Worldwide Discussion:

Is the Pope right? Is it time for the whole world to take stock of who we are as a people, what we set as our priorities, how we determine our most important values, and when enough is enough of consumerism and the seemingly endless push for Bigger/Better/More?

Or is Pope Francis the one who needs to take stock, and stop filling the air with his criticisms of humanity’s behaviors and tendencies?

U.S. talk show host Rush Limbaugh appears to think the latter. Reacting to the Pontiff’s latest news-making statements criticizing certain aspects of today’s capitalism, Mr. Limbaugh described the Pope’s observations as “pure Marxism.”
What has the radio host upset is the widely-reported document written by the head of the Roman Catholic Church that “poses a fierce challenge to the status quo,” in the words of a Jesuit priest and author, Father James Martin, as quoted in a CNN news story.

Released on Nov. 26, the document has received worldwide attention — as it was intended to, having been composed by Pope Francis explicitly for distribution to all of the Catholic faithful and all official members of the church family in every parish and diocese across the planet. It also has received worldwide acclaim from politically liberal Catholics everywhere, and not so nice responses from those of a more conservative bent.

“How can it be,” the Pope asked in the document, “that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

Last May the Pontiff received global news coverage when he said that in recent times the Catholic Church has grown too “obsessed” (to use his own word) with being ecclesiastically correct (my words for the spiritual version of being “politically correct”), focusing on social issues such as gay marriage, abortion, and contraception, while refusing to look at, much less battle against, the idea of so-called trickle-down economics and the world of inequality it produces.

So who is right? Has the Pope gone too far? Or is the Holy Father simply  “telling it like it is” to a global horde not used to being so publicly scolded for its behaviors?

The communication — officially known in Latin as Evangelli Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) — is a 95-page sweeping call for reform within the Roman Catholic Church regarding its mission and method of outreach, but it contained some sharp comments about the larger world outside the church and its economic inequalities.

The “idolatry of money” has created “inequality that spawns violence,” and could, the Pope warned, produce a “new tyranny.”  Francis also had some harsh words for those “trickle-down economics” — a phrase most contemporarily associated with the late U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who preferred to use the words “supply-side economics” to describe a system of tax cuts and other monetary perks to businesses, on the theory that the economic benefit would trickle down to people at the lower end of the economic scale.

The press began to call this idea “Reaganomics,” though the economic model has not been limited in its application to the United States. The Pope made it very clear he believes the idea “expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.”

“Meanwhile,” he added, “the excluded are still waiting.”

“Sad” and “unbelievable” is how Mr. Limbaugh described the Pope’s comments. “It’s sad because this Pope makes it very clear he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to capitalism and socialism and so forth,” the conservative talk show host declared.

Is Mr. Limbaugh right? Is what the Pope is saying “pure Marxism?” Does a policy of  “trickle-down economics” create disparity and huge gaps between the rich and the poor, or do the benefits experienced by the rich indeed trickle down to the poor?

According to Lauren McCauley, staff writer for the website Common Deams, the answer to the second part of that question is no.

Ms. McCauley wrote a report published on that website last April in which she said, “The great wealth divide in the United States has only become more exacerbated since the recession, as national policies have buoyed only the wealthiest Americans while the remainder have been left adrift.”

Her report, headlined Wealthy Thrive and Poorest Dive as Surge in US Inequality Continues, said that according to a new analysis of Census Bureau data published by the Pew Research Center, since the economy officially emerged from the recession in mid-2009, “the wealthiest 7 percent of households saw soaring gains of an estimated $5.6 trillion, while the remaining 93 percent—111 million households—saw their overall wealth fall by an estimated $0.6 trillion.”

“It has been a very good recovery for those at the upper end of the wealth distribution,” Ms. McCauley quoted Mr. Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center and co-author of the report, as saying. “But,” Mr. Taylor added, “there has been no recovery for the lower 93, which is nearly everybody.”

Indeed, statistics easily available show that over 20% of U.S. income now goes to the richest 1% of Americans. That figure was just 7% in 1980.

Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (,,, and the editor and main author of American Wars: Illusions and Realities (Clarity Press). Mr. Buchheit has compiled these statistics:

Based on 1980 dollars and IRS data, this is how U.S. income has been redistributed since that time:

  • Incomes for the top 1% have gone from $148,000 to $450,000
  • Incomes for the next 9% have gone from $46,000 to $50,000
  • Incomes for the next 40% have gone from $17,500 to $15,000
  • Incomes for the bottom 50% have gone from $5,400 to $3,750

So there you have it. Mr. Limbaugh may find the comments by Pope Francis regarding trickle-down economics “unbelievable,” but are they? Or is what Pope Francis has called the world out on something that the wealthiest people simply don’t want to believe?

What do you believe…? Your comments and observations are invited below.

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