting the poor

The Pope’s stands came under attack from various sectors, most vocally from the American rightwing, the majority being Catholic-hating Protestants. In an interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa published on December 10, 2103, Francis was asked directly about the heated criticism from the United States:

“There is nothing in the Exhortation that cannot be found in the social Doctrine of The Church. I wasn’t speaking from a technical point of view, what I was trying to do was to give a picture of what is going on.

The only specific quote I used was the one regarding the trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and social inclusiveness in the world.

The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger [and] nothing ever comes out for the poor.

This was the only reference to a specific theory. I was not, I repeat, speaking from a technical point of view but according to The Church’s social doctrine. This does not mean being a Marxist.”


Photo of Pope Francis posing with President Trump and his family.

One person looks genuinely happy, two people look like they’re trying their best not to look shell-shocked that they’re posing with the Pope, and two people look they wish they were somewhere else. Any where else. Guess which ons’s which.

More free does not mean more unequal

Not everyone greeted Francis’s assessment of the state of the world as defined by laissez-faire capitalism, again notably the American rightwing. In “Pope’s Erroneous Economic Pontifications” (Huffington Post on December 20, 2013), Benjamin Powell stated:

“The income share of the poorest 10% of the population in the least economically free countries is 2.57% while their share is 2.76% in the freest countries. More free does not translate into more unequal.”

Using fractions to the hundredth place is kind of weird in a debate such as this: the two figures are can be accurately stated as 2.6% and 2.8%. For most of us, these are practically identical, like saying, “The income share of the poorest 10% of the population in both the least economically free countries and in the freest countries is less than 3%.”

What seems to escape Powell’s notice is that he when he compares the American economy—where righties argue poverty is non-existent—to that of Third World countries—where the same righties argue that poverty is everywhere—he comes up with similar statistics for the state of those economies!

A more reasonable argument to make his case would have been to compare the distribution of income and wealth in the US in 1980—the year that Ronald Reagan brought the promised trickle-down effect (or in the words of George H. Bush, “voodoo economics”) to the White House—to where it stands today.

If free market, laissez-faire capitalism benefits all (that is, if the trickle-down effect is working), then the American middle- and lower-classes should have a greater share of the income and wealth now than they did before Reagan.

Of course, that is so far from what has occurred that no one argues that is so—not even rightwing like Powell. 1


Cover of Rolling Stone magazine with Pope Francis.

My Confirmation name

So was the Holy Ghost messing with me that summer day in 1964, because shortly after His visit to my shoulder, it was my 13th birthday. At the time, that was the time when a Catholic child was perceived to be of an age resembling adult responsibility when he or she received Confirmation.

“Together with Baptism and Holy Communion, the Sacrament of Confirmation is one of the three sacraments of initiation into the Catholic Church. This special anointing given by the bishop or priest has the effect of increasing, deepening, and strengthening the sanctifying grace of God given to us at our baptism.

While baptism removes from our souls the stain of original sin, Confirmation pours into our souls the power of the Holy Spirit and his seven gifts—just like the Apostles received at Pentecost.

Confirmation is, therefore, the sacrament most closely identified with the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit. If baptism is like a seed of Divine life in the soul, then Confirmation makes that seed come to full bloom.” 2

At Confirmation, we have the option of choosing a middle name. Traditionally young Catholics chose the name of a saint, but I chose the name of my father’s father. 3

Which was also the name of my father’s brother.

Who was my Godfather.

Who were both named Francis.


Photo of a smiling Pope Francis waving to the people.

FEATURED IMAGE: Despite the bellowing of the American rightwing, Francis pointing out the hollowness of the promises of the free market and trickle-down economics (“the promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor”) will be resonating with hundreds of millions of people long after the righties rants are forgotten for the propaganda that it invariably turns out to be . . .

I never thought I'd quote a pope because he favors my position on ANYthing political. Click To Tweet

FOOTNOTES:

1   Mr. Powell is a Senior Fellow—which is a meaningless title, no matter how often you read it beneath a talking head on your television—at the Independent Institute. This is another meaningless title, as the Independent Institute is a Libertarian think-tank. Despite what Libertarians like to say about themselves as being “independent,” they are comfortably—if not often often wildly—right on the American center.

2   The paragraphs on Confirmation were lifted and adapted from the Get Fed website, a service of The Catholic Company.

3   “In many countries, it is customary for a person being confirmed in some dioceses of Roman Catholic Church to adopt a new name, generally the name of a biblical character or saint, thus securing an additional patron saint as protector and guide. As indicated by the different senses of the word christening, baptism and the giving of a personal name have traditionally been linked.

At Confirmation, in which the intervention of a godparent strengthens a resemblance with baptism, it became customary to take a new name, as was also the custom on other occasions, in particular that of religious profession. Today usually no great use is made of the Confirmation name, although some treat it as an additional middle name.” (Wikipedia)