Pope John Paul II and President Reagan worked together to bring an end to atheistic Soviet communism. The two had a divine plan to stop the Soviet empire that was engaged in a war on religion and individual liberties. The work of a pope and a president helped bring about the collapse of communism and yielded more freedom and opportunity for people all over the world.
During a trip to his native land in June 1979, the pope stood at the Polish Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and declared, “In how many places in Europe and the world has [a fallen soldier] cried with his death that there can be no just Europe without the independence of Poland marked on its map!” The courage of Pope John Paul II to call out communism caught the attention of Ronald Reagan even before he was commander in chief of the United States.
As president-elect, Reagan reached out to the Vatican during the transition period following the 1980 election. Assassination attempts on both men delayed a meeting in 1981, but a personal note the president sent soon after the pope was shot defined his admiration of the holy father and his hopes for their close relationship.
In his letter, Reagan shared, “Your heroism, and the universal outpouring of love and concern which it evoked, is proof that a single irrational act cannot prevail against the basic human decency which continues to inspire most people in most places. The qualities you exemplify remain a precious asset as we confront the growing dangers of the moment — confront them with confidence and faith.”
The two of them did as much as any others to not only provide freedom to the people of Poland but to win the Cold War and bring down the Soviet regime. Remembering the principles they followed to accomplish this provides an essential lesson for world leaders today.
The rise of democratic capitalism, along with the collapse of socialism, dramatically improved the living conditions of people all over the world. Data from the World Bank shows that the share of the global population living in poverty was 42.3% during the first year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. By 2018, it had dropped to 4.8%. That means that nearly 1.25 billion fewer people were living in extreme poverty.
In 2018, the Brookings Institution released a report saying: “For the first time since agriculture-based civilization began 10,000 years ago, the majority of humankind is no longer poor or vulnerable to falling into poverty. By our calculations, as of this month, just over 50 percent of the world’s population, or some 3.8 billion people, live in households with enough discretionary expenditure to be considered ‘middle class’ or ‘rich. About the same number of people are living in households that are poor or vulnerable to poverty. So September 2018 marks a global tipping point. After this, for the first time ever, the poor and vulnerable will no longer be a majority in the world.”
Sadly, most Americans believe that global hunger has increased when just the opposite is true. The number of people living in starvation-level poverty has fallen by more than 80% since 1970.
Here are the facts: Democratic capitalism — otherwise known as free enterprise or entrepreneurship — is the best way to fight poverty and improve the lives of our citizens here in the United States and to help people in other countries around the world.
Freedom and capitalism go hand in hand. A society must adhere to the rule of law and property rights for a free enterprise system to work. The lack of that freedom explains the failures in Poland and the rest of the areas controlled by the Soviet regime during the height of Communist control. It also explains why countries like Venezuela are in trouble today. Socialist leaders promise power to the people but deliver poverty to the masses. Last year, 9 out of 10 Venezuelan citizens lived in poverty. Time and again, it’s been proven that freedom is essential for the masses to benefit from a free enterprise system.
There are legitimate concerns about the impact of the global pandemic on the poorest people and countries in the world. Pope Francis wrote about these concerns earlier this week. Capitalism, however, is not the problem. Rather, the severity of the disease is driving the negative impact. The most effective way to combat this global pandemic will be to allow free markets and the private sector to drive innovation in treatment and advancement in prevention. The principles of free enterprise will drive the discovery of new vaccines and effective therapies.
We should learn from the example of Pope John Paul II and President Reagan and the lessons they gave us. Among them, when governments work to provide free and open markets along with more individual liberties, they overwhelmingly reduce poverty. Freedom and prosperity go hand in and hand.
• Scott Walker was the 45th governor of Wisconsin. You can contact him at email@example.com or follow him @ScottWalker.