Shamefully Exploiting a Pope's Death

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Shamefully Exploiting a Pope's Death

You can stick this in the "cynical and intellectually dishonest ways to exploit the death of a popular pope" file. The conservative website wants America to believe that Pope John Paul II wanted or encouraged free-market economic policies in Eastern Europe.

As the world mourns the pope's death, has posted this article with the misleading headline: "Pope Spurred Free Markets in East Europe." In the article, never quotes from a single papal speech or encyclical, but, nonetheless, shamefully tries to connect the dots between the pontiff's anti-communist views and the strong suggestion that he supported laissez-faire economies:
Pope John Paul II and former President Ronald Reagan hammered away at Communism until it fell ... The Pope's principled anti-Communism helped bring about freedom in his native Poland -- and precipiated the fall of the U.S.S.R., the Iron Curtain, the Berlin Wall and all vestiges of Soviet totalitarianism.

... Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990, the region has led much of Europe in adopting free market reforms that are helping governments grow their economies while allowing businesses to take advantage of lower wages, less taxes and decreased regulation, the paper found.

Under communism, the state owned everything and little to nothing was run efficiently. That left both governments and people impoverished; there was little incentive among workers to foster the kind of free-market efficiency that leads to profits. And without profits, state-owned businesses stagnated.

But after the fall of communism on the continent ... East European nations adopted flat taxes, scrapped burdensome regulations, and began to decrease benefits and entitlements."
The unstated (but strongly implied) suggestion that John Paul II supported flat taxes and laissez-faire policies is ridiculous. As the Catholic Conference of Kentucky explained in this 2001 summary:
... the Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation -- The Church in America (Ecclesia in America, 1999) -- referred to economic systems marred by “an unbridled greed for wealth and power,” creating a social climate dominated by “neoliberalism.”

“Neoliberalism” is a contemporary version of the classic laissez-faire economics. Such a “winner-take-all” or “survival-of-the fittest” mentality narrows economic morality to the regulation of profits and market mechanisms. This theory is rooted in a materialistic and purely economic understanding of persons.

According to On Human Work (an encyclical written by John Paul II), laissez-faire capitalism was corrupted by “the error of economism” which in turn is disclosed as “an error of materialism.”

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