"52. In our time humanity is experiencing a turning-point in its history, as we can see from the advances being made in so many fields. We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people's welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications. At the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences. A number of diseases are spreading. The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even in the so-called rich countries. The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident. It is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity. This epochal change has been set in motion by the enormous qualitative, quantitative, rapid and cumulative advances occurring in the sciences and in technology, and by their instant application in different areas of nature and of life. We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power."
So far, this is pretty standard stuff, maybe equivalent to a "papal rant." But Francis goes on to more stridently argue "No to an economy of exclusion," arguing that there should be a new commandment "'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills."
Better yet, from the point of view of an atheist like me who looks for rational solutions to defined problems, he is impatient with certain popular, but failed, economic theorems.
"54. In this context, 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. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting."
Did the Pope just repudiate the trickle-down free market ? It sure seems that way. This is sure to not sit well with the typical elite V.I.P.s that normally fill a Pope's daily itinerary!
Furthermore, he is saying that merely trusting in the goodness of others is naive and unworkable as an economic plan. There are specific remedies to be applied, not just spiritual awakening. This is quite refreshing coming from a spiritual leader!
He goes on to say "No to the new idolatry of money," though one can be forgiven for thinking it's all very well for one of the -- potentially -- wealthiest men in the world to say stop worshiping money, or that "Money must serve, not rule!" But what we want to know what is he proposing to do about it, beyond preaching "A financial reform open to such ethical considerations?"
Well, he squarely says that violence comes from inequality and social injustice, "at its root," not just from a failure of character (or faith). And the pope has his cross hairs aimed at the hyper-security state too:
59. Today in many places we hear a call for greater security. But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples is reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. When a society -- whether local, national or global -- is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programmes or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility. This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root. Just as goodness tends to spread, the toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear. If every action has its consequences, an evil embedded in the structures of a society has a constant potential for disintegration and death. It is evil crystallized in unjust social structures, which cannot be the basis of hope for a better future."
So, the pope is saying that lack of opportunity and gross inequality creates violent reaction, not jealousy.
I wish he had said something about the lack of faith in one's fellow man. Evil does not just happen; it is driven by fear and distrust. This is a lack of faith in the inherent goodness of people. And it is inherent too. Only a small minority of people, including the oligarchs, disrupts or pathologizes the conditions for the rest of us. The small number of oligarchs taking the wealth through rent-seeking and monopolization is comparable to the number of hard core terrorists, but only one group gets the attention it deserves, or perhaps too much attention, given how the 1% elite create conditions for terrorism to breed.
The pope seems to be calling for an end, or at least curtailment, of the "war on terror" and says it is ultimately futile:
Inequality eventually engenders a violence which recourse to arms cannot and never will be able to resolve. This serves only to offer false hopes to those clamouring for heightened security, even though nowadays we know that weapons and violence, rather than providing solutions, create new and more serious conflicts.