This story originally appeared at Truthdig. Robert Scheer is the author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (Nation Books).
Forget, for the moment, that he is the pope, and that Holy Father Francis’ apostolic exhortation last week was addressed “to the bishops, clergy, consecrated persons and the lay faithful.” Even if, like me, you don’t fall into one of those categories and also take issue with the Catholic Church’s teachings on a number of contested social issues, it is difficult to deny the inherent wisdom and clarity of the pontiff’s critique of the modern capitalist economy. No one else has put it as powerfully and succinctly.
It is an appraisal based not on “just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope,” as Rush Limbaugh sneered, but rather the words of Jesus telling the tale of the Good Samaritan found in Luke, not in Das Kapital. As opposed to Karl Marx’s emphasis on the growing misery of a much-needed but exploited working class, Francis condemns today’s economy of “exclusion” leaving the “other” as the roadkill of modern capitalism:
Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.
It is a message that applies to disrupted worldwide markets in which massive unemployment is now common, as well as to the underemployed and working poor who are the new “normal” even in still wealthy America. They make up the bulk of those ejected from a once largely unionized industrial workforce, who are now left to compete for low-paying Walmart-style jobs that require government handouts to avoid the extremes of poverty. They are the victims of what the pope refers to as “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.” It doesn’t, and instead “a globalization of indifference has developed.”
That is an obvious truth, whether divinely inspired or not. So too is Francis’ excoriation of “the new idolatry of money,” although here one can find evidence in Scripture that this idolatry is not so new given the description in Matthew 21:12 when Jesus “overthrew the tables of the moneychangers in the temple. But the pope is clearly right when he links our recent economic crisis to the modern worship of the gods of finance capitalism: