On the comments of Pope Francis

I’ll admit a bias here – my middle name is Francis, so no doubt I am being overtly generous to his comments when I discussed them on Rates Blog last week 😉 .  Or potentially I’m am being harsh, because I am particularly unhappy that I ended stuck with a middle name I didn’t particularly want.

All kidding aside, the way different economists reacted to the Pope’s comments was fascinating for me – and also helped to reinforce the idea that often when we discuss things as economists, it can be hard to hide our normative assumptions.  As I pointed out here, I was raised with a fairly significant Catholic upbringing – and in the context of what I remember being told about when I was young his comments were not terribly strong.  I felt he was making some statements that were factually wrong, but it was on the basis that those within the Church actually believe in a more equitable distribution of wealth (even if it is significantly less wealth).

These normative value judgments about the distribution of income run past economics – economics is a descriptive discipline that allows us to fairly represent the trade-offs, not to determine what trade-off is right.  However, as an individual I would also note that the normative value judgments of the Catholic Church are hardly going to be representative of society as a whole – as a result, we do not need to say that the Pope is wrong with what he is saying in order to disagree with him.

However, as the end of my Rates Blog piece does point out, factually his two main “testable changes in society” are completely false.  Make of that what you will.