Pope Francis: Without work, human dignity is "wounded"

We’ve heard a lot of cheering recently for policies that lower prospects for employment as an end to so-called “job lock” and “wage slavery.” If it seems odd to root for reduced opportunity in favor of government subsidies, then this message today from Pope Francis will resonate. In an audience for employees of a steel manufacturer, the Pontiff underscored the connection between employment and human dignity, and urged political leaders to generate policies that expand job creation rather than diminish opportunities — and also attacked hoarding of capital, too:

“It is necessary to reaffirm that employment is necessary for society, for families and for individuals”, said the Pope. “Its primary value is the good of the human person, as it allows the individual to be fully realised as such, with his or her attitudes and intellectual, creative and manual capacities. Therefore, it follows that work has not only the economic objective of profit, but above all a purpose that regards man and his dignity. And if there is no work, this dignity is wounded! Indeed, the unemployed and underemployed risk being relegated to the margins of society, becoming victims of social exclusion”.

“What can we say, when faced with the very serious problem of unemployment that affects various European countries?”, he asked. “It is the consequence of an economic system that is no longer able to create work, because it has placed at its centre the idol of money. Therefore, the various political, social and economic actors are called upon to promote a different approach, based on justice and solidarity, to ensure the possibility of dignified work for all. Work is an asset for all, and must be available to all. Phases of serious difficulties and unemployment must be faced with the tools of creativity and solidarity. The creativity of courageous businesspeople and craftspeople, who look to the future with trust and hope. And solidarity between all the elements of society, who all give something up, adopting a more sober lifestyle, to help those in need”.

“This great challenge requires the involvement of the Christian community as a whole”, concluded the Pope. “The first challenge is to revive the roots of faith and of our adhesion to Jesus Christ. This is the inspiring principle in the choices of a Christian: faith. Faith moves mountains! Christian faith is able to enrich society through the concrete element of brotherhood it embodies. … Never cease to hope for a better future. Do not let yourselves be trapped in the vortex of pessimism! If everyone does his part, if we all put the human person and his dignity at the centre, and if we consolidate an attitude of solidarity and fraternal sharing, inspired by the Gospel, we can emerge from the swamp of this difficult and burdensome period of economic turmoil”.

This is a call on several levels for economic subsidiarity — the devolution of capital into broader use, rather than hoarding by a few, including governments that rely on crony capitalism to strangle opportunity. It challenges policymakers to focus on Main Street instead of Wall Street, to use a slogan of our own times here in the US, but emphasizes that human dignity and self-sufficiency are connected with each other.

We should not cheer Wall Street growing fatter on paper while opportunities dry up thanks to government policies. We should look for ways to reform our regulatory and tax regimes to protect consumers but stop favoring the biggest players in the markets. There is plenty of room in here for people of both political parties to find common ground.

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