New Pope interview clarifies his remarks on economics

New Pope interview clarifies his remarks on economics

Pope Francis has given another interview, this time to longtime Vaticanista Andrea Tornielli in La Stampa. Among many other things, the Holy Father addresses criticisms of his comments on economics in Evangelii Gaudium and it turns out that many critics did indeed misunderstand him and the translation from Spanish was part of the problem. (See my previous post on this topic.)

Jimmy Akin offers some instant analysis and I’ll quote his take at length because I have nothing to add:

We need to clarify something here. In the English translation of Evangelii Gaudium, we find the following statement:

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.

This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system [n. 54].

This set off alarm bells among American conservatives because, as Michael Novak points out:

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.

But the English translation is needlessly partisan, because, as Novak also points out:

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. Professional translators of Spanish say the correct translation of derrame is “spillover” or “overflow.”

The idea is of a cup overflowing to the benefit of others, not that of the poor receiving merely a “trickle” of water from the rich.

Unfortunately, the English translators at La Stampa seems similarly unaware of the partisan nature of the phrase “trickle-down” economics in English, and so the phrase also appears in the English translation of the new interview, where the Pope is presented as saying:

“There is nothing in the Exhortation that cannot be found in the social Doctrine of the Church.

I wasn’t speaking from a technical point of view, what I was trying to do was to give a picture of what is going on.

The only specific quote I used was the one regarding the “trickle-down theories” which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and social inclusiveness in the world.

The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor.

But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor.

This was the only reference to a specific theory.

I was not, I repeat, speaking from a technical point of view but according to the Church’s social doctrine.

This does not mean being a Marxist.”

As with the Spanish original to Evangelii Gaudium, the phrase “trickle-down” does not appear in the Italian original of the interview.

The phrase that the Pope uses is ricaduta favorevole, which would be literally translated “favorable overflow.”

Setting aside the problematic translation of this phrase into English, what the Pope says is quite true: Merely making business conditions easier on the rich does not automatically result in better conditions for the poor.

Things like the rule of law and the absence of government corruption are needed as well.

If a nation is run by a kleptocracy—such as the ones found in many Latin American countries, including Argentina—the poor do not automatically benefit when the rich do well.

The Pope is also right in pointing out that stating this fact “does not mean being a Marxist.”

Image Credit

  • 1472102_714971311847809_83284431_n: Vatican Radio, English | Copyright by owner. Used under Fair Use doctrine