Pope Francis and the right to a pension


I read an article today describing a recent speech by Pope Francis lamenting being called a communist because he supports fighting for the poor. I’ve been critical of Pope Francis and those close to him here before—as a Catholic myself, it’s frustrating to see the teachings of the Church twisted around to suit a violent agenda—and I’ll be critical again.

There is one passage of the article I want to specifically comment on:

He then turned his attention to the phenomenon of unemployment, saying that each person who works, whether part of the formal system of paid work or not, “has the right to fair remuneration, social security and a pension.”

These people, the pontiff noted, include those who recycle waste, street vendors, garment makers, craftsmen, fishermen, farmers, builders, miners, workers in companies in receivership, cooperatives and common trades which are often excluded from employment rights and denied the option of forming trades unions, as well as those who don’t receive a stable or sufficient income.

How does a person have the right to a pension? What if someone is self-employed and doesn’t save for their retirement? Where does this pension come from?

While it is accepted by Christians that it is their moral duty to help those who need it, remembering Pope Francis’ past statements, I’m fairly certain that he would suggest that it is also the duty of the government to provide pensions when charity is not enough. But why is charity sometimes not enough? Failure to investigate this question usually results in the unfortunate conclusion that the forced redistribution of wealth is the best way to alleviate poverty.

Politicians and other opponents of private property rights often blame economic and “social justice” problems on capitalism and the free market. The problem with this is that there are no actual free market economies in existence. There are elements of free markets (as it is surely obvious that the United States economy is freer than the North Korean economy) in many places, but interference by governments in the markets, although usually well-intentioned, have unintended negative consequences. It’s all about incentives. When the work of the government perverts those incentives, the undesirable results are not surprising to those who are aware of them.

We’ve seen with Social Security in the United States that when people have an expectation to be taken care of, they’re less likely to save for themselves. Now the program is bankrupt and its Ponzi structure offers it no hope for sustainment. If the government did not tax, add unnecessary costs, and deflate the value of their money supply so heavily, people would have more wealth to do with as they please with the understanding that they themselves are responsible for their lives after work. Like many government solutions, it is inferior to an actual free market approach, so why would it make sense to pursue it?

In addition to this, and maybe more importantly, there is a moral aspect to the government providing pension programs. The money always has to come from somewhere. As mentioned before, the way the government does this is through the forced redistribution of wealth—taxes. But should the pope, who stresses the importance of living the Gospel, support such a thing? Taxes are collected through the threat of violence. Just imagine what would happen if you didn’t pay them. You’d get a letter informing you that you would be required to pay more money. If you refused to pay that, armed men would come and find you to take you away. And if you attempted to defend yourself, whatever force is necessary, including lethal, would be used in order to make you comply.

Any non-government agent who attempted this would be considered a thief (and probably a maniac). Furthermore, if a person without a pension eliminated the middlemen and simply took the money from someone better off himself, the pope would not express support for such an action. So how does a person delegate a right that he does not have himself?

The pope has a very captive audience and a huge number of people hold his opinion in very high regard. It is his responsibility to be informed and not lead people down the wrong path.