As a Catholic professor of corporate law, I have a deep and abiding interest in what Catholic Social Thought has to say about the economy and economic regulation. I know almost nothing about the new Pope's views on these issues, so I was interested to see this report:
According to National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen, the new pope steered clear of liberation theology — a branch of Catholic social thought which emphasizes the importance of reforming capitalist structures that disadvantage the poor — even as many of his peers in Latin America were embracing it.
Thank God. There are few sources of more muddled thinking about the economy than liberation theology. (See Michael Novak's takedown of the nonsense).
Back to the report:
Francis also seems to be an opponent of austerity, most notably during his time as spiritual leader of Argentina when the country defaulted on its debt in 2002.
A paper by Thomas Trebat, “Argentina, the Church, and Debt,” details the church’s role in the crisis’s resolution. Argentine bishops, including Francis, had long criticized the laissez-faire policies of Carlos Menem, who was president from 1989 to 1999. “The bishops were critical of the economic model as a generator of poverty and unemployment, notwithstanding the stability it had brought to the country,” Trebat wrote.
Oh dear. Sounds like he might be one of those third way folks. The problem, of course, is that there is no third way.
And when the debt crisis hit in 2002, the church called in strong terms for a debt restructuring to take place which privileged social programs above debt repayment. They argued that the true problems in the Argentinian economy were, in their words, “social exclusion, a growing gap between rich and poor, insecurity, corruption, social and family violence, serious deﬁciencies in the educational system and in public health, the negative consequences of globalization and the tyranny of the markets.”
Trebat thinks this influenced the eventual outcome of the crisis, wherein the country’s creditors accepted a less devastating austerity package than many expected. “Civil society, of which the Church is a part, has a clear role to play in demanding that debt service not take precedence over human development once reasonable efforts have been expended to pay the debt,” he concludes.
Interesting. Sounds like his views here are in line with those who argue for repudiation and/or reformation of odious debt and probably also those who call for a sovereign debt jubilee. Of course, these folks rarely ponder the question of why creditors who were forced to write off sovereign debts would put good money after bad by extending new loans to debtor nations.
Trebat studied the whole church’s response, rather than just Francis’s, but comments by the new pope suggest he held similar views. Allen quotes a later speech in which then-Cardinal Bergoglio declared, “We live, apparently, in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least. The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers.”
Wealth inequality is a major social ill. The trouble is that Catholic social thought on how to deal with it often aligns itself with left-liberal, statist redistribution policies that destroy wealth without fixing the structural problems that create inequalities.
In any event, the Church's sex and financial scandals ought to keep Francis sufficiently busy that he can leave the economy to the laity.