Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A billion fewer poor people tells me the Pope is wrong about free markets

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The Pope has the biggest bully pulpit of the lot, millions of people believe his word is divinely-inspired and even less god-bothering folk in the western media give his pronouncements loads of coverage. So expect to hear a lot of this comment:

"... 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 na├»ve 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." 

It contains those familiar nonsenses loved by left-liberal people - trickle-down, justice, power, inclusion. The Holy Father goes on to have a good pop at "consumerism" and then defends state intervention.

Now this is all well and good but the problem is that the Pope is wrong. Wrong about markets. Wrong about speculation. Wrong about state intervention. And above all wrong about what free market capitalism, that dreaded neoliberalism, means for the poor.

In simple terms that neoliberalism has, where governments have allowed it to work, delivered for the poorest in the world. Not just one or two of them but over a billion of the poor.

In 1981, 52% of the world's population lived on $1.25 a day or less. By 2008 that figure had fallen to 22%. Half of the world's poor people were no longer poor. Why? Because of capitalism, free markets, self-interest - those very things the Pope rails against in his ignorance.

We've still a long way to go - there are still over a billion people living in extreme poverty and that's a billion too many. But why scrap the system - that neoliberalism, those free markets - that has already more than halved the number of people in abject poverty? Economic growth, encouraged by a free market may not bring "justice" but it sure as hell will bring wealth, income and an end to poverty for those poorest people.

And the alternative? The alternative is this. Or, even worse, this.

The Pope is not just wrong but his wrongness may mean more people die in poverty. I'd find that hard to excuse in a man named for St Francis.

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