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Pope Francis denounces unemployment and the pursuit of “profit at any cost”

Pope Francis caused a stir with this Twitter message on Thursday morning: “My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centered mindset bent on profit at any cost.”

Some have interpreted this remark as a broad attack on capitalism.  Business Insider tells us the Pope might have had a specific situation in mind:

Pope Francis on Wednesday condemned as “slave labour” the conditions for hundreds of workers killed in a factory collapse in Bangladesh and urged political leaders to fight unemployment in a sweeping critique of “selfish profit”.

The pope said he had been particularly struck by a headline saying workers at the factory near Dhaka were being paid just 38 euros ($50) a month.

“This is called slave labour!” the pope was quoted by Vatican radio as saying in his homily at a private mass in his residence to mark May Day.

More than 400 workers have been confirmed dead and scores are missing in the collapse, which occurred in a suburb of the capital Dhaka last week in the country’s worst-ever industrial disaster.

As terrible as that sounds, I would not be so quick to throw the word “slavery” around.  It has a specific meaning, and it’s not “underpaid people working in terrible conditions,” however deserving of criticism such conditions might be.

But then Pope Francis returned to what seemed like a more general attack on capitalism, and he was speaking on May Day – a “commemoration” of the monstrous crime of global communism:

The 76-year-old later spoke to thousands of followers in St Peter’s Square, urging politicians to fight unemployment and calling for greater “social justice” against “selfish profit”.

“I call on politicians to make every effort to relaunch the labour market,” he said in his traditional weekly address.

“Work is fundamental for dignity,” he said.

He spoke of “labour market difficulties in various countries” — an apparent reference to the unemployment crisis afflicting Europe.

Unemployment is often caused by “an economic conception of society based on selfish profit outside the bounds of social justice,” he said.

The Vatican has often been sharply critical of unregulated capitalism, particularly in recent years during the global financial crisis.

“We do not get dignity from power or money or culture, no! We get dignity from work,” he said, adding that many political and economic systems “have made choices that mean exploiting people.”

None of that has much to do with chastising the sweat-shop overlords of Bangladesh, who sound like they could do with a stern papal tongue-lashing.  I would ask the Pope to consider that the collectivist philosophies “celebrated” on May Day are what filled the mass graves of the world, not capitalism.

Furthermore, the efforts of politicians to “relaunch the labor market” by throwing around money confiscated from its rightful owners have been miserable failures, thick with corruption.  Despite all the caterwauling about “austerity,” the moribund governments of Europe (and, sadly, America) aren’t spending much less; they’ve mostly addressed their budget deficits by raising taxes.

Charity towards the impoverished is one thing, but this business of “social justice” always comes down to overbearing rulers enforcing their notion of social justice through force, punishing honest citizens who have committed no crime… and rarely achieving any significant improvement in the lives of the poor.  On the contrary, it has been the pursuit of profit that filled the modern world with technological wonders, alleviating hunger and providing the poor of developed countries with resources the crowned royalty of the last century couldn’t dream of.

“We do not get dignity from power or money or culture, no!  We get dignity from work,” said the Pope.  Well, you don’t get work without the pursuit of profit.  There is no other efficient way to bring people voluntarily together in the sustained pursuit of opportunity.  Without the pursuit of profit, we are left with taskmasters issuing commands that cannot be refused.  We trade the dignified and productive pursuit of excellence by free men and women for the endless poverty of subjects doing just enough work to escape the wrath of their overseers.

There are two ways to allocate labor: either persuade people to pursue money, or command them through the exercise of power. Prosperity cannot depend on the efforts of a selfless few who work tirelessly with little concern for reward.

And of course, part of human dignity is the desire for a better life.  Everyone aspires to improve their own lot, and provide more for their families.  This is true regardless of one’s current status.  Who is to say that this person is allowed to pursue his dreams, but that person already has enough, and must set hers aside?  In the lawful pursuit of profit, and the embrace of economic freedom, we find the dignified recognition of all ambition.  All other approaches foster hatred and envy, as the arbiters of ambition rally bitter supporters against their designated enemies.  It always ends in bloodshed.  It always ends with political power exploiting people in ways that enlightened self-interest, working within the boundaries of impartial and reasonable law, cannot imagine.

“Employment” comes when people choose to work together in the pursuit of opportunity.  What better tool can be used to measure opportunity than the anticipation of profit?  How do people express their needs to one another, without using money to communicate?  Who would voluntarily make an investment without hope of return?  Who keeps working at a job that offers no reward?  Who purchases labor without the expectation that each dollar spent will return more than a dollar of corporate income?  Who funds charity, if no one is making money?

Of course there are abuses to remain on guard for.  Naturally laws must be enforced.  But no free man or woman is obligated to hire another.  Jobs are offered and accepted, are they not?  There must be reasons for those with capital to make such offers, and those who desire employment to accept them.  Take away profit, and you also remove the element of free choice.  History has shown this is both woefully inefficient, and terribly undignified.

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