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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 11/26/13

The Pope's Economic Plan

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The pope goes on to criticize today's consumerism-- this, at a time when economists are stuck in the mode of growth at all costs to achieve happiness, instead of asking what it is that makes us happy to begin with, beyond just having more "stuff."  

As Francis reminds us:

Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a "disposable" culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society's underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised -- they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the "exploited" but the outcast, the "leftovers"."

This is pretty radical stuff, even the talk of revolutionaries.   This is also new, as the pope says.   He is telling us that we have actually discarded a whole class of human beings, not merely exploited them.   Is he calling for an uprising, even a peaceful one?

60. Today's economic mechanisms promote inordinate consumption, yet it is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric.

 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. Some simply content themselves with blaming the poor and the poorer countries themselves for their troubles; indulging in unwarranted generalizations, they claim that the solution is an "education" that would tranquilize them, making them tame and harmless. All this becomes even more exasperating for the marginalized in the light of the widespread and deeply rooted corruption found in many countries -- in their governments, businesses and institutions -- whatever the political ideology of their leaders."

The quotes around "education" are his.   He is obviously skeptical of today's schooling, and its usefulness later on.

Unfortunately, the pope does not quite follow through with a true understanding of how the Haves take from the Have-Nots, if not by force, than as economic hitmen, making loans with impossible payment requirements, and then seizing collateral, even whole countries.   He once again pleads for redistribution:

With due respect for the autonomy and culture of every nation, we must never forget that the planet belongs to all mankind and is meant for all mankind; the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity.

...instead of for just compensation for the use of resources.   Africa, for example, is resource rich, yet its people are among the poorest.   Clearly, they are not being compensated for their natural wealth.   It is not that their resources are not worth more, without some of them, our modern electronic age could not exist.   But those who ought to pay, would rather take the resources by guile or by force.   To pay more is not charity, it is justice.   For example, a tax on the use/abuse of resources, including location in dense urban areas, would encourage sustainable development while collecting enough money to feed and house all the poor.   For that matter, it would force empty warehoused buildings into becoming homes for the poor, or at the very least, make it possible for government to provide a small stipend to make that happen.   Right now, most government housing programs are notoriously more expensive than they ought to be, and the dangerous shelter system is no moral solution.

Francis does recognize that:

202. The need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed, not only for the pragmatic reason of its urgency for the good order of society, but because society needs to be cured of a sickness which is weakening and frustrating it, and which can only lead to new crises. Welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses. As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, [173] no solution will be found for the world's problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.

Again, he is rejecting a "market" solution.  

We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality. I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism, but the economy can no longer turn to remedies that are a new poison, such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the excluded."

Francis defines an economy thusly:

206. Economy, as the very word indicates, should be the art of achieving a fitting management of our common home, which is the world as a whole. Each meaningful economic decision made in one part of the world has repercussions everywhere else; consequently, no government can act without regard for shared responsibility. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find local solutions for enormous global problems which overwhelm local politics with difficulties to resolve. If we really want to achieve a healthy world economy, what is needed at this juncture of history is a more efficient way of interacting which, with due regard for the sovereignty of each nation, ensures the economic well-being of all countries, not just of a few."

As Francis says: "No to a financial system which rules rather than serves ."  

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Scott Baker is a Managing Editor & The Economics Editor at Opednews, and a blogger for Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and Global Economic Intersection.

His anthology of updated Opednews articles "America is Not Broke" was published by Tayen Lane Publishing (March, 2015) and may be found here:
http://www.americaisnotbroke.net/

Scott is a former President of Common Ground-NYC (http://commongroundnyc.org/), a Geoist/Georgist activist group. He has written dozens of articles for (more...)
 

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