Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pope Francis’ Radical Economic Vision

Pope Francis speaks (Credit: Opinionalessandro / Garofalo / Reuters) Click to Enlarge.
Pope Francis’ new encyclical is making headlines mainly because of the tough line it takes on climate change, and its message to Catholics and others that they must embrace radical green solutions to society’s problems.

But the Pope’s ecological message is only part of his radical political agenda.  Just as significant as his environmental message is a parallel progressive economic agenda that fundamentally rejects deregulated free-market capitalism.  The Pope has a bracing message for Christians and other “people of good will”: that the time has come to move beyond right-wing economics, and to embrace a different kind of economic system.

Published on June 18, “Laudato Si’” is the third major communication of Francis’ reign, and the most significant development of his teaching thus far.  It takes its name from the first line of a hymn by St Francis of Assisi, “Laudato Si’, mi’ Signore” (“Praise be to you, my Lord”), in which St. Francis praises God “through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us”. Subtitled “On Care for Our Common Home,” Pope Francis uses the encyclical to speak in bleak terms of society’s failures to protect the natural environment, and outlines a ‘human ecology’, in which he urges his readers to treat the tremendous gift of the Earth and the natural environment with much greater reverence and respect.

But the Pope argues that we cannot address the environmental crisis without a transformation of our economic system.  He urges a deep reorientation of capitalist economies, offering three lines of critique of the dominant economic system under which we now live.

(1) Inequality
First, Francis attacks the belief “that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth.”  Instead he says that there is a pressing need for “a better distribution of wealth,” which will not happen by means of free markets as “the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion.” ...

(2) Dignity of labor
Second, Francis argues that work’s value transcends its productivity for the economy.  Work, says Francis, is “the setting for … rich personal growth, where many aspects of life enter into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others, giving glory to God.” ...

To put this simply, work may be instrumental for economic growth, but it is much more important in itself as a source of human well-being; hence, governments should ensure that employment levels are kept as high as possible, even if this does not suit “the limited interests of business.”  Business exists for people, not people for business.

The same line of reasoning from the dignity of labor leads Francis to hold all workers must receive “a living wage” and adequate leisure time. ...

(3) Productive diversity
Third, Francis does not shy away from the question of what the economy would have to look like if it were to promote the interests of the poor and to provide abundant opportunities for meaningful work.  It would be an economy “which favors productive diversity and business creativity,” whereby large, bureaucratic corporations would be broken up in favor of an economy of small producers.  Here, Francis sees a crucial role for the state in shaping the market:  ...

This is a call for a fundamental redistribution of wealth and power within the economy, but it is important to note that it is far from being the kind of “Communist” position that Francis’s cruder critics allege.  In fact, Francis’s argument is that it is precisely because the exercise of economic freedom is so important for human development that the state has to ensure that this freedom can be enjoyed by all and not just by a plutocratic minority.  Far from being a communist, Francis is an advocate of a form of reconfigured, egalitarian capitalism, where the real benefits of a market economy can be claimed by all citizens. ...

Read more at Pope Francis’ Radical Economic Vision

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