None of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice (EG 201).
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) April 26, 2014
Inequality is the root of social evil.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) April 28, 2014
In the past, Pope Francis has spoken out against economic systems that reinforce inequality, saying last year that “there was the promise that once the glass had become full it would overflow and the poor would benefit. But what happens is that when it’s full to the brim, the glass magically grows, and thus nothing ever comes out for the poor.” While right-wing American critics have been quick to criticize the pope for his economic remarks, his words appear to resonate with the masses. More than 5,000 people have retweeted the statement within three hours.
Could it be that the Pope is weighing in on the fervor sparked by French economist Thomas Piketty’s current bestseller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century?
It’s unclear. But the tweet’s timing — days after the book sold out on Amazon, where it is currently the best-selling book in the U.S. — could suggest the Pope’s support for Piketty, who posits that an unregulated free market creates an ever-widening wealth gap…
The Pontiff’s warning comes months after he called unfettered capitalism “a new tyranny” and urged global leaders to fight growing income inequality in his first major written work as pope.
He laid out the platform for his papacy in the 84-page document last November, attacking the “idolatry of money” and calling on politicians to guarantee all citizens “dignified work, education and healthcare.”
The Pope can count headline-grabbing French economist Thomas Piketty and the International Monetary Fund as allies in the fight against inequality…
The IMF’s analysis also undermines warnings from free market supporters that policies to redistribute wealth such as progressive taxes on high earners will discourage “wealth creators” and hamper the economy.
“Redistribution appears generally benign in terms of its impact on growth,” the IMF writes. “Thus the combined direct and indirect effects of redistribution—including the growth effects of the resulting lower inequality—are on average pro-growth.”
The growing chorus against inequality, from across the political and economic spectrum, has thrust it into the centre of public debate, as economists, politicians and pontiffs point out how dangerous the staggering rise in inequality is to the economy and how it needs to be solved.
The Latin version of this tweet is even simpler: Iniquitas radix malorum. That phrase has a somewhat different meaning.
Iniquitas can be translated as “inequality,” it’s true. But it also can mean “iniquity” or “injustice,” and in this context either word would make more sense. The same would seem true of the word L’inequita used in the Italian version, which the Pope himself could have written. The Spanish tweet ( desigualdad) admittedly looks more like the English…
However it’s translated, the tweet is an obvious reference to the familiar phrase that “the love of money is the root of all evils.” (Radix malorum est cupiditas) If you assume that the love of money leads to iniquities—and, yes, fosters inequality—then Pope Francis (or his ghost-writer) is making a well-known point in a different way. That’s kinda the purpose of Twitter, isn’t it?
Francis has been saying things a lot like this for years, most recently last autumn. Each time, the voices of largely American conservatives explaining that he has been misunderstood get a little less self-assured. It is – even for a Republican party hack – difficult to mistake what the Pope meant, although one site has already made a heroic attempt by translating the tweet into Latin: it appears to be a denunciation of injustice rather than inequality. But in last autumn’s essay, Evangelii Gaudium, Francis wrote that: “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘Thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills … Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalised: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded.”
The claim that human beings have an intrinsic value in themselves, irrespective of their usefulness to other people, is one that unites Christianity and socialism. It can be even found somewhere in the shadows of Marxism, but there humans gain their value from history, and when they stand in its way, that’s tough for them, as the millions of Stalin’s victims could tell us. But if you think the market is the real world, it makes no sense at all, since in the market, value is simply the outcome of supply and demand…
What he really believes is that riches in themselves are bad for people. That is part of the reason he does not live in the papal apartments. This is not a view shared throughout the Catholic hierarchy. Nor is it really, whole-heartedly, shared by the politicians who will praise his views. I don’t see any party anywhere in the world, except perhaps the Greens, running for election on the basis that they will make the voters poorer but more virtuous.
In just a year, the business has recovered a lot of its self-confidence. The CEO is popular: 85% of American Catholics—a tough audience—approve of him. Footfall in RC Global’s retail outlets is rising again. The salesforce now talks about a “Francis effect”. How has a septuagenarian Argentine succeeded in galvanising one of the world’s stodgiest outfits? Essentially by grasping three management principles.
The first is a classic lesson in core competences. Francis has refocused his organisation on one mission: helping the poor. One of his first decisions was to forsake the papal apartments in favour of a boarding house which he shares with 50 other priests and sundry visitors. He took the name of a saint who is famous for looking after the poor and animals. He washed and kissed the feet of 12 inmates of a juvenile-detention centre. He got rid of the fur-trimmed velvet capes that popes have worn since the Renaissance, swapped Benedict’s red shoes for plain black ones and ignored his fully loaded Mercedes in favour of a battered Ford.
This new focus has allowed the company to spend fewer resources on ancillary businesses, such as engaging in doctrinal disputes or staging elaborate ceremonies. The “poor-first strategy” is also aimed squarely at emerging markets, where the potential for growth is greatest but competition fiercest.
By Barack Obama
Rare is the leader who makes us want to be better people. Pope Francis is such a leader.
His Holiness has moved us with his message of inclusion, especially for the poor, the marginalized and the outcast. But it has been his deeds, his bearing, the gestures at once simple and profound — embracing the sick, ministering to the homeless, washing the feet of young prisoners — that have inspired us all.
Pope Francis reminds us in ways that words alone cannot that no matter our station in life, we are bound by moral obligations to one another. His example challenges us to live out those obligations through work — to alleviate poverty, reduce inequality and promote peace; to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, care for the sick and open new doors of opportunity and visions of possibility for everyone. His message of love and inclusion, his regard for “the least of these,” distills the essence of Jesus’ teachings and is a tonic for a cynical age. May we heed his humble example.