The Pope and Godless Capitalism

Credit: Mark Wagner (a href="">

Credit: Mark Wagner

“This is called slave labor,” said Pope Francis.

The Holy Father was referring to the $40 a month paid to apparel workers at that eight-story garment factory in Bangladesh that collapsed on top of them, killing more than 400.

“Not paying a just wage … focusing exclusively on the balance books, on financial statements, only looking at personal profit. That goes against God!”

The pope is describing the dark side of globalism.

Why is Bangladesh, after China, the second-largest producer of apparel in the world? Why are there 4,000 garment factories in that impoverished country which, a few decades ago, had almost none?

Because the Asian subcontinent is where Western brands — from Disney to Gap to Benetton — can produce cheapest. They can do so because women and children will work for $1.50 a day crammed into factories that are rickety firetraps, where health and safety regulations are nonexistent.

This is what capitalism, devoid of a conscience, will produce.

Rescuers at the factory outside Dhaka have stopped looking for survivors, but expect to find hundreds more bodies in the rubble.

The Walt Disney Co., with sales of $40 billion a year, decided — after an apparel plant fire in November took the lives of 112 workers — to stop producing in Bangladesh. “The Disney ban now extends to other countries, including Pakistan,” says The New York Times, “where a fire last September killed 262 garment workers.”

Not long ago, the shirts, skirts, suits and dresses Americans wore were “Made in the USA” — in plants in the Carolinas, Georgia and Louisiana, where the lower wages, lighter regulations and air conditioning that came after World War II had attracted the factories from New England.

The American idea was that the 50 states and their citizens should compete with one another fairly. The feds set the health and safety standards that all factories had to meet, and imposed wage and hour laws. Some states offered lower wages, but there was a federal minimum wage.

How did we prevent companies from shutting down here and going to places like today’s Bangladesh to produce as cheaply as they could — without regard for the health and safety of their workers — and to send their products back here and kill the American factories?

From James Madison to the mid-20th century, we had a tariff.

This provided revenue for the U.S. government to keep other taxes low and build the nation’s infrastructure. Tariffs prevented exploiters of labor from getting rich here on sweatshops abroad.

Tariffs favored U.S. companies by letting them compete for free in the U.S. market, while a cover charge was placed on foreign goods entering the U.S.A. Foreign producers would pay tariffs for the privilege of competing here, while U.S. companies paid income taxes.

Foreigners had to buy a ticket to the game. Americans got in free.

After all, it’s our country, isn’t it?

But in the late 20th century, America abandoned as “protectionism” what Henry Clay had called The American System. We gave up on economic patriotism. We gave up on the idea that the U.S. economy should be structured for the benefit of America and Americans first.

We embraced globalism.

The ideological basis of globalism was that, just as what was best for America was a free market where U.S. companies produce and sell anywhere freely and equally in the U.S.A., this model can be applied worldwide.

We can create a global economy where companies produce where they wish and sell where they wish.

As one might expect, the big boosters of the concept were the transnational corporations. They could now shift plants and factories out of the high-wage, well-regulated U.S. economy to Mexico, China and India, then to Bangladesh, Haiti and Cambodia, produce for pennies, ship their products back to the U.S.A., sell here at the same old price, and pocket the difference.

As some who were familiar with the decline of Great Britain predicted, this would lead inexorably to the deindustrialization of America, a halt to the steady rise in U.S. workers’ wages and standard of living, and the enrichment of a new class of corporatists.

Meanwhile, other nations, believing yet in economic nationalism, would invade and capture huge slices of the U.S. market for their home companies, their “national champions.” The losers would be the companies that stayed in the U.S.A. and produced for the U.S.A., with American workers.

And so it came to pass. U.S. real wages have not risen in 40 years.

In the first decade of the century, America lost 5 million to 6 million manufacturing jobs, one in every three we had, as 55,000 factories closed.

Since Bush 41 touted his New World Order, we have run trade deficits of $10 trillion — ten thousand billion dollars! Everybody — the EU, China, Japan, Mexico, Canada — now runs a trade surplus at the expense of the U.S.A.

We built the global economy — by gutting our own.


Image credit: Mark Wagner (

Pat Buchanan


Patrick Buchanan is a conservative political commentator and syndicated columnist and author of several books, including Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?.

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  • Iris

    But you are not allowed to criticize big business, lest you be called out as a Marxist. I consider myself quite conservative, but over the past two election cycles, the fiscal conservative only part of the Right has started to really turn me off. When people attack Blessed Pope John Paul II as ‘typical socialist Catholic…’ because he had the gall to call out the evils of the ‘excesses’ of Capitalism in addition to the evils of Socialism, it is clear to me that they have truly lost sight of the need for the constraints of morality (Christian morality to be specific) on our business practices. I have even seen some claim that greed is a virtue. Shocking… Little do they seem to care that they are feeding the actual Marxists ammunition to use, when the gap between rich and poor grows so very wide. In their justified rejection of Marxism, they have swung too far to the other side, and it is hard to argue with more left leaning Catholics that they should vote for a man who made millions upon millions of dollars by closing down businesses and putting people out of work (especially when his record on social issues is far from Catholic). While one can argue that the businesses had failed on their own, and there are surely times when a business is not thriving and must downsize, there is something a bit unseemly about getting ‘filthy’ rich off of coordinating the downsize, and leaving people with no way to feed themselves and their families aside from going on the government dole, at least there is to this Catholic Conservative. Still, I don’t want the government telling people that ‘at some point, you’ve made enough money.’ It would be nice if people would ‘spread the wealth around’ out of the goodness and decency of their own hearts, so that the people they employ can share in the wealth for which they labor. I have to admit to seeing a problem when the CEO gets millions of dollars and lives in a 15000 square foot mansion, while some of the full time workers barely pay their apartment rent. On the other hand, I find it very ironic that the very leftist Catholics who bemoan the ‘greed’ of the Right are the ones who have voted for the very people who have forced God out of our schools and public square, so that the morality needed to correct this problem can not be taught. No, you may not teach Christian morality in this secular nation! say the leftists. And so, here we are. God have mercy.

  • Yes, I agree with you. I would like to see the culture changing from idolizing multibillionaires to rewarding those who, out of conscience would say “This is enough for me to control, let me give back to my employees”. But we’re not going to see that until we internalize the Gospel.

  • marisa

    Greed is a vice whether it is corporate, social, political or personal. It ALWAYS brings about destruction, death and decay both physically and metaphorically speaking. Like any sin, it seems promising and tempting at the onset.

  • bluesuede

    After this preventable, horrific tragedy causing large loss of life, we won’t be seeing any of the multi-national corporations or their heads, to take any responsibility. They get by with paying near slave wages and despicable working conditions for these people. No one will blame corrupt government for building unsound structures. What compensation will there be to the families? Anything? Where is the moral outrage from liberal/leftist media? This unconcern for the poor in foreign countries and what they suffer, is because of the the greed for higher profits from the West. It’s just a symptom godless materialism. It is inexcusable. God bless and help the poor people of Bangladesh.

  • This is one of the smartest things I have ever heard Pat Buchanan say.

  • FatimaToday

    This is what the Catholic Church calls “unbriddled” capitalism. Captialism still works, but when there is no checks and balances between the rich coorporate minds and the every day worker just wage, we get this total capitalism result. It is fueled by politicians and special interest groups who they wine and dine with. Not all corporations are “evil” so you can’t brush them all with the same stroke. On the flip side, Socialism has never worked and is always evil.

  • sean k

    Same thing happened to domestic furniture manufacturing. There is literally NO furniture manufacturing in the USA to speak of thanks to Bill Clinton and him giving Communist China most favored Nation status with the World Trade Organization. There is probably is 60-70 percent unemployment rate in this industry. It’s disgusting what are leadership in business and Washington have done to our citizenry. They are pathetic excuses for Americans and there avarice has spread to global levels.

  • Adriana Pena

    Argentina went through an accelerated deinsdustrialization process in the 90s. It led to the collapse in 2001. Them came kirchnerism – a modified peronism which reindustrialized, with such success that the current governent can get away with murder nowadays.
    They propped up science and technology, too (under the deinsdustrializers, the Economy Secretary had told that scientists should go “wash dishes”) There are always news about technological advances made even by high school students.
    Reindustrialize, my boy, reindustrialize…