The Economy of Francis III

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By Wagner Iglecias*

In March, the Pope presides over a meeting to think about and propose an alternative economic model to the neoliberal one, with flags similar to those that years ago were debated in the various editions of the World Social Forum.

Catholicism was taken by two major surprises in 2013. The first was the resignation of the German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) as Pope, a fact that had not occurred since 1294, when Celestine V abdicated the highest authority in the Church. And the second was the choice, as Ratzinger's successor, of the Argentine cardinal in Jorge Bergoglio. His name caused distrust left and right.

Among progressives because of their controversial relationship with the last Argentine dictatorship (1976-1983) and the tumultuous coexistence with the Kirchner governments in the 2000s. it would be a maneuver by the world right to, from the Vatican, fight the dispute for the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people in Latin America, at that moment under leftist governments in some of its main countries.

On the right, the choice of Bergoglio also caused distrust, both because of his Jesuit origin and for his long priesthood with the poor in his native country, almost always with a preaching focused on social issues.

Once in power Bergoglio undertook a courageous internal policy, setting out to confront powerful interests long established in the Church. He carried out the cleaning up of the Vatican Bank, which has been embroiled in scandals for decades, fought the luxurious symbolism of the Roman curia and authorized investigations into allegations of pedophilia involving the Church in several countries.

In foreign policy, the Pope sent a message to the world to combat intolerance and inequality, reintroducing into Catholic discourse the notions of mercy and acceptance that seemed to have faded in recent decades.

For this 2020, Francis makes another bold bet: he tries to position the Catholic Church at the forefront of an urgent and necessary debate on neoliberalism. An economic model that has concentrated income and wealth in unprecedented proportions in history. And, because it is based on a culture of consumption and disposal, it has pointed to a trajectory of perhaps irreversible depletion of natural resources such as water, land and biodiversity, compromising the well-being of future generations and of all forms of life on the planet. .

In the symbolic city of Assisi, in Italy, where Saint Francis (1181-1826) stripped himself of material possessions and embraced a life dedicated to the poor and to nature, the Pope will chair, in March, a meeting of young economists, social leaders and business leaders from around the world. The objectives of the event are to think about and propose an alternative economic model to the current one, with a strong paradigm shift in the training of economists and in the performance of large companies. An economic model based on combating poverty and inequality, environmental sustainability and human dignity. Similar flags, by the way, to those that years ago were debated in the various editions of the World Social Forum and that were weakened after the 2008 crisis by the consequent global strengthening of neoliberalism in its most radically rentist version.

Francisco's task is obviously not an easy one. The world today is marked not only by the wide use of economic orthodoxy instruments by governments, but also by the primacy, in the private sector, of the shareholders of transnational corporations and global investment funds, who are interested, above all, in minimizing risks and maximization of profitability and profits.

More than that, we are facing a world marked by neoliberal hegemony also in the domain of ideas, practices and aspirations, both of societies and of people, strongly characterized by individualism, hedonism and ostentation. On the other hand, we are heading towards alarming levels of inequality, unemployment and social exclusion, which even put liberal democracy itself at risk. Perhaps there is the window of opportunity identified by the Pope.

With the Assisi meeting, Francis looks at both the world and the Vatican at the same time. Perhaps he sees, at this historic moment, the chance to give a leading role to the Catholic Church, in crisis after the twenty-seven years of the papacy of Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II), who dismantled the social and progressive character of John's pontificates XXIII (1958-1963) and Paul VI (1963-1978), but failed to stop the loss of believers to more conservative Christian denominations, such as neo-Pentecostal Protestantism, which has grown vigorously in Latin America itself. With Francis, Catholicism is trying to reinvent itself at the beginning of this century, grappling with an unequal, violent and hopeless world.

*Wagner Iglecias He is a professor at the Graduate Program in Latin American Integration (PROLAM) and at the School of Arts, Sciences and Humanities at USP.

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