Riccardo Antimiani / Eidon/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Riccardo Antimiani / Eidon/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Next month, The Heritage Foundation will send a brand-new copy of the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom to the Vatican in hopes that Pope Francis and other senior church officials concerned with economic growth policies will take into consideration its findings in their future studies.

Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute reports that, in the recent apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis condemns the “absolute autonomy of markets,” which “he firmly believes, is at the root of many of our contemporary problems, not least because it helps rationalize an unwillingness to assist those in need.” Yet, as Gregg notes, “there is literally no country in which markets operate with ‘absolute autonomy.’ In most Western European countries, for instance, governments routinely control an average of 40 percent of their nations’ [gross domestic product]. In many developing countries, the percentage is even higher.”

Harvard economics professor Greg Mankiw regrets the Pope’s choice of the phrase “trickle-down” and opines that it “is sad to see the pope using a pejorative, rather than encouraging an open-minded discussion of opposing perspectives.” (To be fair, the highly esteemed American conservative Catholic philosopher and writer Michael Novak has reported that the use of the inflammatory phrase “trickle-down” might have been due to poor translation.)

In any case, as as AEI’s Tyler Castle has observed, “Pope Francis is from Argentina, where ‘free market capitalism’ isn’t, in fact, all that free. The economic system in his home country is plagued by corruption and cronyism, which have greatly limited real economic freedom.”

Indeed, Argentina’s position in The Heritage Foundation’s annual Index of Economic Freedom (co-published with The Wall Street Journal) has been in a steady decline for more than a decade. While much higher ranked than Argentina, even Italy (the country of the Pope’s ancestors) is also near the bottom of the rankings for developed European Union countries. A chief reason for the poor performance of both is corruption and weak rule of law.

Wayne Grudem, who (along with co-author Barry Asmus) presented his book The Poverty of Nations at an event last month at Heritage, said recently that “Argentina is the 160th freest country in the world out of 177 countries according the Heritage economic freedom index, so it’s no wonder the pope has a negative view towards capitalism. He’s more acquainted with corrupt, crony capitalism rather than true economic freedom.”