July 2014, the pope receives around sixty economic personalities at the villa Pia, in the Vatican gardens. Around the table, some big names in the world economy: Pascal Lamy, Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, Angel Gurria, Secretary General of the OECD , or even Peter Brabeck, boss of Nestlé.
In a long tirade, of which he alone has the secret, Pope Francis sets out his vision of the market economy. As a parabola: “Like wine, which is a bouquet of flavors, colors and smells, humanity is many things. She is passionate, curious, rational, altruistic, creative, and interested. The market is like grappa, this distilled wine which is only alcohol, it is only self-interested. Your mission is to turn grappa back into wine, to put the market back in humanity,” he explains to them in substance.
A very critical view of the market economy
Eight years later, the scene, told in the last book by Mark Carney (1), continues to mark the spirits of the participants. “Certainly, since the beginning of his pontificate, the pope has had a very critical view of the market economy, which he considers a real scourge. But he is also one of those who have contributed the most to making things happen, at a time when the world can no longer turn a blind eye to the human and environmental limits of capitalism. “, assures Bertrand Badré, former financial director of the World Bank, also present that day.
It is also to get things moving that starts, Thursday, September 22 in Assisi, “The economy of Francis” (also in reference to Saint Francis), a kind of Davos of the Pope, intended to put young economists on the floor around the world on a more just, sustainable and inclusive economy. “His goal is to inspire them to take on a subject that he still finds too paralyzed by the rules of the old world”explains the Italian economist Luigino Bruni, scientific director of the event.
Thwarted passion for the economy
To understand this thwarted passion for the economy, all observers assure us, we must go to the personal history of Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Immerse yourself in post-war Argentina, the dashed hopes of Peronist national-populism, the debt crisis of the 1990s, and the mafia money that corrupts everything. Even in the Church. “For the pope, the economy can only be a succession of dramas, of catastrophes. He drew a very critical stance from the system,” believes Pascal Lamy, now honorary president of the Jacques-Delors Institute.
From 2013, Francis signs the apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), a very committed first text in which he denounces “the dictatorship of finance”, “the fetishism of money”and the “invisible hand” of the market in which we “we can no longer trust”. A “economy of exclusion”, ” without a face “, ” who kills “in his own words, which earned him a number of criticisms in the Western world, bathed in liberal culture.
The insistence on structures
So, “Marxist”, Pope Francis, as some American neoconservatives see him? “Some say he has a slightly more Marxist reading than his predecessors, because he places the responsibility for the mistakes of capitalism more on structures and institutions than on individuals”, recognizes the economist and Dominican Jacques-Benoît Rauscher.
Still, beyond “his little Attac side of the 1990s”as Pascal Lamy qualifies him with a certain tenderness, the pope of the poor has nothing to do with a dangerous revolutionary. “Even if he sometimes calls for overturning the table, his reading is not based on the class struggle. Its model is the embodied economy at the service of the common good, in line with the social doctrine of the Church. observes the Jesuit Marcel Rémon, head of the Center for Research and Social Action (Ceras). A social doctrine which, as François likes to remind us, relativizes the absolute nature of private property in favor of the commons…
Surprisingly Modern Economic Thinking
In reality, whether with the resurgence of theories on “the commons” in economics, or with Laudato si’his encyclical in favor of an integral ecology, the pope’s economic thought may seem surprisingly modern, at least if we are to believe the many current studies in academic circles on the unthought of capitalism, in particular the finiteness of resources.
“The Pope surrounded himself with economists all seeking to go beyond the framework of classical economics, and the fiction of homo economicus, guided solely by his individual interest”, notes the liberal economist Augustin Landier, who questions the values within capitalism in his book The price of our values (2).
Among them, let us cite, pell-mell, the American Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, the Nobel laureates in economics Esther Duflo, a development specialist, and Muhammad Yunus, the theorist of microcredit, the British environmental economist Kate Raworth, or the Jesuit Gaël Giraud, former trader and former chief economist of the French Development Agency (AFD),…
A pool of inspiring economists
In 2020, all had participated in the first edition of “The economy of François”, the only one who declined the invitation being at the time the Frenchman Thomas Piketty… “Even if the Church shares its diagnosis of inequalities, it has a less political and more human reading of their origins”, points out Marcel Rémon.
A pool of visibly inspiring economists. In A time to changehis latest book published in 2020, the pope not only makes a long plea for universal income, he also quotes Kate Raworth’s Donut Theory, which is currently all the rage among left-wing economists: the creation of value must remain within the limits of a social floor and an environmental ceiling, visualized thanks to the shape of this donut in a ring.
François has softened towards the economic world
What can restore some hope for the future of capitalism? Today, his entourage assures him: François has softened towards the economic world. In mid-September, during a conference with 5,000 business leaders in Rome, he even defended entrepreneurial values, without which “the Earth will not withstand the impact of capitalism”.
And the Bishop of Rome to give entrepreneurs some precepts to be able to claim the Kingdom of Heaven: sharing of wealth, job creation or even salary limitation. “For the first time, François has set very clear rules to think about a more responsible capitalism, which limits wage gaps in companies and promotes progressive taxation”, rejoices Luigino Bruni.
The pope did not mark the economy as he marked ecology
The fact remains that everyone agrees: for the moment the pope has not marked the economy as he has done for ecology with Laudato si’or as Leo XIII had revolutionized the social question with Rerum novarum in 1891.
The only major text of his pontificate entirely devoted to economics and finance, Œconomicae et pecuniariae quaestiones, was not signed by him. In the opinion of many Catholics, there would however be a strong expectation of a magisterial text entirely dedicated to the economy. An encyclical to lay the foundations for a more responsible economy.
“We want to launch a long-term process”
Sister Alessandra Smerilli,economist and secretary of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, Vatican
“With “The Economy of Francis”, which will be held in Assisi, our objective is to bring to life a network of young economists and entrepreneurs who have another vision of the economy. Everyone wants a fairer and more inclusive economy. The results are not visible immediately, but it is a long-term process launched by the pope. Later, in ten years or more, these young people will be leaders of large companies and university professors. That’s when they will make the difference. We must resist the temptation to see results right away. By meeting them on Saturday, the pope will undoubtedly encourage them not to consider their action as a superficial varnish, but to act in depth to change the world. »
The major economic texts of the pontificate of Francis
2013. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), which gives the Pope’s vision of the Church, man and the world.
2015. Encyclical Laudato si’on integral ecology.
2018. ” Considerations for an ethical discernment on certain aspects of the current economic and financial system », Vatican text on global finance, signed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Development.
2020. Encyclical Fratelli tutti on human brotherhood and social friendship.