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

Es­ti­mated reading time is 11 min­utes.

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.


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


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.

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 to be as­so­ci­ated with Reagan.


“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


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, the 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 a 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.


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


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.

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 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. Any­where else. Guess which one’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.

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

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 . . .



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)


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