Is the Pope Promoting Envy?

Well, here’s an interesting take on all the Pope’s recent income inequality talk:

By dwelling on inequality, the pope is promoting envy. The Catholic Church, I had always understood, disapproves of envy, deeming it one of the seven deadly sins. I would have expected Francis to urge people to think of themselves in relation to God and to their own fullest potential. Encouraging people to measure themselves against others only leads to grief. Resenting the success of others is a sin in itself.

In the course of my professional work against poverty I met Larry Page and Sergey Brin, co-founders of Google Inc. (GOOG) They are each worth about $30 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The economic inequality between them and me is vast. Should I resent them for this? Should I also envy them for being smarter than I am? Younger? Better looking?

The Web needed a better search engine. In a fiercely competitive market Page and Brin invented a product that by 2012 was being used 5 billion times a day — for free. With no advantages other than brains, perseverance and the luck of being in the right place at the right time, they created a product with colossal social value and figured out how to make it pay. My coveting their wealth is a sin.

It’s argued most wealth isn’t like this — that it comes not from creating value in a competitive market but from abuse of power, manipulation of markets or the entrenched advantages of inherited wealth. A lot of wealth surely does arise in that way. But this isn’t an argument against my point; it’s precisely my point. When we complain about inequality in the abstract we aren’t thinking about what is or isn’t fair or just or equitable. Those distinctions turn on the process that caused the inequality. So let’s stop talking about inequality and talk directly about the things we ought to care about: absolute deprivation, abusive power, rigged markets and unearned privilege.

Via Instapundit, who says:

Charity is good for the soul. Exercise is good for the body. Forced redistribution is not charity, and will do no more for your soul than making someone else lift weights at gunpoint will do for your biceps.


  1. ucfengr

    I think part of the problem with people in the US trying to interpret the Pope is we tend towards parochialism. In much of the world, including most of South America, people get wealthy based on their proximity to the ruling party, not be creating value. Additionally, in these places there tends not to be much of a middle class. I think the Pope has less of a problem with people who get wealthy by creating value than people who do so by stealing.

    1. Jason

      Yep, his experience with capitalism isn’t “capitalism” in the dictionary sense; it’s more like big government rent-seeking. Instapundit made a similar point that I clipped in this post:

      The thing you have to understand is that the Pope is from Argentina, where “capitalism” has meant “state-enabled vampire cronyism” since before he was born. Unsurprisingly, in that same time period Argentina has gone from one of the world’s richest countries to . . . something less.

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