This is the eighth installment about Pope Francis’s encyclical, released last month, Evangelii Gaudium. This section is entitled “No to a financial system which rules rather than serves.”
57. Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside the categories of the marketplace. When these latter are absolutized, God can only be seen as uncontrollable, unmanageable, even dangerous, since he calls human beings to their full realization and to freedom from all forms of enslavement. Ethics – a non-ideological ethics – would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs”.
The folks at MSS Research, based in Pondicherry, India, write poetically about economics. Their paper, “Indicators of Economic Progress: The Power of Measurement and Human Welfare” directly addresses the issues raised by Francis. This is what they have to say about GDP, or Gross Domestic Product, on of the most important economic indicators:
“GDP is simply a measure of the total of finished goods and services produced in the monetized segment of the economy valued on the basis of cost, regardless of its relative importance or benefit to human well-being, and without making any distinction between productive and destructive, essential and trivial, sustainable and unsustainable activities. Thus, earthquakes, hurricanes, rising crime and divorce rates, increasing levels and costs of litigation, proliferation of hand guns, increasing incidence of epidemic diseases, increasing consumption of sedatives and saturated fats, subprime mortgages and unsustainable credit card debt, chemical pollution, depletion of non-renewable resources, military spending and all-out war are indistinguishable by this measure from rising levels of employment, education, public health and safety, cleaner air and water, better housing and nutrition and retirement security. GDP is simply a gross measure of total output, market activity, money changing hands.”
I you are interested in the relationship between a healthy economy and the well-being of the people its purports to serve, this article is a must-read, especially their explanations of alternative indicators that account for the human and environmental costs of growth.
58. A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders. I urge them to face this challenge with determination and an eye to the future, while not ignoring, of course, the specifics of each case. Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.
I suspect that here the Pope is indirectly addressing the common accusation that any criticism of the current economic system, especially if it addresses inequality between the rich and the poor, is engaging in class warfare. He might also be thinking of Dom Hélder Câmara, Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Brazil (1964-1985), who wrote: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” (thanks to WordPorn for the Oscar Wilde quote!)