On Facebook and various other venues, there has been something a lot of people have noted when talking about Pope Francis. They note his general skepticism of a lot of the way capitalism is practiced today, and wonder what the political right in America will think of that. While it is still far too early to tell, there is a chance (so the story goes) that Pope Francis will be far less friendly to free market capitalism than one like Blessed John Paul II.
There are quite a few ways to respond to this, outside of the obvious that they probably don't know much about either Francis or John Paul II. First and foremost, whatever happened in Argentina, a military dictatorship known for its rank nepotism could hardly be viewed as a capitalist entity. Yet this misses the point entirely. Quite simply, the Pope is no economist.
Now before everyone thinks I'm going to say we can just safely ignore his teaching if you end up not liking it, no, we really can't. While there is a difference in weight one might place on issues like the immorality of contraception or abortion and the amount of government involvement in an economy, his voice should carry great weight for Catholics. The Holy Father is a pastor of souls, and the care of souls is his primary concern. This leads to a truth that might shock you, so take a deep breath.
Economic systems really don't care about the salvation of your soul. Economic forces focus on efficiencies, utilization of resources, pricing and various other factors. They care little whether the person participating in the transaction is a sinner or a saint. Just because something is efficient does not make it an absolute good idea.
For the Pope, he needs to worry about the eternal salvation of his flock. That doesn't come through greater efficiency and as much wealth as possible. More often than not, these are hinderances. While an economic system might not care too much about the creative destruction that spawns new industries and businesses, a Pope will, because the people who were the focus of such destruction are human beings created in the Image of God who deserve all the support and attention we can muster. The job of Catholic Social teaching is to introduce a moral compass into something which is inherently morally neutral. (Again, the market doesn't care if you go bankrupt or make a billion, as the market is not a person!)
If we can say one thing with confidence, today's economy lacks that moral compass. While recessions come and go, imagine if there wasn't widespread fraud by lenders, banks, and government in the housing crisis? Imagine if our entitlement system was operating within a society that valued children and healthy demographics replacement levels? Imagine how much better off society would be if everyone gave just five percent to charity? If that's a bit utopian, imagine if every year an additional five percent of people started following these precepts in the economy, and how that would change over time? Without a firm moral compass, economics turns into consumerism, where wealth and efficiency is worshipped as a god a la Ayn Rand.
This is the discussion the Pope will no doubt generate, and it is a discussion the world needs to take seriously, especially in the West, where we have seen all too clearly what an economics without morality gives us.