An observation for Mr. Novak on Pope Francis and “trickle-down” in EG 54
Posted on 9 December 2013 by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf
I note that Michael Novak has tackled the issue of the Pope’s comment on economics in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium. He had an interview with National Review.
Alas, I think Mr. Novak got a couple things wrong.
In a summary/commentary on the long interview (I haven’t reviewed the whole thing yet) Novak says:
“Note first that “trickle-down” nowhere appears in the original Spanish, as it would have done if the pope had meant to invoke the battle-cry of the American Democrats against the American Republicans … Only those hostile to capitalism and Reagan’s successful reforms, and to the policies of Republicans in general after the downward mobility of the Carter years, use the derisive expression “trickle-down,” intended to caricature what actually happened under Reagan, namely, dramatic upward mobility. “
First, we assume, reasonably, that Spanish was the language Francis worked in the most. I have little doubt that others worked on the draft of the Exhortation, and that probably parts of it were written in Italian (maybe even in German!). But parts of it were also certainly composed in Spanish (consider whom Francis tasked on the Gang of Eight Committee).
So, the phrase “trickle-down” does appear in the Spanish in the Spanish form of the phrase. HERE
54. En este contexto, algunos todavía defienden las teorías del «derrame», que suponen que todo crecimiento económico, favorecido por la libertad de mercado, logra provocar por sí mismo mayor equidad e inclusión social en el mundo.
“Las teorías del «derrame»”. That’s “trickle-down” economics.
Anyway, I am glad that Novak has joined the conversation. It is good to keep the ideas kicking around.
Diverging a bit…the real problem with the way that the sentence is translated into English rests on the distortion of the phrase “por sí mismo” into “inevitably” rather than “by itself”.
In the (distorted) English translation the Pope’s criticism seems to land heavily on people who back “trickle-down” economics (which is already a loaded term used by liberals to denigrate a more free-market model). But the Pope really seems to be criticizing, in Spanish, those who think that the “trickle-down” approach (and yes, that term is a distortion) can help the poor on its own or by itself, that is, without people as individuals taking personal responsibility to help the poor. People in business have to act morally and responsibly, with an eye on their neighbor, and not just sit back and say that “A free market will eventually help all those poor people all by itself“, thus exoneration them of any personal obligation to do their part.
That, I think, is what the Pope is saying. It is less a criticism of the free-market (though he clearly isn’t a great fan after his limited personal experience in the disaster that is Argentina) than it is of people who think that a “system” alone will take care of the poor without personal involvement.
So, if I understand the Holy Father correctly, I entirely agree with that first part of EG 54, so long as it is properly translated. I add that I think a free market is, in fact, the best way to help the poor rise from poverty. Socialism, Communism… no. And before some liberal nut suggests that I am for a free-market wholly unfettered by laws, rules, government, …. no. That’s just stupid. It could also be mendacious (a liberal tactic). There must be basic rule of law and regulation so that people can work together with clarity and trust each other in transactions and have recourse when there are disputes or misunderstandings or when people with bad will don’t fulfill their part. At the same time, no economic system, free or not, will function in an acceptable way if the people involved don’t share good values. I think they should be religious values and virtues (let’s just say it… Catholic).
That said, even when those values are absent, a free market is probably the worst system we could adopt…. except for all the others.