The pope's message represents a reiteration of Catholic Social Teaching, the "best kept secret of the Catholic Church." At its best, those teachings are anti-war, resistant to unfettered capitalism, pro-labor, and generally favorable to social justice.
But are the market restrictions required by such considerations practical? Would the provisions of the NIEO work? Or is the WTO correct in advocating free trade and trickle-down economics as the only practical course? (And is the Christian Right correct in its uncritical support of the WTO approach?)
To answer directly: we know that the NIEO works.
Let me tell you what I learned about that in Brazil and Cuba. Let's begin in Brazil.
Back in 1984 I attended a semester-long seminar on liberation theology. It was taught by Latin American scholars I had been reading for years. Enrique Dussel Sr., the great philosopher of liberation from Argentina played a prominent role in the seminar.
One day in the course of the seminar Dussel made a passing remark He referred to Cuba as "the envy of the 3rd World."
Even at my age (then 44), the phrase came as a shock. In the U.S., of course, we not used to hearing even a single laudatory word about Cuba's revolution or its leader, Fidel Castro.
However, years later, in 1997, when I made the first of my many trips to Cuba, Dussel's remark was confirmed -- by a Cuban who was no friend of the revolution. She observed that before the fall of the Soviet Union, the accompanying loss of 80% of Cuba's trading partners, the cynical intensification of the U.S. embargo, and the subsequent onset of Cuba's "Special Period" of hunger, poverty and emigration, Cubans had "lacked nothing."
That was because the Soviet Union had adopted towards Cuba what amounted to the provisions of the New International Economic Order (NIEO) in its relations to the island nation just 90 miles off our Florida coast. Russia had transferred money and technology to Cuba. It had indexed the prices of its finished commodities to Cuba's sugar.
And it worked. In fact it was the success of the Soviet program that had to be countered by U.S. embargoes, blockades, and trade policies. Otherwise Cuba's success would become apparent to the rest of the Third World and Cuba's "good example" would possibly incite similar revolutions among those former colonies.
In the light of that success story, in the light of the words of Pope Francis, and above all in the light of the example of Zacchaeus, those who would follow Jesus seem called to repudiate Christianity's over-all practical support of free market capitalism and the type of globalization favored by developed nations over the last thirty-five years.
Isn't it ironic that Cuba and Russia, our country's designated enemies for all those years -- communists and atheists at that (!)-- end up demonstrating how to respond to the gospel call to restorative justice?