In plain yet powerful language, Pope Francis is
challenging the givens of our deeply unequal world -- and helping
inspire resistance to it.
Sometimes you don't have to say anything "new" to make news. Consider, for instance, the "apostolic exhortation" the Vatican released last Tuesday.
This statement from Pope Francis, observers note, didn't really break any bold new theological ground. But the Pope's exhortation, the first all his own since he stepped onto the world stage last March, still made front pages the world over -- and fully merited all that attention.
What makes this new papal statement so significant? No global religious figure has likely ever before denounced economic inequality with as wide-ranging -- and as accessible -- an assault.
Commentators are already tracing the roots of the new exhortation, formally titled Evangelii Gaudium, or The Joy of the Gospel, in the Catholic religious tradition. But the statement also seems to draw inspiration from the world's most insightful research into inequality's economic, social, and political impact.
And just what insights can we take from what Pope Francis has to say about inequality? These five jump out most dramatically.
Inequality has no redeeming social value.
Our most clever apologists for maldistributions of income and wealth no longer argue that the richest among us have more brains -- or get-up-and-go -- than the rest of us. They argue instead that we need grand fortunes.
Grand private concentrations of wealth, the argument goes, serve as an incentive for the rest of us -- and supply the investments that keep economies thriving.
Pope Francis, in clear language that demonstrates his command of the vernacular, blows away these claims.
"Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world," Pope Francis writes.
This rich-people friendly take on the world, he points out, "has never been confirmed by the facts."
Markets demand our critical attention.
The market "fundamentalists" now driving public policy decisions all around the world are constantly warning us not to interfere in the marketplace. Any serious attempt to undo the inequality that markets engender, they insist, risks upsetting the natural order that markets in their inherent wisdom create.
But all markets in real life run by rules, and these rules reflect the economic power of those who set them, not any deeper wisdom or divine providence.