Pope Francis Screws Up Again

Normally, Pope Francis speaks in platitudes - condemning war and terrorism, pleading for peace and love, and so on. His exhortations are almost universally applauded, especially by the media. But Pope Francis sometimes goes unscripted. On such occasions, he often screws up, though this is never reported. Last week, he made a major error (here, here). If people took his advice, they would make a very costly mistake. But no one said a word, even though his error is well known.

Pope Francis was addressing people currently employed at the headquarters of Sky Italia in Rome. Sky Italia plans to relocate their headquarters to Milan, and many employees will be let go. Pope Francis denounced such mass firings, calling them “a grave sin.” He said: “Whoever - because of economic maneuvering and business dealings that are not all transparent - closes factories and businesses and takes work away from men and women commits a grave sin.” While he denounced a lack of transparency, that’s not really what he meant.

Pope Francis explained: “Work gives us dignity…. those who are responsible for people, managers, are obliged to do all that is possible so that every man and woman can work, and thus be able to walk with their heads held high, to look other people in the face with dignity.” This has nothing to do with transparency, but rather with full employment. Not only is the pope not speaking clearly, he is not thinking clearly.

Lifetime Employment

The Catholic Church has a policy of not firing priests or clerics (here). Even priests guilty of raping children are kept on the payroll. (Due to the statute of limitations, few pederast priests are behind bars.) The pope seems to think that private companies should have a similar policy of lifetime employment. I note that neither Jesus nor God nor any prophet condemned layoffs. Pope Francis has no direct scriptural support for his charge of “grave sin.” He made no attempt to supply any indirect support, either.

The Pope’s Model in Action

There are only a few places that meet Pope Francis’ standards and avoid the “grave sin” of mass firings. None of them are capitalist or democratic. Perhaps the best example was the old Soviet Union. Once they created a factory, they kept it indefinitely. This led to inferior products, generally produced at higher cost than competitive products. This was a major reason for the failure of the Soviet economy. It is why East Germany was left with obsolete factories and had to be bailed out at great expense by West Germany. It is why most of the FSU (Former Society Union) is still struggling.

Communist China is another country that supported Pope Francis’ model. State-owned enterprises (SOE’s) used to dominate the economy, and contributed to its poor performance. Chairman Deng opened parts of China to capitalism (with a Chinese flavor), and these flourished, accounting for much of China’s rapid advance. But smaller towns and cities are still dominated by SOE’s which require huge subsidies to remain open and maintain employment. These SOE’s –- prime examples of Pope Francis’ model companies -- pose a major challenge to China’s economic future.

Pope Francis is misguided. Companies should be allowed to make appropriate economic decisions, including hiring and firing. Contrary to Pope Francis’ claim, this is not immoral. While unemployment is a serious problem, what is needed is a way to match unemployed workers with available jobs. A single company cannot do this. It requires coordinating many companies, over a wide area. It may require relocation and job training. That is, it calls for a strong unemployment program, not a simple-minded prohibition against firing. This is widely known. Any politician who made such a proposal would quickly be overwhelmed by criticism. But Pope Francis gets nothing but praise.

Postscript – A Historical Note

It is no accident that Pope Francis feels an affinity with autocrats. The papacy has always been an autocracy. For many centuries, the Church was the richest entity on earth, and the largest landowner in Europe. The Pope ruled the Papal States, and was one of the most powerful people in the world.

But popes were bad stewards. Living conditions in the Papal States became the worst in Europe. Popes were corrupt. They invented the ghetto to persecute and suppress minorities. The Papal States were less like a shining city on the hill than a cesspool. They lost territory to more competent kings, and later to freedom fighters leading the pope’s oppressed subjects.

While school children learn that Garibaldi was a hero who helped liberate Italy, they don’t know that the pope was one of the wicked powers who opposed him. Few know about the Papal States. The incompetence, corruption, and immorality of Church rule is almost completely whitewashed from the historical record. Popes are still given a free pass, even as they preside over the worst epidemic of child abuse in history.