The recently elected Pope Francis, who succeeded Benedict XVI five months ago, has taken his first trip abroad to address the World Youth Day celebration in Brazil.
Francis set the tone for his trip talking to journalists aboard his plane. “The world crisis is not treating young people well … We are running the risk of having a generation that does not work. From work comes a person’s dignity,” he said. The Pope no doubt knows that youth unemployment in Europe’s weakest economies of Greece and Spain now exceeds 50%.
But does His Holiness realize the solution for high unemployment lies less in governments and government committees run largely by secular mortals, and more in the hidden hand of God directing the vast complexities, information exchange and interconnections of entrepreneurs, visionaries and problem solvers working in free economies unimpeded by bureaucratic regulations?
Pope Francis understands that work for all people is essential for human dignity. Even if a post-industrial society could afford a small share of people doing the productive work and commanding armies of robots, while the rest of the public lived off the proceeds, that would devalue humanity. In place of impoverished masses without work it would create a large subsidized portion of the population dependent on working people—and just as resentful as the peasants and workers who created revolutions in days of old.
A spiritual revival could well start with Francis fostering a greater awareness of the good that comes when people channel their creative energy into work, in contrast to the harm of dependency and indolence that often accompanies secular progressive and socialist policies. While the poor may always be with us, governments need to avoid putting obstacles in the way of people and entrepreneurs who want to help themselves.
Highly socialized regimes cannot achieve a kinder and gentler state because they are impersonal and bureaucratic. And public sector bureaucracies tend to justify their existence by imposing and enforcing ever more regulations, which impede business activity.
In the very barrios of Rio where Francis has courageously ventured to be near the people, the masses may have been hurt more than helped by government policies, despite large amounts of government aid. Why? Lengthy red tape and high registration costs for small business formation drive entrepreneurs into the shadow economy and the black market.
Closer to the Vatican, Greece provides a high profile case study of what happens when statist policies go unchecked: a bloated and corrupt public sector, unfunded government entitlements, and national debt default.
Americans may want to stay in denial and avoid serious consideration of whether the U.S. could go the way of Greece or whether Detroit is but a harbinger of the fate that awaits more of the nation. If the nearly $17 trillion national debt can never be repaid, consider the unsustainability of the $124 trillion of unfunded Social Security and Medicare promises, which equate to over a million dollar liability per U.S. taxpayer.
The message needed for World Youth Day in Brazil is the same one needed for young and old here at home and around the world. The free market system is not faultless, but it is the one best-suited for imperfect people to improve their lot in life. It is manifestly better for people to have dignity, strength and resourcefulness that come from creativity, honesty and self-reliance than to have a growing dependence on largely bankrupt states.
It turns out that the competitive nature of a market economy—when properly governed by the rule of law—mitigates corruption far better than the arbitrary power of government. It is also the most reliable system to distribute and channel resources and information with sufficient speed and specificity to provide what is needed for new enterprises, job creation and the upward mobility.
It is rare for men of the cloth to have time and interest to understand economics and business. But if Pope Francis can stimulate further discussion about the simple universal truth that economic growth and job creation are more likely to flourish with more entrepreneurs and fewer government bureaucrats, he will have accomplished a lot.
Scott Powell is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle and Lighthouse Point. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org