Evangelii Gaudium: We Must Say No To An Economy That Kills

Pope Francis recently published the first articulation of his moral and spiritual vision in an Apostolic Exhortation entitled Evangelii Gaudium ("The Joy of the Gospel").

In Chapter Two, Part 1 of the exhortation Francis turns to discuss "Some Challenges of Today's World." Of note Francis speaks to the rise of "new and often anonymous kinds of power":
In our time humanity is experiencing a turning-point in its history, as we can see from the advances being made in so many fields. We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications. At the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences. A number of diseases are spreading. The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even in the so-called rich countries. The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident. It is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity. This epochal change has been set in motion by the enormous qualitative, quantitative, rapid and cumulative advances occurring in the sciences and in technology, and by their instant application in different areas of nature and of life. We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power.
When Francis speaks of "anonymous forms of power" he's largely pointing to the forces at work in market-driven economies. This is clear as Francis proceeds to direct a prophetic "No!" at a series of targets:
No to an economy of exclusion
No to the new idolatry of money
No to a financial system which rules rather than serves
No to the inequality which spawns violence
The text, verbatim, from Sections 53-60 of Evangelii Gaudium (emphases in text are mine for those wanting to skim):

Evangelii Gaudium
Chapter 2, Part 1, Sections 53-60
No to an economy of exclusion

53. 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. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. 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 marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” 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”.

54. In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.
No to the new idolatry of money

55. One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.

56. While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.

No to a financial system which rules rather than serves

57. Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside the categories of the marketplace. When these latter are absolutized, God can only be seen as uncontrollable, unmanageable, even dangerous, since he calls human beings to their full realization and to freedom from all forms of enslavement. Ethics – a non-ideological ethics – would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs”.

58. A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders. I urge them to face this challenge with determination and an eye to the future, while not ignoring, of course, the specifics of each case. Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.
No to the inequality which spawns violence

59. Today in many places we hear a call for greater security. But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. When a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programmes or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility. This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root. Just as goodness tends to spread, the toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear. If every action has its consequences, an evil embedded in the structures of a society has a constant potential for disintegration and death. It is evil crystallized in unjust social structures, which cannot be the basis of hope for a better future. We are far from the so-called “end of history”, since the conditions for a sustainable and peaceful development have not yet been adequately articulated and realized.

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. It 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.

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47 thoughts on “Evangelii Gaudium: We Must Say No To An Economy That Kills”

  1. Richard, are there no poor who are at fault for their condition? In realizing that Jesus left the 99 to go get the one, I assume that He brought the one back into the fold. It's kinda like the whole "teach a person to fish" thing. Am I responsible for give people a fish or teaching them to fish, or both. It all becomes so overwhelming that we give up.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Richard. I am not Catholic, but I am increasingly impressed with the words and deeds of Pope Francis.

  3. Are there no poor who are at fault for their condition?

    Lots of things to say about that question.

    First, why did you focus on the poor? Could you not have asked: Are there not any rich who are wealthy because of their vices? Thus, should not that wealth be taken away from them?

    In short, why are we focusing on the vices of the poor and not the rich?

    This goes to Francis's point about the sacralization of the markets. The market is god. Success or failure in the market is how we sort the good people from the bad people, with the good being wealthy and the bad being the poor. That's why we instinctively go looking for vice among the poor and not the rich.

    Second, blame and fault is no easy or clean thing to disentangle. Both privilege and poverty cast long, long generational shadows. To give any one of us full praise or blame misses the vast matrix of contingencies that make us who we are, good or ill. I have a favorite quote from Kant that I meditate on a great deal:

    "And how many there are who may have led a long blameless life, who are only fortunate in having escaped so many temptations."

    In short, the market can never--like God can--sort the wheat from the chaff. Virtue and fortune are so intertwined that we will never--using an eyeball test--know how to assign praise or fault.

  4. Thanks and the reason I asked is because I hoped you'd have the answer. You did. My biggest struggle is that in making the poor wealthy, don't we put them in the same position that I am in.

  5. Something that interests me in these discussions are the implicit anthropologies behind praise and blame, not just in market economies but in all sorts of situations.

    Conserviatives tend to work with free will, arguing that, no matter your social, economic, demographic, educational, familial or biological situation, virtue is simply a matter of "choice." Thus, if you make a bad choice you are 100% to blame.

    Liberals, by contrast, tend to focus on environmental causes, seeing human agents as embedded in a causal matrix. This vision can get so extreme that human agency can vanish under the pressures of an environmental determinism.

    Both visions have their favored stories and exemplars to make their points and the media is good at trotting those out to push everyone's buttons, but they are simplifications which misrepresent something so complex that the forces at work can't be easily disentangled. Which is to say, we simply can't moralize success in the markets.

    And if we strip moralization from the markets, if we de-sacralize the markets, then all you are left with is differential suffering. Suffering is the only thing revealed by the markets. And Christians, given their faith commitments, will always stand with those who are suffering.

  6. Is there a parallel between the poor being seen as 'at fault' for their condition, and sinners being blamed for their condition? If so, I'd expect that from God's perspective He doesn't respond any differently whether we're at fault for our own circumstances or not, be it poverty or sin. I imagine He still wants us to desire to be like Him and response with compassion both to ourselves and to others, either way, rather than try to judge who's worthy of help.

  7. Francis is sounding a little like ole Wendell, another contrarian. He also sounds like another European-descended South American: Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef, who critiques neoliberal development with human scale development that focuses on satisfying human needs (subsistence, affection, protection, participation, creation, identity, and freedom), generating self-reliance, and constructing organic relations of people with nature and technology, global
    processes with local activity, the personal with the social, and planning with autonomy.

    On a related note, this comments above remind me of Michael Harcourt’s The Illusion of Free Markets, which explores the connection between free market ideology and the belief in the necessity of punishment for the natural order. Harcourt traces the genealogy of the economic
    assumption that the natural order is a self-sustaining market that doesn’t need external intervention; manmade laws can only disrupt these natural laws, so the former should focus on one area only: “to criminalize and severely punish those men who did not recognize and abide by the natural order.” He argues that, by making markets and their outcomes seem natural, neoliberalism easily changes economic exchanges to maximize profit, increasing social inequity which then heightens punitive repression to maintain the assumed natural order: “The logic
    of neoliberal penality has made possible our contemporary punishment practices by fueling the belief that the legitimate and competent space for government intervention is the penal sphere. The logic of neoliberal penality has facilitated our punishment practices by weakening any resistance to government initiatives in the penal domain because that is where the state may legitimately, competently, and effectively govern.”

  8. This response deserves its own post! The perfect turn on a question i hear a lot.

  9. First, why did you focus on the poor? Could you not have asked: Are there not any rich who are wealthy because of their vices? Thus, should not that wealth be taken away from them?

    In short, why are we focusing on the vices of the poor and not the rich?

    This is offensively stupid. One can both believe that 1. success at the top in a modern market economy is not an indication of moral worthiness, and 2. failure to provide basic necessities for you and your family in a modern market economy is a moral failing. I'm not saying we should adopt 2, but it is perfectly possible to hold 2 without agreeing with 1. Sometimes it is important not to oversimplify what success in a market economy means.

    Second, there seems to be an elision here from soaking the rich (causality missing here) to helping the poor. Now again, I'm not saying we shouldn't soak the rich, but I am really doubtful that this will somehow help the poor.

  10. Conserviatives tend to work with free will, arguing that, no matter your social, economic, demographic, educational, familial or biological situation, virtue is simply a matter of "choice." Thus, if you make a bad choice you are 100% to blame.

    Conservative or libertarian or the Anglosphere's marriage-of-convenience fusionism of the two? Since I know you know that work of Jonathan Haidt, you should know there are three political tendencies, not two.

    Very sloppy. You are not on a roll today.

  11. I am not even sure if there is any evidence for any of what you say in your comment.

  12. Thursday1, your consistent attempts to shoehorn everything into Haidt's typology is both tedious and often wrongheaded. Congrats on reading Haidt, but you need to start thinking for yourself. Haidt's work is about normative judgments. My observations here have to do with anthropological assumptions, about volition in particular.

    Listen, you are very well read. But you are, like me, offensively stupid as well.

  13. Should our judgement as to whether lack of material needs is a moral failing or not impact the way a Christian responds to such need?

  14. Both privilege and poverty cast long, long generational shadows.

    Well, that may be true for the people at the top, but have you read the heritability studies on IQ and conscientiousness? Given current First World conditions, those seem to be the major factors in whether you will be poor, and what you end up for IQ and conscientiousness seems to be mostly genetic, plus a lot of random physiological development. For example, the SES of your adopted family doesn't seem to make much difference to your future prospects in life, but the genes you get from your family have a huge impact. The generational aspect of poverty in the First World comes largely through your genes.

    Now, it may be that low IQ, low conscientiousness people would be better off in the thick social web of a traditional societies than in modern anonymous environments. I am really sympathetic to that view. However, 1. the welfare state is not a substitute for those thick social webs, and 2. in addition to cooperation and mutual aid, traditional societies use liberal doses of shame and purity talk to keep people from free riding. Those aren't optional. Furthermore, to get the benefits of a traditional society, we would have to transform everything, probably including a drastic decrease in material wealth for everyone, not just adding or expanding government programs.

  15. Richard:

    1. Are there only the two types?
    2. What evidence do you have that your generalizations are anything more than wild speculation?

  16. No, not per se. What I do think though is that we have to be careful about is encouraging more of the behaviour that led to poverty. However, that does mean that recognizing that most poverty in the First World is not the result of exploitation and oppression.

  17. No wonder Sarah Palin said the Pope was "too liberal." The politics today that supersede the teachings of Jesus blames the poor and promotes insulation from the daily struggles of the common people. Pope Francis appears to me to be turning the fundamentalists' religious values upside down. And they don't it! If I were the Pope, I'd double check the medicine I take at bedtime.

  18. Rhetorical questions, OK, I'll bite.

    1. There are more than two types. The division into liberal and conservative is itself stupid, and it reflects extremely poorly on you to use it without extreme qualification.
    2. No, you have no experimental evidence for your assertions. You're just pulling them out of your ass.

  19. Thanks for your response here. In my experience I've never yet heard these folks talk about welfare for the rich (which involves far greater sums of money), which corporations and large farming operations have become "dependent" upon year after year, and which has make them wealthier. The trend is to blame the people below us for all our ills in society. Been this way for a long time.

  20. Pope Francis is the most engaging and inspiring Catholic leader of my lifetime. Truly challenging me with Gospel. In this season of advent may we all remember that to prepare for the coming of the King is to live as an agent of justice to the orphan, widow, poor, immigrant, vulnerable. Prepare for His coming.

  21. One other point about this "blame the people below us" mentality: I never hear or see them remind us that the N.T. text tells the wealthy to "share their wealth" twice (1 Timothy 6: 18 and Ephesians 4:28). This is background reason for the Pope's remarks.

  22. I'm fairly certain that the one thing we DON'T need to worry about is making too many people wealthy.

    My working theory is that the wealthy and large corporations are going to be okay, no matter what. They've got high-priced lobbyists and lawyers and tax wizards and advertising and stocks and power and access. They do not need any additional assistance from me in advocating for their own self-interest.

    The poor however - whether it is the people in rural Ethiopia who see 13% of their children die before age 5 or the people in the U.S. on SNAP who are seeing their benefits cut - can always use more people in their corner. My experience of community organizing was that you have to be very smart and work very hard for a long time to win ANY concessions for the poor and working class, because the system is skewed heavily in favor of the rich. Any discussions of "personal responsibility" are best had in the context of personal relationships, not economic policy.

    And I'm totally in favor of the "teaching a man (or woman) to fish" concept, but I think it's also important to ask who owns the pond, and if their toxic waste poisoned the fish.

  23. Now, now. Don't be lazy and take your medicine. Do your research.

    BTW, I like it when you start dropping profanity. Lets me know your educated veneer is starting to slip off your pseudonymous persona.

  24. I have been a public education teacher for 24 years. One of the first things that I realized is that the bottom 10% and the top 10% get all the resources. They are also the ones that have made it the hardest to do my job. I also realized fairly quickly that it was no fault of their own. They are mostly products of their environments. Both however, have a sense of entitlement. Funny how it works that way. Its the kids in the middle who get cheated/ignored for the most part. I wonder if this is how society is supposed to work things out?

  25. You might want to think of theologians here. Whose puts more emphasis on free will, Greg Boyd, Roger Olson and Scot McKnight, or John Piper and R.C. Sproul? Then compare their politics.

    At the very least a significant exception.

  26. Perhaps Conservatives are those that assume they are seeing the fruit of their choices. I am a conservative in flux, who doesn't necessarily believe in free will. I know I had nothing to do with where, when, and to whom I was born. I am very fortunate. I also realize that there are those who have gotten the crap kicked out of them. Life sucks. We say that God has blessed us when we have plenty. The yin to that yang is that God has not blessed those who don't. If we reverse this we are left with the same dilemma. It rains on the just and the unjust. If my only reason for having(assuming that I have of no credit to myself) is so that I can give to those who don't, then I haven't learned what I need to. I'll continue to search! Thanks for sharing your journey.

  27. Religiosity, independent of political orientation with all the problems involved with crude measurement of that noted, appears to be the crucial variable related to belief in free will.

  28. Hey, Thursday1, listen, I apologize for being snarky. The "offensively stupid" remark bothered me. But I can be offensively stupid.

    You are very smart and very well read. We both share an interest in the social sciences. So, I'm happy you are here. And apologies for my tone.

  29. On many issues Catholics have been allies with conservative evangelicals. But Catholic social thought--particularly on issues related to the poor--is way more radical than what many evangelicals have supposed.

    What Francis is saying is nothing new for the Catholic church. For example (H/T Andrew Sullivan for this quote), here is John Paul II after the fall of communism in the Reagan era:

    "The Marxist solution has failed, but the realities of marginalization and exploitation remain in the world, especially the Third World, as does the reality of human alienation, especially in the more advanced countries. Against these phenomena the Church strongly raises her voice. Vast multitudes are still living in conditions of great material and moral poverty. The collapse of the Communist system in so many countries certainly removes an obstacle to facing these problems in an appropriate and realistic way, but it is not enough to bring about their solution.

    Indeed, there is a risk that a radical capitalistic ideology could spread which refuses even to consider these problems, in the a priori belief that any attempt to solve them is doomed to failure and which blindly entrusts their solution to the free development of market forces."

  30. I should be magnanimous and acknowledge that there are correlations between belief in free will and political orientation, though, as I note, the crucial factor behind belief in free will seems to be religiosity, not political orientation.

  31. And I should confess that my focus on "free will" isn't very precise. I was trying to describe the differences between conservatives and liberals in how they make dispositional vs. situational attributions for things like poverty. Dispositional attributions (like personal virtue or vice) isn't the same as "free will." Though I would argue that free will undergirds those dispositional attributions (free will is what gives the agent "power" to overcome situational forces and make the agent "blameworthy" in the face of those forces) but there is much less literature on that link (free will) than what I was trying to describe (dispositional attributions).

  32. Thursday1, I hope you saw my apology and own admissions above.

    We need to figure out how to be friends. We just wasted an afternoon on this.

  33. This letter of Pope Francis, even if too long, is well worth reading. This section is probably not the best, it feels a bit too populist for me. For example, I don't think that free market ideology poses any danger. The world was duped just five years ago and nobody has forgotten. Also it is not realistic that politicians will suddenly come up with a more fair system to generate prosperity for everybody. More likely there will be more regulations to "fix" the system until one has started with total freedom and ended up with total slavery.

  34. Richard--just love you so much and your heart. ANd I LOVE knowing the real you. The real you is even deeper than what is written here. Trust me, friends, the Beck family lives this out. It is not blog banter. It's life. He wouldn't tell you that, but I can. And I know from seeing it in action. Fantastic post, bro.

  35. I'm very inspired by Francis and I am interested to see how all this works out in the Vatican/Vatican city considering the wealth they have.

  36. Thanks Brandon, you're very kind. BTW, the music last Sunday was amazing. Of course, Jana was in the chorus.... :-) But seriously, that O Holy Night trio was something.

  37. I think the public reaction to this letter shows that it was necessary. Rush Limbaugh calling the Pope a Marxist? A significant number of commentators lining up to denounce the Pope? I find this all enormously clarifying, and important for that reason. They clearly feel threatened by what he has said...the notion that we shouldn't idolize money has made the idolaters of money go ballistic, and a lot of them have very clearly outed themselves.

  38. Yes! Christians basically all agree on prevenient grace. God acts first. While we are undeserving, God gives us good things. The theological fights between Arminians, Calvinists and Catholics largely boil down to, "Who has the best understanding of prevenient grace?" As it turns out, prevenient grace also works as social policy. When you just give money to the poor, they use it well. When you treat prisoners as humans instead of trying to punish them, recidivism is lower. Somehow, people who think of themselves as 'conservative Christians' have bought into the idea that prevenient grace is all wrong. Well, that's just not Christianity.

  39. Indeed. And yet, even if the 'poor' didn't use charity 'well', I think God would still give charity to them, even though it offends us, the elder brother and those who worked all day in the vineyard etc.

  40. Do you then affirm, as you seem to imply, that "standing with those who are suffering" is a civic virtue expressible only by gross redistributionism? Or is it possible to "stand with those who are suffering" by attacking the the empirically identifiable and describable conditions that systemically lead to that suffering?

    The ecumenical crowd over at the Acton Institute, founded and led by Catholic Robert Sirico, think the latter is, in fact, possible; they devote a goodly portion of their effort and resources to the enumeration and exposition of those cultural, social, and political conditions...and to solutions that are empirically testable. It would appear that you do not, precisely because you implicitly, repeatedly - and I mean, REPEATEDLY - conflate "standing with those who are suffering" with the inclinations of political progressivism. As here.

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