In the Financial Post, AIMS Senior Fellow Patrick Luciani argues that Bernie Sanders is channeling a well-rehearsed ignorance of the capitalist system, one that finds its roots in the Gospels. Like their authors, Sanders and the Bishop of Rome mistake financial success and the market itself as avenues of greed.
With Easter approaching, this is the week we Christians remember how Jesus, disgusted at seeing moneychangers doing business in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, angrily drove them out with a whip. What angered Jesus so? Never giving it much thought, I always assumed that these moneychangers were gamblers or speculators. Picture Jesus as an anti-corporate protestor, shouting “People before Profits!”
But these vilified moneychangers provided a valuable service, argues professor Bart Erhman, head of religion at the University of North Carolina. They were vital to the Jewish pilgrims who came from as far away as Rome and Asia Minor to offer animal sacrifice at the temple. There were sacrificial lambs and doves for sale on the temple grounds, but only shekels could be used to do business there, since Roman and Greek coins carried graven images, forbidden by the Torah. No shekels, no sacrifice.
The authors of the Gospels either didn’t actually know what these moneychangers were doing, or they wanted to use them as an example to illustrate a higher moral purpose. And if the moneychangers were taking a fee for their service, which seems logical, the Gospels give no indication Jesus forbade it. Then again, the deviousness of Jews doing business and making profits is a typical theme of anti-Semitism, which is not uncommon in the New Testament.
Modern-day Wall Street protesters demonstrate the same naiveté when they seek to take down a financial system they hardly understand. They assume everyone working on Wall Street is a profiteering crook, not recognizing that the finance business is populated overwhelmingly by regular, decent people. This fiction that capitalists are the source of America’s problems has been seized on by Bernie Sanders, yet another Jew kicking over the exchange tables. If elected, he promises to take up the whip and cleanse the economy of the greed of financial gamblers and speculators.
Sanders has in his corner Pope Francis, with his own innate distrust of free markets and all that Wall Street represents. In his encyclical Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel), the Pope calls unbridled capitalism the new tyranny plaguing the world and calls on the wealthy to end their idolatry of money. To Francis, income inequality is the result of ideologies that defend the absolute authority of the marketplace.
The Catholic Church, which once denounced the rank materialism of Adam Smith, has long held a distaste for free markets and “usury.” What little support the Church lent to capitalism over the last 100 years was given only out of its greater fear of communism.
As an Argentine, Pope Francis has ascended a church already suspicious of capitalism, with his own apparently natural bias for the state over private property. He’s shown surprising tolerance for countries on the political left. Visiting Cuba, the Pope refused to meet with imprisoned dissidents. In Mexico he declined to meet with victims of clerical sexual abuse. Yet it is in these Latin American countries — Cuba, Bolivia, and Venezuela — where the heavy hand of the state has kept people in poverty. A 2009 Brookings Institution study, “Why Doesn’t Capitalism Flow to Poor Countries?” shows how such governments are suspicious of markets, favour more regulation and are more corrupt (which often only encourages yet more regulation). Much of that seems to escape Pope Francis’s attention. Presumably he prefers equal poverty to unequal prosperity.
Of course, the Pope takes his name from St. Francis, who was born into a wealthy family but chose a life of poverty. Not that this stopped Italy’s patron saint from using the money he stole from his father to help the poor, fashioning his own style of income redistribution. Without St. Francis’s father’s riches, the poor could have only been worse off. And without the moneychangers, the Jews could not pray. The Gospel writers may have misunderstood the virtue of markets. What excuse do today’s anti-capitalist leaders have?
Read this article from the Financial Post.