Pope’s “authentic” economics make sense

By Edward Hadas
January 22, 2014

By Edward Hadas

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Pope Francis is a Jesuit, a Catholic order which has traditionally, among other things, served the rich and powerful as teachers and confessors. At its best, a Jesuit education inspires the mighty to serve the lowly. The Pope’s address to the business and political leaders assembled at the World Economic Forum at Davos fits right into that tradition.

He flatters the “innovative” for “improving the lives of many people by their ingenuity and professional expertise.” Then he hits. Davosians, he says, “can further contribute by putting their skills at the service of those who are still living in dire poverty.”

In other words, if you are clever enough, and determined enough, to rise to Davos-level, you should do more to help those who cannot help themselves. It’s hard to disagree.

Almost all the delegates have a surplus of something valuable – money, knowledge or influence. Almost all of them waste that surplus, by the Pope’s standards. Francis thinks they should invest the surpluses in what the bishop of Rome calls “the life of humanity.” If they wanted to they could do much more to promote: “an inclusive approach which takes into consideration the dignity of every person and the common good.”

If the delegates are paying attention, they may feel a bit like a secondary school student after a challenging Jesuit sermon. Under their collective breath, they may also mutter about the demands of reality. High principles are all very well, but executives have profit-hungry shareholders to feed. Rich-county politicians have voters who want jobs and GDP growth to placate. And even though the theme this year at Davos is inequality, it’s tough to do much about the very poor when the global financial system is still so precarious.

It might all seem too much, but Francis offers two quite practical initial goals. People should not have to suffer hunger and refugees should be offered minimally dignified living conditions.

If the great and the good at Davos want to take inequality seriously, they will look hard for what they might like to call synergistic solutions. They could start with a saying of Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits: “Let he who is rich strive to possess his goods, not be possessed by them.”

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