“We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market.” — Pope Francis
“Entrepreneurial capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid.” — Bono
Pope Francis is famous for being critical of the capitalist system and “trickle down” economics. “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless,” he wrote recently. “As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”
This week, as Pope Francis, “the pope of the poor,” visits the United States for the first time, he will attend many churches and give speeches in Congress and the UN.
He might change his mind about the invisible hand of free-enterprise capitalism for the average consumer and the working poor if he were to visit a local Walmart and Costco store, two famous innovations of American business.
In Walmart he would witness first hand how the middle class and poor can shop for thousands of quality goods at low prices. Walmart’s motto is “Save Money. Live Better” and “Always Low Prices.”
At Costco, he would see thousands of products that are never marked-up by more than 14 percent, and would see how the middle class and working poor can earn decent wages.
A visit to Walmart and Costco might do more than any editorial in the Wall Street Journal to convince the Pope that free-enterprise capitalism is a valuable force and has been more effective than government programs in fulfilling the needs of the average consumer.
Such a visit reminds me of the time in 1959 that Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev visited the United States for the first time. President Dwight Eisenhower designed for Premier Khrushchev and his family a 12-day “Harlem to Hollywood” tour of the U.S., and he wisely included a visit to a local grocery store.
Arriving in California, he was escorted to Quality Foods and saw for the first time the abundance of a typical American supermarket.
According to a local reporter, Nikita lifted up a bag of apples and inquired about the price. As he walked the aisles, he asked more questions and handled more products, expressing interest in butter, milk and other dairy items. The American supermarket the Soviet leader was able to see with his own eyes probably 10,000 grocery, meat and poultry items.
Seeing “ordinary housewives” in America select whatever items they wanted and take them to a speedy check out line presented an incredible challenge to the Soviet system, which produced only misery and shortages, not groceries.
It was a moment never to be forgotten in the battle of geopolitics. Khruschev may have concluded right then and there when he visited a supermarket in California on September 21, 1959, that socialism could never bury capitalism.
Milton Friedman said it best, “The record of history is absolutely crystal clear. 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.”
Mark Skousen is the editor of Forecasts & Strategies, a presidential fellow at Chapman University, and the producer of www.freedomfest.com.