I like capitalism.
Specifically, I like the idea that if I write a better book, have a better idea, build a better mousetrap, I will be rewarded accordingly. A system where everyone gets the same reward regardless of quality or quantity of work is inconsistent with excellence and innovation, as the mediocrity and inefficiency that beset the Soviet Union readily proves.
The woman who is successful under capitalism gets to eat steak and lobster whenever she wants. That’s never bothered me. What does bother me is the notion that the unsuccessful man who lacks that woman’s talent, resources, opportunities or luck should not get to eat at all. There is something obscene in the notion that a person can work full-time for a multinational corporation and not earn enough to keep a roof over his head or food on his table. The so-called safety net by which we supposedly protect the poor ought to be a solid floor, a level of basic sustenance through which we, as moral people, allow no one to fall — particularly if their penury is through no fault of their own.
Maybe you regard that opinion as radical and extremist. Maybe it is. But if so, I am in excellent company.
Martin Luther King, for instance, mused that “there must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.”
The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15, that it’s wrong for some to live lives of ease while others struggle. “The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much and the one who gathered little did not have too little.'” In Acts 4:32, Luke writes approvingly of the early church that: “No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”
Which brings us to the Pope — and Rush Limbaugh. As you may have heard, the former has issued his first Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, in which, among other things, he attacks the free market and what he calls an “economics of exclusion.” This had the latter up in arms last week on his radio show.
Pope Francis writes that poverty must be “radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality…”
“This is astounding … and it’s sad,” says Limbaugh. “It’s actually unbelievable.”
“How can it be that it is not a news item,” writes the Pope, “when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
“This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the Pope,” fumes Limbaugh.
Trickle-down economics, writes the pontiff, “expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power…”
Maybe, says Limbaugh, his words were deliberately mistranslated by “the left.” No, seriously, he said that.
But then, some of us are fine with faith so long as it speaks in platitudinous generalities or offers a weapon to clobber gay people with, but scream bloody murder when it imposes specific demands on our personal conscience — or wallet.
It is perfect that all this unfolds in the season of thanksgiving, faith and joy, as people punch, stun-gun and shoot one another over HDTVs and iPads and protesters demand what ought to be the bare minimum of any full-time job: wages sufficient to live on.
This is thanksgiving, faith and joy? No. It is fresh, albeit redundant evidence of our greed — and of how wholeheartedly we have bought into the lie that fulfillment is found in the things we own.
Some of us disagree. Some us feel that until the hungry one is fed and the naked one clothed, the best of us is unfulfilled, no matter how many HDTVs and iPads he owns. This is the radical, extremist ideal embraced by the human rights icon, the Gospel writers, the Bishop of Rome — and me.
(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)