As he addressed Congress last week, the Holy Father made a plea for migrants and a specific plea for those in the western hemisphere who leave their homes looking for greater economic opportunity. “Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War,” Pope Francis declared, and “[t]his presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities.”
This is significant, I think, in that in this statement, the Pope gives away the game. Note that those looking for opportunity and better lives are travelling “north,” which is to say to the United States and to the embodiment of global capitalism. Or, as the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal put it:
Here is the Latin American pope acknowledging that the migrants are moving north to the United States, not the other way around. This is the same United States that practices the capitalist economics the pope has excoriated on so many other occasions. There must be something moral to free-market economics if it creates so much opportunity that attracts so many of the world’s poor.
Before heading to Washington, Pope Francis stopped by Cuba and spent a couple of days visiting with, and praying for, the regime that remains one of the few officially anti-capitalist nations in the world. It is worth noting here, especially in the context of migrants and economic opportunity, that for more than half a century now, Cubans have been risking their lives, climbing in ramshackle boats, makeshift flotation devices, and hollowed-out cars, in an attempt to flee the Castros and make their way to the United States. It is also worth noting that the opportunity in the United States is so great that two of the Republican presidential candidates – including one of the presumed frontrunners, and two U.S. Senators – are the sons of those who fled the Cuban anti-capitalist regime. During the Pope’s address to Congress, one of these candidates/Senators, Marco Rubio, was caught on camera wiping a tear from his eye as the Holy Father spoke about migrants and their desire to find better, safer lives for themselves and their families. We don’t suppose the irony of the whole situation was lost on Senator Rubio.
Interestingly – and tellingly – the situation in Europe, while several magnitudes more severe, is not necessarily all that different. Pope Francis spoke of the worst “refugee crisis” since World War II, but it is not exactly clear that refugees constitute the preponderance of the crisis in Europe at present. The overwhelming majority of Syrian refugees, for example, have fled to Egypt, North Africa, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, not Europe. Those entering Europe are, according the United Nations, 70% percent adult male, which is to say men who have either fled their home countries leaving their women and children behind, or have come to Europe seeking something other than refuge. Moreover, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) notes that the patterns of migration to Europe are hardly new and have, in fact, been occurring “for decades.” The IOM also reports that “The flow to North Africa and across the Mediterranean to Europe is a mixed flow comprised of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.”
All of which is to say that a good portion of those migrating to Europe and especially to capitalistic Germany are those seeking economic opportunity. And why Germany? As “Kasim, a 35 year-old math teacher from Iraq,” told London’s Daily Mail, “I want to go to Germany, there are jobs opportunities there (sic), the healthcare is good and accessible to everyone.”
As it turns out, Kasim knows what he’s talking about. As the demographer Joel Kotkin recently noted, Germany “faces a chronic labor shortage.” “Its workforce,” Kotkin wrote, “is expected to decline by 7 million by 2030, leaving the country with annual deficits of upward of 400,000 skilled workers.” For Europe’s largest economy that means that the “refugee” crisis is a win-win. The migrants find jobs they never would have been able to find at home, while Germany’s economy finds the workers it needs to continue to hum along nicely. As the former residents of Syria, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan take advantage of the opportunity Germany business provides, the rapidly-decreasing native-German population will take advantage of the new workers, who will pick up the tab for them in their long and happy retirements. Ain’t capitalism grand?
Now, none of this is to say that capitalism is perfect. Obviously, it is not. And that’s why the nominally-capitalist nations of the world have been doing their very best for some two-hundred years now to mitigate the negative effects of free markets and free enterprise. All of which is to say that Pope Francis is right about capitalism. It is discriminatory. And it does advance the interests of the powerful and connected over all the rest. But that’s the nature of the beast, the nature of man’s struggle here on earth. To paraphrase (the perhaps apocryphal) Winston Churchill: Capitalism is the worst economic system, except all the others that have been tried. Most importantly, capitalism is – as the migratory patterns of the world’s wayfarers shows – the best possible antidote for the poverty and oppression that plagues the developing world. Or, as the uber-capitalist Milton Friedman put it in an interview with Phil Donahue, another Catholic who derided capitalism:
Well first of all, tell me: Is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think China doesn’t run on greed? What is greed? Of course, none of us are greedy, it’s only the other fellow who’s greedy. The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn’t construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry that way. In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty you’re talking about, the only cases in recorded history, are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worse off, worst off, it’s exactly in the kinds of societies that depart from that. So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear, that there is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by the free-enterprise system.