Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation, levied charges against free market capitalism, denying that “economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world” and concluding that “this opinion … has never been confirmed by the facts.” He went on to label unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny.” Let’s look at the pope’s tragic vision.
First, I acknowledge that capitalism fails miserably when compared with heaven or a utopia. Any earthly system is going to come up short in such a comparison. However, mankind must make choices among alternative economic systems that actually exist on earth. For the common man, capitalism is superior to any system yet devised to deal with his everyday needs and desires.
Capitalism is relatively new in human history. Prior to capitalism, the way people amassed great wealth was by looting, plundering and enslaving their fellow man. With the rise of capitalism, it became possible to amass great wealth by serving and pleasing your fellow man. Capitalists seek to discover what people want and produce and market it as efficiently as possible as a means to profit. A couple of examples would be J.D. Rockefeller, whose successful marketing drove kerosene prices down from 58 cents a gallon in 1865 to 7 cents in 1900. Henry Ford became rich by producing cars for the common man. Both Ford’s and Rockefeller’s personal benefits pale in comparison with that received by the common man by having cheaper kerosene and cheaper transportation.