For the past two years, we have been involved in a remarkable initiative by Pope Francis called the Economy of Francesco, an international movement of young economists, entrepreneurs and changemakers committed to a process of inclusive dialogue and global change.
The Francesco here is the Pope’s namesake, St. Francis of Assisi. The idea is to develop a new economy for the 21st century, an economy that responds to the challenges of our time. In the inimitable wisdom of the pope, he entrusted the task to young economists around the world, with elders like us serving as advisers and sounding boards.
Why would young people want and need a new economy? Is the market system not doing very well? Neither from the point of view of the pope, nor from that of the young people of the world. And we agree.
Today’s young people will be there until the end of the 21st century. But what kind of world will they face? Given that climate disasters are already hitting us, how much worse will these disasters be in 2050 or 2070? If we have already faced countless epidemics in the first years of this century – the latest being COVID-19 – how many more will today’s young people face in their lifetime? ? If the combination of technological change, globalization and plutocratic politics fuels inequality and discontent, how will this inequality undermine social stability and democracy in the decades to come? If millions of people are already forced to migrate by drought, violence and hunger, how many more will be uprooted from their homes?
The Catholic Church has important things to say on all these issues – not as technical specialists, but as bearers of a 2,000-year-old moral message that we should treat others as we would like to be treated and loving our neighbors. like ourselves. Unsurprisingly, similar wisdom has cropped up elsewhere in the world. Confucius offered a similar message to the state of Lu, and Chinese civilization for more than two millennia has benefited from Confucian wisdom.
Our economy today is not based on these moral principles. It is based on a very different idea: that if we each pursue our own goals, we can achieve social good. Adam Smith was the founder of this view, which he called the “invisible hand” of market economics. There is some wisdom in this: individual initiative driven by profits can lead to extraordinary innovation and economic growth.
Yet the invisible hand turns out to be a deeply flawed concept, one that leads to complacency in the suffering and inadvertent destruction of the Earth itself. When everyone mostly takes care of themselves, expecting the miracle of the market to fix things, the result turns out to be a staggering level of indifference to the growing array of global calamities. Pope Francis called it the globalization of indifference.
Although the Catholic Church does not specialize in technical economic analysis, it has developed a body of thought, called Catholic social teaching, that offers powerful ethical insights to young people engaged in reshaping the global economy. These teachings draw on the cumulative wisdom of two millennia of reflections on justice, equity, reciprocity and accountability by some of history’s greatest thinkers.
Modern Catholic social teachings have been developed with powerful ideas since the end of the 19th century, when the Church began to struggle against the deep social and economic dislocations caused by industrialization. These teachings identified ethical precepts for economic life and statecraft, centered on the common good and rejecting both stifling collectivism and unfettered free markets. A key principle is the universal destination of goods, which means that the economy should benefit everyone. Contrary to liberal ideology, private property is not an absolute or unconditional right. Helping the poor and protecting the Earth are ethical priorities.
We have observed closely how these ethical principles are applied to the great challenges of our time. In addressing issues such as climate change, economic exclusion, human trafficking or the protection of the Amazon rainforest and its indigenous communities, the church systematically explores the best scientific and ethical knowledge on the issues. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, among other parts of the Holy See, reach out to world-renowned scholars and practitioners from around the world, drawing ideas from people of all faiths and backgrounds. all regions. Technical knowledge is studied and discussed, and above all considered from a moral point of view. The first question to ask is what they mean for the poor, the vulnerable, the young and future generations.
These ideas inform the pope, who shares his ethical reflections with the world in his encyclicals and other communications. They also become the youth’s base in their deliberations on Francesco’s economy.
The last two encyclicals of Pope Francis Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti are powerful examples of this unique process. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis has offered a compelling moral vision for overcoming the climate change crisis. The encyclical was widely read by world leaders in the immediate run-up to the 2015 climate convention which adopted the Paris climate accord. In Fratelli TuttiPope Francis advises all of us, world leaders and citizens everywhere, on how to reach out to cooperate with others across national, religious, racial and ethnic divides.
His message is as clear as it is powerful. As he says, “interdependence forces us to think of a world with a common project”. We must, in short, overcome our indifference, our conflicts and our excessive individualism to work together as one human family bound together for a common purpose.
Part of our work together in the Vatican over the past few years has been to engage with religious leaders from many denominations, philosophers, and technical experts to help find the basis for this common plan. This is also part of the work of the young people of Assisi. The news on this front is good. We see every sign that Pope Francis’ hope for a common plan is within reach. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Confucians, Indigenous leaders and secular philosophers have repeatedly discovered that there are common perspectives on how to proceed for the global common good.
We strongly recommend the great joy of delving into the social teachings of the Church, beginning with the Pope’s recent encyclicals. The young people of Assisi and our own students around the world are in full agreement. It is not so often that we are intensely confronted with the thoughts of Aristotle, Jesus, Thomas Aquinas, Francis of Assisi, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb of Al-Azhar University and Pope Francis.
The social teachings of the Church allow everyone to join in this 2,000 year old conversation. This conversation can be a springboard for a better world. This is the true objective of Francesco’s Economy.