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Affluent Christian Investor | October 23, 2017

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Scholar Who Taught John Paul II To Appreciate Capitalism Worries About Pope Francis

Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

Given Pope Francis’ recent comments about economics, including a tweet endorsing ‘legitimate redistribution’, it seemed worthwhile to look back a few decades to the modern Pope who seemed to have been most sympathetic to free-market capitalism and most critical of socialist economic systems, including the Latin American version known as liberation theology. Michael Novak’s memoirs, Writing From Left to Right, helped me understand how Michael and others helped guide John Paul II to come to an appreciation of capital which he had not learned earlier.

Jerry: “Anything you want to say about John Paul II? He seems to be a rather significant portion of the book.”

Michael: “Yeah, there’s a good chapter at the end especially. He comes from the same part of the world as my family: my family’s on the Slovak side of the Tatra Mountains and across that little river, Dunajec River, and on the other side is Poland, and his family is from down in that region too–maybe a hundred miles away. So I had a kind of identification with him from the moment he was named. He could have been a relative of mine, so to speak. People do react along the lines of kinship, as you can see with Francis in Argentina and all of Latin America such an immense identification. Well, in some sort of way I identified with John Paul that way right off the bat, and he knew my part of the world [and] I knew his. And I’d been working in the human rights field for, well, since the ‘80s, so I had a grasp on the importance of what he did on democracy and on human rights in Poland, and what a transformation role he was playing. And I just enjoyed cheering that on. I was on the board of radio for Europe/Radio Liberty and we were broadcasting into these countries and keeping up with events on them so I had many, many reasons to feel immense gratitude to him and immense admiration for him. He invited me to a dinner in Rome in October of 1991, thereabouts, and I was too tongue-tied to say very much but I did learn it was a good practice to bring along a joke with you. He loved jokes – these dinners were informal, not formal… He would invite in some of his friends, there was a Polish bishop who was a good friend, [and] likeminded people. He liked to laugh. I remember I said to him, very somberly, that I must thank him for helping [and] for the miracle he prodded, [for] helping to bring down the Soviet Union. And he looked at me with derision, as if I had no idea what I was talking about (which is true), and he said, “There was no miracle. They had built a Mickey Mouse system.” I can’t swear that he used the words ‘mickey mouse’ but he used a term… We were speaking in Italian at that point. [He said,] “It collapsed under its own weight.” So that sort of put me in my place. But like Margaret Thatcher, you had to be careful talking to him because it’s such a quick rapier mind. And he treated you like a graduate student, asking questions and expecting you to step up to the plate and hit it and do a good job at it. You’d felt when you left you’d been through an examination with both of them. But I was very touched, [of] anything in my life, by the fact that he frequently introduced himself as a friend, and I don’t mean just to me: I mean three or four times it appeared in newspapers across the world, [when] asked if he had many friends, he would mention regularly four or five different persons and I was on the list and I just value that immensely.”

Jerry: “Do you think that Pope Francis has any close friends who understand the virtues of the free market system?”

Michael: “John Paul II had a hard time coming to those because he did not have experience with them under the Nazis or under the communists for most of his life.”

Jerry: “But he had a friend who helped him.”

Michael: “He had a great love for America and admired many things and he was always open to new ideas, and it troubled him when he heard anti-market things, state-oriented things. And in that sense, he was ready. He applied himself diligently, step by step, to learning how this new system works. He asked in one of his letters, a letter called The Hundredth Year–”

Jerry: “Centesimus Annus, correct?”

Michael: “Correct. He asked in there, having described that the cause of wealth, of wealthy nations, is intellect, ideas, know-how. That’s the primary cause of wealth, no longer the land. Lincoln got, a century earlier, the patent and copyright act making property and inventions and ideas–”

Jerry: “The fire of invention… “The fuel of self-interest and the fire of invention,” right?”

Michael: “Yeah. He saw that that was the main cause of wealth, and therefore that it represented a break between thousands of years of an agrarian economy in which land was the most important value, [and] all of a sudden [it is] ideas. That meant the kind of equality that–you didn’t have to be born a great landholder to be able to become very wealthy. You could have, however humble you were, [have] certain ideas that you could patent or copyright if they would be useful to the human race, and from these [comes] wealth [like] Bill Gates has from Microsoft. Almost every corporation among us, even Coca Cola, is built on a new idea, [but] they deliberately didn’t patent it to keep it more secret.”

Jerry: “And a different kind of man prospers from the two systems, right? To hold land you need soldiers, but to hold knowledge you need diligence and intelligence.”

Michael: “And men and women who love what they’re doing, who work for you more inventively so the product keeps improving. And then you want to pay them very well, too, you want to give them bonuses and a share in profits and they rise, too, with the rise of the firm, and that breeds a new kind of spirit in the firm. So, slowly, John Paul II came to understand the role in the market but even more than that the role of invention and discovery and of enterprise.”

Jerry: “So there’s a difference in his economic thought in Laborem Exercens and Centesimus Annus, correct?”

Michael: “And there was [another] one in between, Sollicitudo [Rei Socialis], you can watch the growth from one to the other. In one of them he speaks of, “Labor is always the superior of capital because persons are always the superior of things.” He’s thinking of capital as machinery, money… But laborers are persons. But then he comes to realize that ideas are a form of wealth, too, so there’s a human capital – they’re also persons.”

Jerry: “That’s the capita in capitalism.”

Michael: “Yeah. I prefer to say the caput meaning ‘the head’.”

Jerry: “That’s what I mean.”

Michael: “Capitalis refers to heads of cattle, it’s a different meaning.”

Jerry: “Oh, sorry! Caput, yes. Well, we Protestants might know the Bible a little better but you Roman Catholics, your Latin is much, much better than ours.”

Michael: “Well, it has to be sharper. Although God knows I’ve had Protestant Latinist friends who are much better than I or even most people I knew. But anyway, I hope that we’ll see Francis on this learning curve, too.”

Jerry: “I hope so, too.”

Michael: “Why? Because he’s very concerned for the poor, but I’m worried whether he has a very good theory for how you get the poor out of poverty. I mean, I don’t think the aim should be to keep the poor poor and feel sorry for them and give them alms; I think the hope for the poor is to help them to break the chains of poverty and become independent people of initiative and energy on their own, and I don’t see the Pope there yet.”

Jerry: “No. I’m concerned about that. When Pope Francis was announced, I wrote a column in which I predicted that I thought he would tend to be a man more on the left when it comes to economics, and that my conservative Catholic friends were going to be uncomfortable with a lot that they saw. On the other hand, let’s be optimistic here: Imagine a man with that much passion or compassion for the poor, if he actually came to understand the degree to which economic growth and economic dynamism and capital and free markets are a liberating force for the poor. Imagine what a global force for good he could be if that theory actually did get aligned with that decent and loving and compassionate heart.”

Michael: “No, that’s true. But even if he doesn’t do that, what he’s already done for humanizing Christianity – humanizing at least the Catholic Church – and giving it a distinctive, down-to-earth voice of a sort [that] no popes have broken through before. John Paul II had a very nice common touch, and a very nice down-to-earth touch, and people really loved that but Francis goes even further. Francis, travelling on the streetcars and visiting with the poor…”

Jerry: “Sneaking out at night…”

Michael: “You know, breaking all the sort of formalities.”

Jerry: “It’s very appealing, isn’t it?”

Michael: “And then also insisting that things like doctrine and things like liturgy, while very important and not to be denied by him, [are] nonetheless not at the heart of the matter. What’s the heart of the matter is the love of God, and the immense love that God has for every man and woman and child, and how he calls each of us to allow that love to live in us so we become different people. We love with God’s love and can love even our enemies, which is not human.”

Jerry: “I think you made a comment on your Facebook page (we’re Facebook friends) that he states doctrinal matters in ways that keep the media guessing, and if they’re guessing, they’re thinking, right? And so progress can be made if he doesn’t speak in a way that allows them to just immediately put a label on him and write him off.”

Michael: “I think that’s right, but he speaks with, obviously, so much mercy, and so much love, and so much openness and kindness that he doesn’t speak like one of those finger-wagging disciplinarians that religious people have sometimes seemed to be. [He’s] not always preaching about what’s wrong, but encouraging you. He’s just remarkable in that.”

Jerry: “Yeah. I’m not sure that Benedict quite mastered that.”

Michael: “No. Look, each of these guys is a different guy. You’ve got to take them [as] who they are. Benedict probably had the best mind in our lifetime, an immense amount of erudition and learning, and even great philosophers were a bit abashed to take him on, like Habermas and others in Europe. He was made a member of the French Academy very quickly, not an easy thing to be made a member of and particularly for a German in France. But just the brilliance of the man, and the kindness… But that’s not Francis, it’s not even John Paul II who also was a professor, but he has these capacities as an actor, a public speaker, that exceeded Benedict’s. They all put their pants on one leg at a time. You have to take the humanness of these guys along with everything else.”


Article originally published on

Jerry Bowyer is a Forbes contributor, contributing editor of, and Senior Fellow in Business Economics at The Center for Cultural Leadership.

Jerry has compiled an impressive record as a leading thinker in finance and economics. He worked as an auditor and a tax consultant with Arthur Anderson, as Vice President of the Beechwood Company which is the family office associated with Federated Investors, and has consulted in various privatization efforts for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. He founded the influential economic think tank, the Allegheny Institute, and has lectured extensively at universities, businesses and civic groups.

Jerry has been a member of three investment committees, among which is Benchmark Financial, Pittsburgh’s largest financial services firm. Jerry had been a regular commentator on Fox Business News and Fox News. He was formerly a CNBC Contributor, has guest-hosted “The Kudlow Report”, and has written for, National Review Online, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as many other publications. He is the author of The Bush Boom and more recently The Free Market Capitalist’s Survival Guide, published by HarperCollins. Jerry is the President of Bowyer Research.

Jerry consulted extensively with the Bush White House on matters pertaining to the recent economic crisis. He has been quoted in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes Magazine, The International Herald Tribune and various local newspapers. He has been a contributing editor of National Review Online, The New York Sun and Townhall Magazine. Jerry has hosted daily radio and TV programs and was one of the founding members of WQED’s On-Q Friday Roundtable. He has guest-hosted the Bill Bennett radio program as well as radio programs in Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles.

Jerry is the former host of WorldView, a nationally syndicated Sunday-morning political talk show created on the model of Meet The Press. On WorldView, Jerry interviewed distinguished guests including the Vice President, Treasury Secretary, HUD Secretary, former Secretary of Sate Condoleezza Rice, former Presidential Advisor Carl Rove, former Attorney General Edwin Meese and publisher Steve Forbes.

Jerry has taught social ethics at Ottawa Theological Hall, public policy at Saint Vincent’s College, and guest lectured at Carnegie Mellon’s graduate Heinz School of Public Policy. In 1997 Jerry gave the commencement address at his alma mater, Robert Morris University. He was the youngest speaker in the history of the school, and the school received more requests for transcripts of Jerry’s speech than at any other time in its 120-year history.

Jerry lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, Susan, and the youngest five of their seven children.


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