another reaction to Pope Francis

James Pethokoukis, at the American Enterprise Institute, posted a response to the Pope’s message that I prefer to Mankiw’s reaction. Mr Pethokoukis doesn’t say much, but directs us to a statement of University of Illinois professor Deirdre McCloskey that is two years old.

Some on the left are interpreting the Pope’s statement as the pontiff taking sides against free marketeers. I will write more on that later, but I thought this from the great Christian libertarian economist Deirdre McCloskey provides a useful lens through which to view the Pope’s comments:

Friedrich Hayek, the modern master of what people in the USA call “libertarianism” and what others call “real liberals,” once wrote an essay entitled “Why I Am Not a Conservative.” He was not a conservative, nor am I or Robert Nozick or Tom Palmer or Donald Boudreaux or Ronald Hamowy or John Locke or Thomas Paine or (the Blessed) Adam Smith.

I am a Christian Liberal. That is, I believe on the one hand that in human affairs the best policy is to let people alone to exercise their creativity. Such creativity has made the modern world. We should take power away from the massive modern state, which so often follows the Other Golden Rule: Those who have the gold, rule. States are corrupted by the rich ….

But on the other hand as a Christian I also believe that as a spiritual affair we should love God and love God’s creatures, that is, our neighbors as ourselves. (It is Jewish and Muslim law, too: Rabbi Hillel was asked to summarize the law and the prophets while standing one leg. His reply was: to love God , the commandments 1-4, and our neighbors, 5-10.) In consequence, unlike fatherly and unChristian liberals, I believe in helping the poor.

At a meeting libertarians/liberals last year in the Bahamas I expressed to someone what I thought was an axiom, “But of course we all want to help the poor.” He instantly retorted, “No: only if they help me.” It took my breath away. I want to help the poor, period, not only as part of an exchange … And my liberal part adds to my Christian duty: Help the poor really, not by making them unemployable by raising the minimum wage, or uneducated by forcing them into public schools, or violent and victimized by outlawing recreational drugs.

Deirdre N. McCloskey, “Christian Libertarianism (or, outside the USA, Christian “Liberalism”): An exchange with The Clinic, a satirical journal in Chile”, Prudentia, 21 November 2011.

James Pethokoukis, “A Christian, free-market response to Pope Francis“, AEI Ideas, 26 November 2013.

From what McCloskey says, it follows that the best way to help the poor is to help everyone, with universal (taxpayer financed, public or private) schooling and healthcare, universal child allowances, and universal old age pensions. Poverty can be eliminated if flat benefits are generous enough, bureaucracy will be minimized and the State will be stripped of its power to determine who receives benefits. Access to universal benefits depend only on legal residence and (sometimes) age, not wealth or income. Cash allowances for children go to the child’s mother or legal guardian, not directly to the child.

What is often ignored is that Hayek, in his essay “Why I Am Not a Conservative”, explained also why he was not a libertarian. He was living in Chicago at the time, and unhappy with American conservatives and libertarians.

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