Instead Time chose Pope Francis, a man who in the last year has been transforming the Catholic church by focusing on the searing inequalities brought about by poverty. In one of his many poignant quotes recently, he asks:
How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?
Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.
I keep going back to the line “those wielding economic power”. They are the ones who have come to dominate our society, a society that over the last 40 years has slowly ceded to the ideology of free markets.
When I worked on Wall Street in the 90s, I traveled for business to Pope Francis’s home country of Argentina. I was one of many foreigners there to tell them how they needed to reform their country, open it up to the free markets. They did embrace the free markets. That worked well until it didn’t, ending in a massive crash in 2001. Poverty rates climbed during that period.
We bankers would travel in taxis, past the slums that ringed the city center of Buenos Aires. No banker went in there. It was said to be too dangerous. Instead we moved around numbers on a spreadsheet, numbers that represented people. Pope Francis did go into the slums. Regularly. He saw what we didn’t. As he wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation: “Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded.” [Continue reading…]