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Pope Francis becomes moral guide to inclusive capitalism

By accepting the Church's moral authority, big business is embracing religion to create a trusted economic system

Pope Francis becomes moral guide to inclusive capitalism

Pope Francis prays in front of the Virgin Mary image after leading Mass on the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Dec. 12. (Photo: AFP)

Pope Francis now has an added responsibility: serving as a moral guide to a non-profit organization called Inclusive Capitalism, which engages leaders in business, government and civil society aiming to make capitalism more dynamic, sustainable and inclusive.

Inclusive Capitalism is not a non-profit organization you would see in town. It is a group of individuals and institutions with more than US$10.5 trillion in assets and companies with a combined market capitalization of more than $2 trillion and 200 million employees in 163 countries.

They joined together to "include the excluded" in the capitalist system and wanted Pope Francis as their torchbearer.

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The Council for Inclusive Capitalism, launched on Dec. 8 under the moral guidance of Pope Francis, aims to impart a sense of belonging among the poor and the marginalized who have missed the bus of economic prosperity.

It will add a new chapter to capitalism, with the Keynesian welfare state coming back in a new avatar and Milton Friedman's goal of maximization of profit or the "greed is good" taking a back seat and neoliberalism losing its sheen.

The council comprises high-net-worth individuals, transnational companies and organizations. They share a mission to "harness the private sector to create a more inclusive, sustainable and trusted economic system," its website said.

The members include the Ford Foundation, Johnson & Johnson, Mastercard, Bank of America, the Rockefeller Foundation, Merck, Salesforce and Visa.

In their new role as guardians, they will walk the extra mile to put a human face on capitalism as advocated by Pope Francis many a time.

"An inclusive capitalism that leaves no one behind, that discards none of our brothers or sisters, is a noble aspiration," Pope Francis said on Nov. 11, 2019.

According to a press release from the council, the partnership with the Vatican "signifies the urgency of joining moral and market imperatives to reform capitalism into a powerful force for the good of humanity."

The guardians will "advance inclusive capitalism" in their own companies and will promote environmental sustainability and gender equality, pet themes of the Vatican.

The partnership with the Vatican puts the council "under the moral guidance" of the pope and Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the press release stated.

Of late, the pontiff has made scathing attacks on capitalism. Last year he warned business leaders that "an economic system detached from ethical concerns" results in a "throwaway" culture of consumption and waste.

"This council will follow the warning from Pope Francis to listen to 'the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor' and answer society's demands for a more equitable and sustainable model of growth," Lynn Forester de Rothschild, founder of the council, said.

“Together, we will help provide capitalism the guide rails that it needs to make our world more equal and sustainable," said Ajay Banga, president and chief executive officer of Mastercard, which has committed to invest $500 million in black communities and will increase deals with black suppliers by 70 percent over the next five years.

Capitalism at receiving end

After the dot-com bust in 2000 and the subprime crisis in 2008-09, capitalism has been blamed for many of the world's evils, from income inequality to climate change.

But capitalism was in no mood to listen. Policies and guidelines that foster the neoliberal ideology of free-market fundamentalism, which advocates global corporate monopolies at the cost of people's economic security, were set one after another at the World Economic Forum's annual conclaves at Davos in Switzerland.

Overexploitation of the planet in search of profit led to wars and conflicts in the name of spreading free-market democracy, which manufactured inequalities on a global scale.

Social miseries, economic alienation and political marginalization hampered all forms of social progress. They clipped the wings of states and governments to pursue social and economic welfare for their citizens.

States and governments became subordinate to business. The concept of the welfare state, championed by British economist John Maynard Keynes, withered away in the onslaught of the free market economy of Nobel laureate Milton Friedman.

In search of perpetual profit, the need-based economy was replaced with a desire-based economy with the advertisement industry and social media in tow. Of course, it was laissez-faire on a higher level, fostering the profit-first logic.

And when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world a year ago, capitalism also had its due share of criticism for spreading the epidemic, and many experts stated that capitalism was not concomitant with environmental sustainability.

Fratelli tutti calls

Pope Francis, the first pontiff to name himself after the 12th-century mendicant friar who gave up a wealthy lifestyle to serve the poor, has repeatedly come down heavily on the profit-seeking capitalism.

In his encyclical Fratelli tutti (All Brothers), released this year in Assisi in Italy, the pope denounced the global economy's injustices and its destruction of the planet.

In his third encyclical, deviating from the Church's doctrine of justifying war as a means of legitimate defense, he urged a war-free world. As far as capitalism is concerned, war is the biggest industry.

Once the pandemic ends, the pope wrote, "our worst response would be to plunge even more deeply into feverish consumerism and new forms of egotistic self-preservation."

With the pope as its moral leader, the new global alliance is pushing to reorient capitalism as a force for social good. By accepting the Church's moral authority, big business is embracing religion to create a trusted economic system.

That is why the pope has agreed to lend his name to the council, which reads as the Council for Inclusive Capitalism with the Vatican, according to the official website.

So, the excluded in the developing nations of Asia and Africa can expect something beneficial from the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Great Reset being planned by big business in the post-Covid-19 world.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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