As we know, there are two schools of thought in how to deal with the poor. Charles and David Koch hold one. After the Koch brothers begin their day perfecting their tans, created by the cheerful golden glow of uncirculated American eagle coins, the Kochs then plot on how to make the rich richer and the poor more miserable. “Is it all right if the poor live on kitty kibble?” they think to themselves. “Or is dog food a thriftier choice?”
Then we have Pope Francis, the scourge of capitalists. The snooty havens where the one percent frolic are earthquake-proofing their buildings because the mere mention of his name causes the buildings to tremble.
Surely it cannot be possible that someone can admire both the Koch brothers and the pope. But this is what John and Carol Saeman argue in a provocative piece in the Washington Post.
I only know about John Saeman because of his work with the Daniels Fund. I see he was the subject of a profile in Philanthropy in 2010 , and a 2009 profile in Legatus Magazine begins, “When you mention the word ‘philanthropy’ to any serious Catholic in Denver, they immediately think of John and Carol Saeman.” Among their philanthropic ventures are the Papal Foundation, which raises money for worthy Catholic causes in the Third World, and the Seeds of Hope Charitable Trust, which provides scholarships for Catholic schools in the Denver area.
Their op-ed shows they are smart donors who have carefully thought about their giving, so we ought to pay attention to what they have to say.
I’m not Catholic, so it’s not right for me to say how the church ought to be run. In my opinion, Pope Francis seems a serious and very well-read man, and probably a lot subtler than the clueless hacks reporting about him make him out to be.
The Saemans begin by noting Pope Francis’s statement that “the Pope has the duty, in Christ’s name, to remind the rich to help the poor, to respect them, to promote them.” But, they say, the Koch brothers also ”demonstrate a deep concern for the least fortunate.”
But how is this possible? Aren’t the Kochs the most rugged of rugged capitalists? Isn’t Pope Francis the free market’s foremost foe?
The Saemans don’t see a dichotomy here. Catholics have long believed in the principle of subsidiarity, namely that problems should be addressed at the lowest possible level. Communities do a better job of addressing their problems than states or Washington will.
But “since local and state communities are most invested in the success of the individuals and families who comprise them, they’re more likely to recognize and reform a broken program, whereas Washington’s solution would be to expand it.” The social problems of Denver are far different than those of Wichita, but bureaucrats in Washington love to come up with one-size-fits-all solutions that don’t really solve anybody’s problems.
As for Pope Francis’s critique of capitalism, the Saemans argue that what the pope objects to is not capitalism itself, but the sort of “crony capitalism” prevalent in Argentina, where businesses survive under the suffocating thumb of the state. When markets flourish under limited government and the rule of law, then capitalists prosper and can use their wealth to aid the poor.
Here too, the Saemans say, the goal of the Koch brothers and the pope are not that far apart. They write:
The poor are an afterthought when there are hands to be shaken, subsidies to be grabbed and favors to be dispensed. . . . Given what we have seen, we believe the Kochs are doing more to help the poor than the "social justice" campaigners who so often attack them.
The pope is quite right, however, to critique the sort of capitalist who thrives on conspicuous consumption and publicity instead of quiet self-restraint. Spending a little more on nicer seats and better hotels is one of the pleasures of middle age. Spending a lot on five-figure evenings at casinos and nightclubs is a problem. I don’t care much for the politics or the philanthropy of Warren Buffett, but he deserves our respect for staying in Omaha, living in the house he bought in the 1950s, and having relatively inexpensive pleasures.
Journalists thrive on reducing the world to cartoonish caricatures, and just as Pope Francis does not share the views of New York Times editorial writers, so are the Kochs far different than the demented demons conjured by Sen. Reid. I doubt the Kochs and the pope will ever meet, but if they did, they might find they agree far more than they disagree, including the importance in philanthropy of poverty fighting.
“Helping the poor also requires a fundamental change in how our society—and our government—understands and seeks to address poverty,” the Saemans conclude. “For us, promoting limited government alongside the Kochs is an important part of heeding Pope Francis’s call to love and serve the poor.”