- - Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Last week, Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, welcomed Pope Francis‘ criticism of capitalism as “triggering the exact dialogue we should be having.” So, let’s begin.

Understanding of monetary issues is often colored by and dependent on the particular location in which an observer is raised. The laissez-faire economic paradigm of Latin America witnessed by Pope Francis was rooted in colonialism and later in state and business alliances for the benefit of particular families. It remains worlds apart from the moral capitalism developed here in the United States under the unique influence of our Judeo-Christian ethos.

Whether under right-wing dictators or socialist tyranny, established elites were the primary beneficiaries of wealth creation in the Southern Hemisphere. In contrast, America has produced an authentic free market with the primary benefit being the profusion of a robust middle class spanning generations.

More than industry, factories and vast land ownership in the hands of a few, America believes in entrepreneurship and upward mobility. Those wanting to live off the labors of others will flock to socialist countries enacting redistribution of wealth and nurturing dependency. Those, however, seeking opportunity and the dignity that comes from personal responsibility will, as they should, come to America. They will become independent and strong.


Through our personal, voluntary Judeo-Christian charitable projects, America has protected those unable to take care of themselves. But our bragging rights do not come from how our citizens are monetarily leveled so that we appear “fair,” but in how much opportunity we afford those willing to take risks in order to make a better and more independent life for themselves and loved ones.

Much is being made of the income gap between rich and poor. However, so long as one’s income is sufficient to live a middle class life, it should not matter that others earn more or profit more from their investments and risk taking. Envy is a cardinal sin. More than any other country, America’s open, free-market system and business climate has historically churned out more middle-class jobs than any socialist country.

Only now, during the Obama years, have we seen a dearth of well-paying jobs, a direct consequence of President Obama’s redistribution-of-wealth policies that feed off wealth creation. Indeed, the alliance between, and grants from, the Obama administration to businesspeople who are its donors is giving capitalism a bad name, since so much coming out of the Obama administration is, in fact, the very type of crony capitalism (fascism) reminiscent of Latin American regimes. Much of today’s wide disparity and income gap from atop is a result of the profiteering coming from the wealthy political left preferred by Mr. Obama, talking socialist but living elitist.

An inspiring component of the Judeo-Christian ethos is its encouragement of those creative and ambitious forces within human yearning to excel in all areas of life. The Talmud says: “It is man’s quest, and at times vanity, that has given us great buildings, roads and monuments.” No man, so long as he is just and charitable, should feel stymied or guilty because he wishes to travel the highway others choose not to tread. Equality, according to the Bible, does not mean that we suppress our respectable drives and talents and settle for economic sameness and parity. Equality means that we are equal under the law, one and the same law for all, rich or poor.

While not believing in unbridled capitalism — none of us do — Pope John Paul II and his successor, Benedict, seemed to evince a positive view of capitalism. Along with the Protestant work ethic planted in our American founding and the Old Testament’s admiration for work and risk as a spiritual undertaking, our love is not only for the poor, but equally for those who have worked hard to build and succeed.

Mankind’s original sin was not in his fall from perfection, but in the mischievousness that comes when everything is handed to him. God never intended man to be perfect, and so we are not asked to re-create some type of economic “utopia” as a substitute for the Garden of Eden. Adam’s sin was he decided not to struggle, and mankind continues that error when relying on others, in the name of justice and fairness, to supply all its needs as if in a perpetual Eden.

The lack of a middle class in Latin America and the continued immersion there in poverty by so many can be traced to liberation theology, embraced 50 years ago by Bishop Oscar Romero. It propounded a concept called “structural sin,” claiming that sin resides in “unjust social and economic structures.” Using the religious language of sin it, like Marxism, attributes poverty to a willful oppression by those who have over those who don’t have.

However, modern life with all its abundance and medicine could never have happened if men were left with nothing for investment in the ventures that have made our modern life possible. Money and wealth are not intrinsically evil; rather, how one uses it is decisive. In and of itself, “having” is not sinful or selfish.

Pope Francis is a man endowed with a charisma of love, a love that should be extended to all, including the financially successful and those satisfied with their accomplishments. I urge Francis to come see America as did Mikhail Gorbachev back in the ‘80s. While flying with President Reagan over unending rows of comfortable homes and nice neighborhoods, Mr. Gorbachev asked if they belonged to the ruling class. Reagan answered: “No, this is America’s middle class.” Mr. Gorbachev was stunned and realized that what he had read and theorized about capitalism and free markets fell short regarding the blessings that American-style capitalism had actually wrought. Pope Francis, come to America: Seeing is believing.

Rabbi Aryeh Spero is author of “Push Back: Reclaiming our American Judeo-Christian Spirit” (Evergreen) and president of Caucus for America.