By P.V. Durga:
In a speech that started out as an apology for the crimes of the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America during the colonial era, Pope Francis went on to criticize capitalism as “new colonialism” on 9th July. He described capitalism as something that has, not only consistently, been detrimental to the poor but also severely damaged the environment. The Pope voiced these thoughts in Bolivia, where he was at the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements, after his appearance in Ecuador. The speech was delivered in front of a 2,000 member audience that comprised of farmers, trash workers, neighborhood activists and social workers. He censured capitalism as one that has failed to create “fairness, equity and dignified livelihood” for the poor.
Earlier, Pope Francis wrote his first papal encyclical, a document seeking to draw attention to the grave environmental crisis that the world is facing. His leftist leanings were apparent in the document in which he stated that it is the poor who bear the brunt of environmental degradation. Further, he also argued about concerns for the earth as moral and spiritual, rather than just social, economic or political.
These views are food for thought, because the pope is questioning the morality of economic systems rather than their technicalities. Moral ramifications do not find representation in economics, and this viewpoint might help us dig deeper into such issues. It seems like his ideas are gathering strength, because popular secular activist Naomi Kein, who is also strongly against capitalism joined the Pope to fight climate change. This nexus between morality and diplomacy to impact the masses is also well timed, because the whole dynamics of capitalism and corporate culture are being revisited in various countries today. This approach of the papacy seems to have stood it in good stead, considering that Pope Francis is accredited with a major role in the breakthrough in the Cuba- USA relationship.
However, sweeping condemnation always comes hand in hand with anticipation of an alternative. While the Pope has presented solutions in his encyclical on environment, he has not suggested any alternative economic measures. Additionally, Pope Francis’ ideas have been criticized for their weak foundations. He seems to have assumed that economics runs along the ideas of abundance, by endlessly exploiting nature with the aim of achieving limitless growth. In reality, the subject matter functions on acknowledging and managing scarcity.
Given the intensity of the Pope’s leftist critique of capitalism and the fact that he did not provide any alternate measures, the solutions that come up might advocate radically opposite methods to correct the situation. This places the rich and poor at opposite ends of the issue, while ignoring the woes of the middle class, which is also gravely affected by capitalism. The Pope himself admitted to the “error” of ignoring the middle class.
It is well known that Pope Francis has been actively involved in a plethora of issues, changing his approach to leading the Church. This proves that the moral concerns raised by religion indeed has appeal, and adds to developing wholesome perspectives and solutions. One can only hope that the change does not stop with mere questioning.