In Evangelii Gaudium the Pope said trickle-down economics has led to a widening rich-poor gap and a ‘globalisation of indifference’. Two UK academics say he's spot on.
Dr Anna Rowlands and Dr Mark Hayes, The Tablet
Francis’s document repeats precisely the emphasis on capitalism that has been the hallmark of 120 years of Catholic social teaching on economics. This body of work collectively represents over a century of reflection on the question: how do you shape an economy more genuinely in the service of humankind? Key to this tradition is teaching advocating the just distribution of the earths resources, just prices and living wages, caution about usury, a structural priority of labour over capital, a duty to contribute to public taxation and a social view of the purpose of private property.
Evangelii Gaudium does not so much change or depart from Catholic social teaching as intensify its critique of capitalism and bring to bear upon it Francis’ unique hermeneutic. Francis’ rejection of 'trickle-down' economics as 'naïve' is as withering as the parable of Dives and Lazarus. He identifies as an ideology as false as Marxism – even an idolatry – the view that genuine human freedom requires the absolute autonomy of markets, notably financial markets, from ethical and social policy.
He is careful to distinguish enterprise, a noble vocation when understood as a form of service, from the speculation at the heart of today’s financial system. He questions the fitness for purpose of an economic model in which there is no room for the slow, the weak or the less talented, except as objects of increasingly grudging welfare.
Francis understands power and that it is no accident that society, business, government and Church are as they are. Those covetous of power or pleasure will always find a just and peaceful society insipid. Market liberalisation has created an economy of exclusion 'where the powerful feed upon the powerless.' Francis asks for nothing less than a liberation of the spirit in which humility and tenderness are understood 'not as virtues of the weak but of the strong, who need not treat others poorly in order to feel important themselves.'
His call for a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach coincides with the sorry spectacle of the crisis at the Co-operative Bank. Things are not always what they seem and all human institutions are vulnerable. Yet the luminous plain-language message of joy here is that the power of Christ’s resurrection is irresistible. This is not an academic writing to construct a nuanced case, this is a spiritual leader who wants to help us see what our economic system by and large tries to hide, and to help us take responsibility for our place within it.