To Pope Francis, however, it might have genuinely been a miracle. "Everyone eats and some is left over: it is the sign of Jesus, the Bread of God for humanity." Unfortunately, His Holiness is less impressed with the means by which more of the hungry are fed.
While the number of undernourished people dropped by over half in the past two decades, some 805 million people were still affected in 2014.Perhaps those very market priorities is what gives those no-longer-hungry millions their daily bread. "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."
"It is also painful to see the struggle against hunger and malnutrition hindered by 'market priorities', the 'primacy of profit', which reduce foodstuffs to a commodity like any other, subject to speculation and financial speculation in particular," Francis said.
"The hungry remain at the street corner... and ask for a healthy diet. We ask for dignity, not for charity," he said.
The pope has in the past launched several scathing attacks on those who get rich through market speculation, particularly the practice of betting on the price of food commodities which can inflate prices and see poor families go hungry.Oh, if only Joseph had seen a futures contract in that dream of the seven fat cattle. Instead we get divine inspiration for governance by discerning and wise experts, who attempt to simulate the workings of a futures market, without the prospect of mutual gain by correct hedging and speculation. Trade unites and politics divides. Has the Holy Father thought it through? Not yet.
He urged the world's population to have "mutual respect, instead of fighting between themselves, damaging and impoverishing the planet."That might be achieved by the proper institutions and by trading for mutual gain.
The distinguishing feature of capitalism, then, is that the butcher and baker have to please you in exchange for your value because they have no other choice. In Smith’s scenario, if the butcher and baker desire your value, what’s to stop them from taking it? That’s what one African tribe does to another? What the armed samurai did to the unarmed peasants? What Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan does to dissidents that post on Twitter? It’s so much easier to just take stuff away, so why are the butcher and baker busting their tails? Hint: It’s not because of self-interest.Genesis 41, alas, is silent on whether Pharaoh's subjects put forth the same effort in the second year as they did to produce the crop that the Discerning and Wise Overseer took the fifth part of in the first of the fat years.
It would be far more accurate to describe capitalism as a system that — unlike most all others — strongly protects you from the greed and illicit self-interest of others. It is a system of voluntary exchange simply because all the forms of involuntary exchange have been outlawed. The moment the butcher can coerce you out of your value, is the moment you can no longer rely on him to work for your good. So to conclude, a discussion of self-interest is necessary and critical to describing “how capitalism results in prosperity”, but it is deceptive when applied to the question of “what capitalism is.”