According to Rush Limbaugh and many other conservatives, Pope Francis is a Marxist. He must be, or he would not criticize capitalism.
Limbaugh has hurled invective after invective at the Pope, saying that Time Magazine named the Pope Man Of The Year “Simply because he attacks capitalism and ticks me off,” and complained that the Pope “doesn’t even disguise” his Marxist beliefs with talk of man-made climate change.
Now that Francis has said unbridled capitalism is the “dung of the devil” and a new form of colonialism, Rush has responded by calling the Pope a “clown”:
Pope Francis is in Bolivia, and he has come out with another one of his anti-capitalism remarks. He said…that unfettered capitalism is the devil’s dung. Now in the first place, would somebody find for me anywhere on this planet where there is, at this very moment, unfettered capitalism taking place? You can’t, because there isn’t. And I would go so far as to say that the United States doesn’t even have half-baked capitalism going on right now. But unfettered? What is unfettered?
What is this unfettered capitalism? It’s just more bastardization of language to denigrate the greatest economic system yet devised that creates prosperity for the most and opportunity for everybody. And because it does that, it must be reviled, it must be impugned, it must be destroyed. So you put the word ‘unfettered’ in front of it. And what that means is ‘unregulated’ because you know capitalism is so unfair that it has to be regulated in order to make sure the rich just don’t steal everything…there isn’t any unfettered capitalism and there hasn’t been any unfettered capitalism.
Limbaugh says capitalism isn’t why the United States is “in a quagmire” or “in a malaise,” that Barack Obama and the Democratic Party are why the country is “stagnating right now.” Never mind that the economy has been recovering since Obama took office in 2008, and that it was unregulated capitalism that destroyed the economy in the first place.
Yet Limbaugh insisted,
My point is that Obama is not a capitalist. This country’s economy is not slowed down because of capitalism. The closest we’ve had to the capitalism that the Pope and these clowns are talking about is the Reagan years and looked what happened. Look at the economic boom that last practically 20 years!
This would be the same Reagan who raised taxes 11 times and grew the size of government and increased military spending while cutting non-defense discretionary spending, the same Reagan who tripled the federal budget deficit. For all Limbaugh’s blustering, Obama is more of a fiscal conservative than his hero Reagan.
Reagan aside, you no doubt notice a common conservative trend here, the ad hominem attack, that is, attacking not the issue at hand, or the argument made, but the person uttering it. This is because, as always, there is no argument to be made against the Pope’s statements either about climate change or capitalism.
In all this, the Pope is not saying anything, however, that has not already been said, and not by Karl Marx, but by Adam Smith, author of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), the first modern work on economics. As Wikipedia will tell you, “Smith laid the foundations of classical free market economic theory.”
A natural-born Republican right? That’s what Republicans want you to believe. After all, Margaret Thatcher kept a copy in her handbag. But not so fast.
Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations that “[M]an has almost constant need for the help of his brethren,” which immediately contrasts him with the Republican Ayn Randian ideal of the rugged, self-reliant individual who takes personal responsibility for all his actions (unless he is a corporation, of course).
Republicans who have no problem ignoring what Jesus actually said, have no problem ignoring the fact that before The Wealth of Nations, Smith wrote, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), in which he stressed the natural compassion and empathy of human beings for one another:
How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner. That we often derive sorrow from the sorrows of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous or the humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it.
While the mighty capitalists of the Gilded Age worshiped themselves as the driving force of wealth, Smith had a thought for the working man.
Of course, Smith was writing on the cusp of the Industrial Age, before all its evils became apparent, but there was enough evil even then for him to write in The Theory of Moral Sentiments that of the “disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition.”
He addressed the problem in Wealth of Nations as well:
But though the interest of the labourer is strictly connected with that of the society, he is incapable either of comprehending that interest, or of understanding its connexion with his own. His condition leaves him no time to receive the necessary information, and his education and habits are commonly such as to render him unfit to judge even though he was fully informed. In the public deliberations, therefore, his voice is little heard and less regarded, except upon some particular occasions, when his clamour is animated, set on, and supported by his employers, not for his, but for their own particular purposes.
It is easy enough to surmise from this his reaction to the evils of the Gilded Age, which Republicans are endeavoring to unleash upon the working class once more.
It is ironic that Smith is held by conservatives to be a patron saint of capitalism, because he wrote in warning of unregulated capitalism, that business interests were opposed to the public interest:
The interest of the dealers [referring to stock owners, manufacturers, and merchants], however, in any particular branch of trade or manufacture, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public. To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers. To widen the market may frequently be agreeable enough to the interest of the public; but to narrow the competition must always be against it, and can serve only to enable the dealers, by raising their profits above what they naturally would be, to levy, for their own benefit, and absurd tax upon the rest of their fellow-citizens.
Republicans condemn taxation but as Smith himself says, corporations are essentially taxing the citizens through their profits. For this reason, he would certainly have never, as Republicans have done, suggested that businesses be allowed to regulate themselves. Echoing the old Roman adage, Let the Buyer Beware, he writes:
The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.
We have lived to see corporations become people. We have seen corporations buy our government. Smith, who had first-hand experience of the powerful, too-big-to-fail and formerly unregulated East India Company, whose machinations and troubles were instrumental in bringing about the Boston Tea Party,* saw the dangers too, warning that powerful monopolies “intimidate the legislature.”
A reading of Adam Smith shows who is the real clown here, and it is not the Pope, or President Obama, but Rush Limbaugh himself.
* Lord North’s East India Tea Act (1773), eliminated middlemen and allowed direct sales by the East India Company to America. It also eliminated duties on tea exports from England but not import duties on the American side of the equation (the Townsend Duties). These steps would lower the price of tea in America while simultaneously driving up sales for the East India Company, and have the much-desired outcome of forcing tacit agreement by the colonists of Parliament’s right to tax them. The colonists weren’t fooled, with the results we all know so well.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.