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The pope’s paradigm

Two issues that Pope Francis has prioritised in his papacy are climate change and the sustainability of the global economy. In fact, he sees the two as being so intricately linked as to be inseparable. This is illustrated in his encyclical, Praise Be: On care for our common home (Laudato Si’).

He says in the encyclical, “If we acknowledge the value and fragility of nature and, at the same time, our God-given abilities, we can finally leave behind the modern myth of unlimited material progress. A fragile world, entrusted by God to human care, challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing and limiting our power.”

Although most climate skeptics are usually prepared to admit that human activity has at least escalated what they call a natural climatic cycle, few are ready for his questioning of the unlimited economic expansion paradigm.

Pope Francis has clashed with the captains of industry and economic whizz kids over his refusal to buy the paradigm that the only way to better the lives of the poor is to increase the size of the pie, so the poor can get more, while those who already have much, do not risk loss.

But the pope simply does not buy this. In his paradigm, sustaining the life of the planet, the ultimate source of all production material, requires a limit on the size of the economic pie, and the plight of the poor must be addressed through a more equitable distribution of wealth.

While those at the bottom of the economic heap applaud his approach, the few at the top, who statistics show are rapidly shedding numbers, are not so thrilled.

But what is unique about Pope Francis in the world of popes is his background. He does not come from the highly developed and legally structured Europe, where wealth is distributed through market adjustment and regulation, but from Argentina, where rule of law is mostly something to dream about.

And what Pope Francis does understand extremely well is that the level of market regulation practices in his homeland is a lot closer to world average than those derived from the rule of law in Europe or the United States of America.

As a result, he questions any proposal that does not come from the perspective of the poor and is certainly quizzical about anything that is likely to put them at a disadvantage.

In many ways, the computer age, with its sophisticated calculation modelling, has transformed the study of economics from what was once considered a social science into a discipline more akin to a natural science.

Consequently, we hear economists making forecasts with the certainty of a physicist speaking of the empirically measurable equations of gravity, but with less account of the human factor, which the pope says should be the final reference point in any economic planning.

The point where he clashes with proponents of unbridled economic expansion is in his demand that economics revert to being a social science, with the human component receiving priority over the dollar figures.