When Pope Francis and Naomi Klein gang up on capitalism

Tom Liacas —  June 19, 2015 — Leave a comment

In case you didn’t notice, Pope Francis gave capitalism a thorough drubbing this past Thursday in his Encyclical Letter, LAUDATO, SI’.

Greatly focused on climate change, The Pope’s encyclical went beyond environmental concerns to explore the social justice dimensions of the issue. After all, the world’s poor will be the ones who suffer most from climate disruptions. Here, he had a few choice words for the system that is deemed responsible for the present situation.

Among his statements on the global socioeconomic order are the following:

  • The world’s powers (including businesses) persist in denial and are actively trying to cover up the severity of current problems
  • Technology and market solutions will not save us from our current planetary crisis
  • The world’s poor suffer because of the overconsumption that is actively encouraged in richer countries
  • The dominant market logic that drives global decisions is preventing us from averting a catastrophic situation
  • Resources such as water are being privatized around the world when they should be a basic human right

Ouch. Not easy to hear for champions of big business and the free market.

The Pope is not the first to clearly draw the line between global inequalities, the climate crisis and transnational capitalism. This was the core of Naomi Klein’s 2014 book, This Changes Everything. Ms. Klein, as it turns out, will soon be speaking at the Vatican in support of the Pope’s message.

It’s now open season on capitalism

Fifteen odd years ago when I was a full-time activist, critiquing capitalism was a sure way to get pigeonholed as a crazy radical by mainstream thinkers. How times have changed!

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The recent global financial crisis shook our collective faith in the system. As populations around the world felt the bite of economic collapse, citizen-led anti-capitalist movements such as Europe’s  Indignados and North America’s Occupy Wall Street networks gained considerable followings. Then along came Picketty’s surprise bestseller, Capital in the Twenty First Century and next thing you know, academics, media pundits and even attendees at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos have found it acceptable to discuss the problems of wealth inequality and the failure of trickle down economics.

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But the debate has left policy circles. Last fall, Naomi Klein’s book, which squarely puts the blame for the current climate crisis on the shoulders of late capitalism, made the New York Times bestseller list. This month, the Pope joined the chorus… Who’s crazy now?

Implications for decision makers

The pattern of social events since the financial crisis in 2008 reveals a steady but inexorable calling into question of capitalism that will be accelerated by greater public awareness of the resource crisis we now face and the role that the system has played in precipitating it.

In the public discourse, global inequalities as well as human rights / injustices, climate change, natural resource and biodiversity loss are all linked from here on in. Any business or government that is seen to do harm on one of these fronts is now part of the larger problem. As a result, such actors will become the focus of intense pressure from the vast networks now mobilized by these newly connected issues.

On the upside, there has never been a better time to show that traditional power centers can become part of the solution too. The challenge here is to show that bold commitments can be made in spite of the profit motive, to demonstrate that a net positive impact on social and environmental issues is not incompatible with good old capitalism. Many are watching and waiting to see if the system can deliver. But they won’t be waiting for too long.

Tom Liacas

Tom Liacas

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An M.A. graduate in Media Studies, Tom Liacas is an experienced Social Network Strategist who first cut his teeth creating and managing advocacy campaigns as an activist.