Pope Francis has called “unbridled capitalism” the “dung of the devil” and criticized it for doing little to help the poor.
Economics correspondent Paul Solman sat down with Rev. Jim Wallis, a progressive evangelical Christian and founder of Soujourners, to discuss the pope’s economics. In part two of an extended interview (see part one here), Rev. Wallis explains that the pope is not a new economist; rather he is reminding us what the Gospels say about the economy. In fact, the Gospels are quite clear: Our economy must be good news for the poor.
He argues that those conservative politicians who have suggested that the pope ought to stick to religious matters don’t have a problem with the pope, so much as with Christ. “That’s Jesus; not the pope,” says Rev. Wallis.
Watch the video above. The transcript also is below. For more on the pope’s economics, watch the full Making Sen$e segment here. The following conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Paul Solman: Many Christians in America say Jesus has a message of prosperity, of self-improvement.
Jim Wallis: Bad theology, misinterpreting the Scriptures. If our gospel isn’t good news to the poor, it is simply not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Is our economy today good news for the poor? The economy is for more and more the very top, the very few, and the middle are all very insecure, and half of God’s children — half the world’s people — are left behind by the economy. That’s unacceptable to Pope Francis because Jesus wouldn’t have accepted that either.
Paul Solman: Hasn’t capitalism delivered more people from poverty than any system ever?
Jim Wallis: He’s saying wealth should serve and not rule. So, an economy that is inclusive and not exclusive is what he’s calling for. No one is against economy. To be against economy is to be against conversation, right? How does an economy work? Does it include all of us — especially those who are at the bottom — and how can an economy not destroy God’s creation?
Paul Solman: But the argument is trickle-down; that is, rich people, because they are more productive, will have more money, then they’ll invest it and create jobs.
Jim Wallis: Well, it’s a lovely theory, but it isn’t happening. The wealth of this economy by all the data is going up and up and up. The people who are benefiting the most are those already at the top. Those at the bottom are more and more excluded, and those in the middle are more and more insecure. The pope said in his “Joy of the Gospel” that that trickle-down economy isn’t working for the poor. So I’m working with people on all sides of the spectrum who want the economy to work for those who are left out and left behind. We have less social mobility now in our country — in America — than Europe and many parts of the world. So our economy is more and more unequal and our mobility is less and less and less. It’s becoming a caste system. God’s economy is very simple. There is enough if we share it. It’s really as simple as that.
Paul Solman: It sounds great, idealistic, but isn’t economics as a discipline tough-minded, hard-hearted?
Jim Wallis: This isn’t some Utopian system. This is about making things more fair and just, which we can do, have done before and should do again. We’re going the wrong way now. We’re moving in the wrong direction. The pope is saying this doesn’t really resonate with the Gospels. In fact, the Gospel says you evaluate the economy by how it treats those who are poorest and most vulnerable. That’s not what you hear in Washington.
Paul Solman: But the encyclical is an actual critique of modern day economics. Where does the pope have standing to issue a critique about economics?
In the New Testament, one of every 16 verses is about the poor. In the Gospels, one of every seven is about the poor. In Luke, in that Gospel, one of every five. The prophets are clear beginning to end. It’s how we treat the most vulnerable, and Jesus says, you either serve God or Mammon. That’s pretty radical. Mammon means money. You serve God or you serve money. So everyone doing business has to ask, am I serving God or serving money? That’s economics. It’s right there in the Scriptures.
Paul Solman: Prominent politicians, American conservative Catholics, have said the pope really shouldn’t be talking about economics. Let him stick to religious matters.
Jim Wallis: Did Christ say in Matthew 25, as you have done to the least of these you have done to me? That’s Jesus; not the pope. The pope is just quoting Jesus. You’ve got to serve God or Mammon. That’s Jesus; not the pope. So the Gospels are clear. The pope is not a new economist. The pope is just the Vicar of Christ reminding us what the Gospel says about lots of things including the economy. An economy of exclusion is against the Gospel of Christ. An economy that values the rich over the poor is against the economy of Christ. So Christians have to do with Christ; what God says. Two thousand verses in the Bible about the poor. That’s what they’ve got to deal with; not the pope, and he’d say the same thing. He’s not the issue. Christ is.