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Ross Douthat

Ross Douthat of the New York Times is one of the better conservative reads around. Part of the value of his sometimes quite insightful analysis was that he was willing to accept unpleasant facts concerning the failures of conservative thought. That didn’t make him some liberal punching bag – a reverse Alan Colmes – but actually strengthened his arguments because his premises did not start from fantasy.

So I was horrified to read that in Douthat’s response to Pope Francis’ critique of neoliberalism he dismissed one of the central premises of the pope’s argument as not only untrue but claiming, falsely, that the reality was the reverse.

…it’s true that there is no Catholic position on, say, the correct marginal tax rate, and that Catholics are not obliged to heed the pope when he suggests that global inequality is increasing when the statistical evidence suggests otherwise.

Whether or not Catholics should “heed the pope” I will leave to the Catholic community writ large and those with some knowledge of Catholic social teaching with a recommendation to read Elizabeth Stoker and Heather Horn’s pieces. There are legitimate questions both about what Pope Francis actually said and how that squares with Catholic social teaching – neither of which I know or care about. Though watching Rush Limbaugh try to smear the head of the Catholic Church as a Marxist whom is going “beyond Catholicism” is amusing on a number of levels.

But what does seem important is Douthat’s statement of fact on global inequality.

Readers of the print version of the Times, I would imagine, had no choice but to take Douthat’s statement that “statistical evidence suggests otherwise” as fact, but for those viewing it online the link provided by Douthat only presented evidence that Douthat had gone fact shopping after having already made up his mind. The link is to a post published by the American Enterprise Institute (business lobby) and written by long time neoliberal James Pethokoukis. Despite the source, the post not only does not back up Douthat’s point, it makes no pretensions of doing so.

While inequality has increased within countries since 1970s — it’s not just America, gang — it’s dropped between countries.

Was that what Pope Francis was railing against? That previous to now the Forbes 400 Richest Americans were so much richer than the 400 richest Europeans, Asians, Latin Americans, or Africans? No. Pope Francis was specifically talking about inequality within countries, clearly and unambiguously.

Douthat either misread the article he linked to or the pope’s writing. And given he wrote about the writing and linked to the post and can understand English that seems unlikely. What is more likely is, desperate for any kind of factual basis to support his ideological viewpoint, he grabbed a link that no one was likely to click on or if they did would just quickly survey and not thoroughly read. Because to suggest that the AEI post refutes the charge made by the pope on global inequality is misleading to say the least.

Times readers were not well served by having been given such a misleading statement on inequality – a major issue of our time. One can only hope they took the time to investigate the link to see how misleading Mr. Douthat’s statement was. I guess print readers were out of luck.

Image by Cardsplayer4life under GNU Free Documentation license.