The pope and bishops cannot provide effective moral and spiritual guidance without getting down to business, which includes very concrete descriptions of the evils that beset modern society. This is most evident in the way Pope Francis gives moral and spiritual advice to us economists on many issues related to the science of allocating scarce resources to meet the competing ends of society, i.e. say the economy. One of the most important issues that we economists must help solve for society is the optimal combination of market forces and the role of the state in achieving genuine integral human development. What should be done to enable countries, particularly among the so-called emerging markets, to achieve sustainable, equitable and inclusive development? One of Pope Francis’ most relevant writings on this overriding issue is in a book titled “This Economy Kills,” which contains the pope’s responses to questions posed by two Italian journalists, Andrea Tornielli and Giacomo Galeazzi.
In a review of Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig’s book The New Republic, the following summary is given: “This economy kills settles an important question in the papacy of Pope Francis: does its radical economy conform to the tradition of the Church? ? And if so, why do they seem to cause such upheaval among American conservatives? For Tornielli and Galeazzi, veteran Vatican journalists, the answer is clear: Pope Francis’ theology is absolutely consistent with predecessors from the Desert Fathers to the most recent popes, and his economy represents the application of a timeless theology to our problems. the most contemporary. Understanding Pope Francis’ approach to modern economic ills will likely be key to understanding his pontificate, but his contributions to the global dialogue on poverty and inequality will be integral to galvanizing people around the world for change…” I liken the critics of the CBCP’s Pastoral Letter titled “The Truth Shall Set You Free” to American Catholic conservatives who have no idea how to weave empirically observable facts about the economy with the immutable theological and philosophical truths about man and society.
The very title of the book should give us the impression that the pope will go no further when he exposes the evils of neoliberal economics which places unlimited faith in the forces of the free market, like the teachings of the Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, who was famous for saying that the only business in business is to make a profit. He and his followers made the very unrealistic assumption that if we have a totally free economy, the problems of poverty will automatically be solved by what they call the “trickle down effects” of market forces. Encourage the rich to accumulate a lot of wealth and you will eradicate poverty through the so-called multiplier effects of business entrepreneurship through the jobs generated and the goods and services produced.
Pope Francis’ critique of the neoliberal theory of the benefits of the market economy already began when he was cardinal bishop of Buenos Aires. In his words quoted in “This Economy Kills”: “Throughout this period there has been financial terrorism proper. And that had its consequences which are not hard to see: more rich, more poor and a drastically reduced middle class. There were other less circumstantial consequences, such as the disaster in the field of education. Right now, in the city of Buenos Aires and its residential suburbs, there are two million young people who neither study nor work. Given the barbaric form taken by the financial globalization of Argentina, the Church of this country has always taken the indications contained in the magisterium as points of reference. These are, for example, the criteria set out in unequivocal terms in John Paul II’s address, Ecclesia in America. Already the Cardinal did not hesitate to use damning words like “financial terrorism” and “barbaric form” of the market economy forced down the throats of developing countries by international financial organizations like the IMF.
Cardinal Bergoglio could have stuck to motherly statements embodying the social principles of the Church such as “as much free market as possible and as much state intervention as necessary”, dwelling on the interaction between the principle of subsidiarity and the principle of solidarity. But no, he couldn’t resist describing the state of affairs on the ground and had to take a stand on how the Argentine government was swallowing the free market ideology of the IMF. This is another example of the teaching authority of the Church descending to empirically clear examples of wrong policies in the same way that the Filipino bishops could not just remind us of the duty to speak the truth, but had to give concrete examples lies and half-truths. be perpetrated by one presidential candidate or another, such as the false claim that the years of martial law were the golden age of economic development in the Philippines. In fact, the bishops were being diplomatic when they used an expression such as “historical revisionism”. Taking up the frank language of Pope Francis, who does not hesitate to use expressions such as “the economy kills”, “financial terrorism” and “barbaric globalization”, the bishops could have been more direct and qualified all these distortions of historical facts of “period of shameless lies.”
As Supreme Pontiff, Pope Francis, using his teaching authority, has relentlessly criticized neoliberal economics, not only at the level of spiritual and moral guidance, but using observable data and events drawn from social science. The interplay between theory and practice is very evident in the following words he addressed to several new non-resident ambassadors to the Holy See on May 16, 2013: “We have created new idols. The cult of the golden calf of yore…has found a new and cruel image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of a faceless economy devoid of any truly human purpose. The global financial and economic crisis (the Great Recession from 2008 to 2012) seems to highlight their distortions and above all the seriously deficient human perspective, which reduces man to one of his only needs, namely consumption. Worse still, human beings themselves are now seen as consumer goods that can be used and thrown away. We have launched a throwaway culture. This trend is seen at the level of individuals and entire societies: and it is promoted.
One of Pope Francis’ strongest condemnations of neoliberal capitalism is found in his Apostolic Exhortation titled “The Joy of the Gospel”: “As the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of life, today we must also say “you will not do” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How is it that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies following an exposure, but a news story when the Stock Exchange loses two points? It is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to sit idly by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything depends on the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed on the weak. As a result, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without opportunities, without means of escape. These observations are not mere speculations but are supported by the most solid data provided by economists around the world on the incidences of poverty, hunger, unemployment, underemployment, etc.
Pope Francis does not care less that politicians, businessmen and other members of the far right accuse him of being a “communist”. There are practitioners in my profession who accuse him of intervening in ongoing debates among economists about the pros and cons of a free market economy. They claim he sides with supporters of greater state intervention. These criticisms do not prevent him from speaking the truth and the whole truth, theological, philosophical and empirical. At this third level, there is nothing, he says, that cannot be backed up by the abundant data and information available from the most prestigious think tanks and research centers around the world.
Likewise, as the Filipino Bishops wrote in their February 25, 2022 Pastoral Letter, “We did not invent the historic event that occurred at EDSA… Many of us witnessed the injustice and cruelty of martial law. And so far, the human rights abuses, casualties, corruption, severe debt and economic downturn of the country due to the dictatorship are well documented. Again, we didn’t invent them. All of this is written in our history… We are alarmed by the distortion of the truth of history and the false narratives. It is dangerous, because it poisons our collective conscience and destroys the moral foundations of our institutions. It is crystal clear that in issuing this Pastoral Letter, the Bishops have continued more than a century of traditional Church teachings on the economic, political and social structures of society. They would have failed in their duty to give us faithful Catholic moral and spiritual advice if they had not written this letter.
For comments, my email address is [email protected].
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