Mises Wire

How Pope Francis Gets "the Common Good" Wrong

In a New York Times op-ed full of musings on how to “build a better, different, human future,” Pope Francis praised world governments for putting “the well-being of their people first” while ridiculing critics of the covid-19 lockdowns.

Juxtaposed with Francis’s condemnation of skeptics in the prestigious newspaper, Tom Woods’s antilockdown “Covid Cult” speech was deleted by YouTube two days prior. That video, which had already gone viral, addressed the “common good” argument that the pope would make.

Considering how wrong both the legacy and new media have been on covid and the lockdowns from the start, it’s no wonder that platforms such as YouTube have a personal beef with Woods or his sober message calling out the pseudoscience that’s been used to destroy people’s lives and livelihoods. 

With the support of the Times and other establishment outlets, Francis urged readers to consider the “common good” as a demand for sacrifice. Covid, a flu-like respiratory illness that impacts only a tiny fraction of the population and usually not fatally, is the perfect excuse for mass sacrifice.

Francis wrote that governments are “acting decisively to protect health and to save lives” by “imposing strict measures to contain the outbreak.” But if you were to base your understanding of what lockdowns have accomplished on what Francis had to say alone, you would think we were living, or dying, in 1347 under the Black Death.

“Governments that shrugged off the painful evidence of mounting deaths” caused a great deal of pain, the supreme pontiff wrote.

While the jury is still out on what should even be considered a covid death, there is, indeed, enough evidence to suggest that the “strict measures to contain the outbreak” that he praised simply have not worked.

The Wrong Approach

During his speech, Woods argued that the response to covid was and remains completely disproportionate, especially as we become more aware of how the virus operates. He also chronicled how the nearly universal lockdowns caused more pain and suffering than the disease itself.

“There are other concerns in the world other than covid,” Woods said, a fact completely ignored by Francis in his op-ed.

Woods further argued that countries like Spain and Italy, which “locked down [early] and hard” saw no benefit from doing so. Countries like Sweden, which never locked down, saw a fraction of the deaths that the “listen to the science” crowd estimated while seeing no lockdown-related suffering and excess deaths.

As a matter of fact, even medical researchers think that lockdowns were a mistake.

In what became known as the Great Barrington Declaration, reputable infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists explained that the death toll caused by the lockdowns will far surpass anything precipitated by covid. 

Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health. The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health—leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden.

Allowing iron-fisted shutdowns to remain in place, the group of scientists added, “will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.”

Despite their warnings, which first appeared online on October 4, 2020, Francis did not hesitate to mock critics of lockdowns for their alleged overreliance on “personal freedom” to justify their opinion. They are going against the common good, the pontiff wrote, and they are serving “idols.”

After governments imposed “responsible” lockdowns, Francis argued, “some groups protested, refusing to keep their distance, marching against travel restrictions—as if measures that governments must impose for the good of their people constitute some kind of political assault on autonomy or personal freedom!”

They are wrong, he jabbed.

Looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals. It means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate.

Then why isn’t he?

The Seen and the Unseen

In his now famous “That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen” essay, French liberal school economist Claude-Frederic Bastiat wrote that when it comes to the economy, an act or law brought about by the government “gives birth not only to an effect, but to a series of effects.”

Of these effects, the first only is immediate; it manifests itself simultaneously with its cause—it is seen. The others unfold in succession—they are not seen.

What many lockdown critics have consistently argued is that it is the effect that isn’t immediately seen that would be more costly to society than covid itself. It is exactly that concern that has driven the medical professionals associated with the Barrington Declaration to speak up, as well as countless working-class Americans and Europeans who found no other way to vent their frustration but to take it to the streets, as highlighted by Woods:

In Italy and the United Kingdom, at least some people are fighting back. The last lockdown took everything they had.

One video, which has gone viral, shows an Italian woman crying that she has lost everything, and has nothing to feed her child. I guess she better listen to the science right?

Yet to Francis, the common good dictates we lock down the globe, jeopardizing the future of the young, the livelihood of the working class, and condemning countless kids to a life of mental distress

If the concern for “the least fortunate” is what drives Francis, pursuing a strawman on the New York Times isn’t how he wins.

If he is honest in calling for more solidarity in the age of covid, he should begin by being charitable with those praying for an end to the lockdowns. As countless people suffer both physical and emotional pain over the draconian restrictions on basic freedoms, the number of lives lost due to what Woods calls the “covid cult” will only rise.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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