I see the Pope made some comments about capitalism and social justice, and a bunch of economists were unhappy with this (Mankiw, Sumner) – or were unhappy with the way economists viewed the Pope’s comments. Note: This piece is a good discussion.
My view is easily summarized. Meh. I grew up in a Catholic family, going to church every week and doing all the classes – and if there was anything I learnt from reading all the “social justice literature” it was that Catholicism as an institution likes to frame things as battles between “right” and “wrong” rather than actually trying to understand the subtle undertones of what is actually happening. The Pope seems like a nice guy, who is well intentioned, but he relies on “common sense” views of rising injustice – rather than looking at the facts. While this makes Catholics feel good about themselves, it is a lazy way to talk about justice and fairness – which implies that there is some truth to what he says (we should talk about these matters) but it also propagates dangerous falsehoods.
Note: If anyone is wondering, I’m not being bitter here. Growing up my church was filled with good people who were incredibly supportive, who gave me good life advice, and who were always kind – I have nothing but good feelings about any of this. But the general attitude that exists in society as a whole, that there are obvious good and evil things, is dangerously naive.
Yes, many Catholics have different value judgments than wider society – with far more redistribution desired (I will of course admit to being in this direction on a personal level). And this is cool! But I just don’t see this as a reason to employ empty rhetoric to persuade others to introduce policies that favour your value judgments, which is what they are doing.
Of course, this brings us to the actual subject of this post – religion is an institution, an institution that fills a certain role within society and the lives of an individual. When we think about ideas of ‘social capital’, religion offers us a lens on the type of community/social institutions we are talking about when thinking about this issue. This is a common idea, and with the use of a little game theory we can even state that Jesus was an early applied economist.