The Daily Caller

The Daily Caller

On Pope Francis, envy, and the problem with groupthink

Few cable news shows grapple with nuanced topics — which is why I was disappointed to see Morning Joe (one of the few shows that regularly encourages such discussions) — miss an opportunity this morning.

In case you missed it, Lant Pritchett’s “Why is Pope Francis Promoting Sin” was the focus of Mika’s “Must-Read Op-Eds” segment. ”By dwelling on inequality,” Pritchett writes, “the pope is promoting envy.”

One may or may not agree with this, but it is at least worthy of debate. But here’s the response it engendered:

“Is that from the Onion?,” scoffed Mike Barnicle.

“That’s crazy,” said Steve Rattner.

“The Harvard Lampoon?,” added Barnicle.

According to his bio, “Lant Pritchett is professor of the practice of international development at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and co-author of ‘Moving Out of Poverty: Success From the Bottom Up.’”

This is all to say that Pritchett is a serious man who was making a serious point — not merely trolling us for link bait.

Despite how quickly his premise was dismissed, Pritchett’s argument is not entirely without merit. As he observes: “The Ten Commandments conclude with: ‘You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.’ (Exodus 20:17)”

To be sure, I disagree with Pritchett in regards to Pope Francis. Not long ago, in fact, I appeared on Morning Joe and defended Francis’ controversial comments about capitalism and income inequality.

But while I do not believe Pope Francis is sowing envy or bitterness, I certainly do believe that many liberal politicians are intentionally stoking this sort of division for political purposes.

And, unfortunately, this rhetoric hurts the poor, convincing them that the game is rigged — that they cannot get ahead. And it gives them permission to feel bitter about others who are doing better (envy isn’t merely about the desire to get ahead for yourself, it also involves a sort of schadenfreude).

At the micro level, bitterness hurts the person holding the grudge. At the macro level, it simply divides Americans.

This is an incredibly rich and interesting conversation — one that I wish had been given a few minutes this morning.

Speaking of which — if that’s the sort of discussion you’d be interested in, Dr. Victor V. Claar, an economics professor who is also coauthor of Economics in Christian Perspective, has done a lot of work on this topic. You can listen to him discuss it here.