One part of Pope Francis’s first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, condemned “trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world …
which has never been confirmed by the facts, [and] expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.” Those on the political left immediately celebrated this as an endorsement of “progressive” government, and every story I saw about the Pope’s selection as Time’s man of the year mentioned it.
Unfortunately, Pope Francis’s evident compassion for the poor is overwhelmed by his confusion about freedom expressed in markets.
Economic liberty has done more to elevate the living standards of the general population than any other form of social organization in history. At the same time, it improves justice and expands inclusiveness. In addition, it is the only system which does not trust in the goodness of those with power. Conclusions drawn from such mistaken premises demonstrate why good intentions are not enough, if we are to judge from results.
The fact that the Pope picked “trickle-down” economic theories to attack was revealing, because no economist ever promoted such a thing. It was a term, like “tax cuts for the rich,” invented by big government opponents of market freedom to deliberately misrepresent it.
Trickle-down is a defamatory characterization of “supply side” economics which misdirects attention away from the primary means by which all gain from market freedom. Its core confusion is in assuming that reducing the disincentives faced by heavily-taxed high earners, leaving them more take-home pay, only benefits them, except for what trickles down to others when they spend it.
The reality is that when people, however rich or poor, advance their interests through voluntary arrangements, they benefit those they deal with. This is done by providing opportunities others find better than their alternatives, and those improved opportunities increase others’ real wealth. As George Reisman succinctly put it:
Under capitalism, not only is one man’s gain not another man’s loss, insofar as it comes out of an increase in overall, total production … one man’s gain is positively other men’s gain … Indeed, under capitalism, competition proceeds to raise the standard of living of the average wage earner above that of even the very wealthiest people in the world a few generations earlier.
Or, as Arthur Seldon put it, “capitalism is the instrument which people in all societies … use to escape from want and enrich one another by exchange.”
As a consequence, worsening the incentives of producers induces them to do less for others. And while it hurts such producers, it provides benefits only to the envious or covetous. It hurts those they deal with, by wiping out arrangements that would have been mutually beneficial.
In other words, increased tax rates (and regulatory burdens, which act like taxes) destroy wealth that would have been created for the non-rich. Finish reading->