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Pope Francis calls out the damaging impact of "trickle-down economics"

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Pope Francis has a common touch that many Catholics and non-Catholics find appealing.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – I must begin this column by stating that soon after the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina – Jorge Mario Bergoglio – was chosen as the new pope, I (and others) had many questions about this man. Who was he and where was he coming from, socially and politically speaking? This, particularly in the wake of the grim-faced reign of Pope Benedict XVI.

But with Pope Francis there was a different approach all together. He seemed, well, sunnier. Happier. More optimistic. And yet with that optimism there seemed to be a legitimate, heartfelt concern for those who were struggling on a day-to-day basis. And being from Argentina, a country that recently faced its own economic Armageddon, Pope Francis has, perhaps, a unique perspective.

As I wrote on March 13, 2013: “Pope Francis, reporters are telling us, is interested in social justice and the poor.” This caught my attention. Despite my apprehensions, early on, particlarly regarding questions about his activities during Argentina's Dirty War, Pope Francis seemed like the real deal.

And so far this has been the case in the intervening nine months since this humble Jesuit ascended to the papacy.

Pope Francis turns 77 tomorrow.

And what is this septuagenarian doing when he has some spare time? The UK Telegraph reports that Pope Francis “will celebrate his first Christmas as pontiff by giving personal gifts to the poor of Rome.” This includes the handing out of “2,000 envelopes containing free public transport tickets and telephone cards” which will be distributed in Rome by nuns from the order of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a well-known group which serves meals to the poor and homeless.

The Pope’s venturing out into the streets of Rome, meeting with the poor and needy are rapidly becoming stuff of legend and, one wonders, is this Vatican front man the real deal or just trying to distract from the Church’s recent problems with child-sex abuse, alleged financial impropriety and a stubborn unwillingness to embrace the times as more Catholics and non-Catholics alike accept the idea of gay marriage and the notion of women priests.

In a La Stampa “Vatican Insider” interview with reporter Andrea Tornielli, Pope Francis tells her in that in his recent Exhortation, which caused an uproar amongst conservatives, particularly in the United States, that he is simply speaking about the doctrines of the Church when he makes controversial statements that many say Jesus himself would have agreed with.

So, it has been with great interest on my part to watch confused conservatives try to figure Pope Francis out. With nationally-syndicated American conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh leading the charge, calling the Pope’s criticism of cut-throat capitalism “pure Marxism,” the Pope has laughed it off saying that while he believes Marxism is wrong, “I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”

In his radio program today, Limbaugh, who kicked off the show talking about Pope Francis and his Marxist tendencies, softened his tone a bit saying that “il Papa”  is really just a “populist” who simply does not like or understand “trickle-down economics.” Growing up in the 1980’s, I knew this term as “Reaganomics.” I don’t know about you, but I’m sensing a bit of déjà vu.

And another conservative commentator, former-Catholic-turned-narcissistic-rightwing-Mormon Glenn Beck said he was appalled by Time magazine’s choice of Pope Francis (just ahead of Edward Snowden) as their “Person of the Year.” Beck said the progressive Pope wants wealth redistribution, something the Pope has never said. It quickly becomes clear that this Pope - despite his flaws, whatever they may be - is very popular. If anything, he is an upbeat spokesman for the teachings of Christ and the notion of humility. No Prada shoes or fancy duds for this guy.

Additionally, it is important to note that “trickle-down economics,” is the notion that tax breaks given to wealthy capitalists and businesses will “trickle down” to those in great need.

And is it any surprise that this pejorative is often attributed to Oklahoma native and humorist Will Rogers? It was Rogers who said, during the Great Depression, that:“(M)oney was all appropriated for the top in hopes that it would trickle down to the needy.”

When La Stampa asks The Pope about the part of the Exhortation where he refers to “an economy that ‘kills,’” Pope Francis responds: “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 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.” 

Visting the Red Dirt Report library this week and leafing through our copy of Karl Marx’s influential 1867 best seller Das Kapital, in the chapter titled “The Working-Day” and the subsection “The Struggle for the Normal Working-Day” that the “vampire” capitalist “will not lose its hold on (the laborer) so long as there is a muscle, a nerve, a drop of blood to be exploited.”

Pope Francis doesn’t quite take it that far, which may why he does not fully embrace Marxism. Still, he does echo Marx in a particular section of the Evangelii Gaudium where he states: “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.” Sounds like what many of Bergoglio's brother priests in Latin America were embracing in the 1970's and 80's as liberation theology was then de rigueur. Perhaps the masses are beginning to wise up to what is really happening to them as their paychecks get smaller and smaller. 

Income inequality in the United States is at an all-time high. Massive unemployment is spreading and people forced to work for slave wages at chains like Walmart and McDonald’s often end up relying on government handouts to make ends meet and to support their families. Pope Francis – and many others – see this reality and that vampire capitalist that Marx referenced suddenly seems all-too real for many of the working poor. And Pope Francis’s comments are helping to focus attention on this growing problem in our world.

And despite all the reports saying how well the economy is doing in the Oklahoma City metro, the problems of income inequality are visible here as well. It’s time city leaders did more to address this issue affecting our “Big League City.”

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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