PopeWatch: Let’s Pretend

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Below we have a typical example of what passes for economic thought at the Vatican.  Let’s pretend for the moment that this isn’t the case.  Let’s pretend that the statement by Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic is, instead, a serious economic proposal.  Examine it please in the comboxes and explain the likely impact of attempting to implement an economic proposal that simultaneously attempts to:

  1.  Increase jobs, especially for the young.
  2.  Producing a “new and more inclusive” economic model, whatever that would be.
  3.  Passing from “a revenue directed economy” to a “social economy”, whatever that would be.
  4.   Avoids replacing workers with advanced technology.
  5.   Promotes economic activity that fosters knowledge and human and social development.
  6.   Gives workers a “just and living wage.”
  7.   Fights “climate change”.



Intervention of H.E. Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva at the 105th Session of the International Labour Conference in Geneva.

Mr President,

1. The Delegation of the Holy See congratulates the ILO for its committed service to social development through the collaborative action of workers, employers and governments, as it prepares to celebrate its 100th Anniversary. The preamble of its Constitution, which states that there shall be no lasting peace without social justice, continues to provide a strong warning and a welcome encouragement to guide our reflection on the “future of work”1.

2. We feel today a sense of urgency as much as we feel a sense of responsibility. The information contained in the reports and analyses of this Organization regarding the inability to create a sufficient number of dignified and stable jobs is a cause of serious concern.

3. We would like to stress, as done in the previous session, the pressing issue of youth unemployment. Despite a mild recovery in the 2012-2014 period, the youth unemployment rate remains well above its pre-crisis level. For millions of young people around the world finding a decent job is still a lengthy hard struggle. As Pope Francis reminds us, “we cannot resign ourselves to losing a whole generation of young people who don’t have the strong dignity of work”2. The final goal of the International Community has to be a recovery based on substantial job creation with reference to the principle of subsidiarity that allows each individual and each business to be the protagonist of the development of society as a whole. It is a moral obligation. “If we want to rethink our society, we need to create dignified and well-paying jobs, especially for our young people”3.

4. To do so requires coming up with new, more inclusive and equitable economic models, aimed not at serving the few, but at benefiting ordinary people and society as a whole. It would involve passing from a revenue-directed economy, profiting from speculation and lending at interest, to a social economy that invests in persons by creating jobs and providing training. At the same time, a wave of technological innovation is altering the capacity of modern manufacturing and service activities to generate jobs.

5. Pope Francis has repeatedly warned against the temptation to reduce costs by replacing workers with advanced technology. The worldwide financial and economic crisis has highlighted the gravely deficient human perspective, which reduces man to just one of his needs, namely, consumption. Worse yet, human beings themselves are nowadays considered as consumer goods, which can be used and thrown away. The replacement of workers by technology raises grave ethical challenges because it elevates economic efficiency and productivity over human dignity. The Holy See argues that in taking this path, we end up working against ourselves. “To stop investing in people, in order to gain greater short-term financial gain, is bad business for society.” 4

6. Human dignity and economic, social and political factors demand that we continue, “To prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone”5. We need, in particular, to look for innovative solutions so that economic growth and well-being are not disconnected from employment. “It will be ‘better business’ to put technology at the service of the common good, and the common good includes decent work for everyone in our single common home”6. Guided and directed by the Sustainable Developments Goals, we should continue to promote the idea “that it is no longer sufficient to measure human progress in terms of economic growth and the accumulation of material wealth. Work acquires its true character when it is decent and sustainable for workers, employers, governments, communities, and the environment”7. “It implies exertion and fatigue to produce and achieve good results, but also the ability to transform reality and fulfil a personal vocation”8. Thus, work expresses and increases man’s dignity9. “There is a practical advantage as well in this approach. The subjective, personal dimension in work affects the actual objective result in all activities, but especially in services, in research and technological innovation, that is, in those economic activities that promote knowledge and true wealth creation, human and social development”10.

7. Globalization has generated the continuing internationalization of the world’s production system, with increasingly prevalent global supply chains frequently making it impossible to identify a single national origin of finished products. The proliferation of global supply chains has profoundly transformed the nature of cross-border production, investment, trade and employment. The global supply chains have played an important role in the significant growth in international trade in recent decades.

8. Global supply chains have provided new opportunities for employment in developing and emerging economies, including for workers who had difficulty accessing wage employment or formal jobs. However, wages and working time are also affected by the terms of purchasing between the buyer and its suppliers, which often reflect the asymmetrical bargaining position of the two partners and the power of the buyers to switch suppliers. In these conditions, wages become the adjustment variable at the end of the supply chain, with competitive pressures leading to lower wages and longer working hours. In the first social encyclical, Rerum novarum (1891), Pope Leo XIII stressed the centrality of human dignity, stating that “to misuse [people] as though they were things in the pursuit of gain, or to value them solely for their physical powers – that is truly shameful and inhuman.”11 The Holy Father argued vigorously that workers were owed a just or living wage. This was not to be equated with the wage determined by the law of the marketplace. “Wages cannot be left solely to the whim of the market, but must be influenced by justice and equity – a wage that allows people to live a truly human life and to fulfill family obligations” 12. In the words of Pope Francis, it is one of the ways people “find meaning, a destiny, and to live with dignity, to ‘live well’.”13

9. Climate change, and the increase in both sudden onset and slow onset disasters, pose massive challenges to governments both in developed and developing countries. Some of these challenges relate to the sustainable provision of a climate-resilient infrastructure. The effects of climate change are having negative impacts on economic and social development in general and on enterprises and workers in particular, by disrupting businesses, destroying workplaces and undermining income opportunities. As stressed by Pope Francis, in Laudato si’, “it is essential to seek comprehensive solutions which consider the interactions within natural systems themselves and with social systems. We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis, which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature”14.

10. In conclusion, Mr President,

The Holy See wishes to reaffirm its interest in contributing to the dialogues on the future of work in the context of the 100th Anniversary of the Organization. We look towards the continuation of this process with the hope that people, workers, their families and their communities be placed at the centre of future sustainable development and decent work policies, as recommended by the Philadelphia Declaration (1944).

1 Cfr. http://www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/leg/download/constitution.pdf

2 Pope Francis, Meeting with the Young People of the Dioceses of Abruzzo and Molise, Castelpetroso, 5 July 2014.

3 Pope Francis, Address at the Conferral of the Charlemagne Prize, 6 May 2016.

4 Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato si’, 128.

5 Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 32.

6 Cardinal Peter Turkson, Welcome speech at the International Seminar “Sustainable development and the future of work in the context of the Jubilee of Mercy”, Rome, 2 May 2016.

7 Idem.

8 Statement by H.E. Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva at the 101st Session of the International Labour Conference, Geneva, 7 June 2012.

9 Cfr. Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Laborem exercens, 27.

10 Statement Tomasi, op. cit.

11 Rerum novarum, 20.

12 Cardinal Turkson, op. cit.

13 Pope Francis, Address at the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements, Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Bolivia), 9 July 2015.

14 Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato si’, 139.

Jurkovic was born in 1952 in Slovenia.  He grew up in Communist Yugoslavia.  PopeWatch wonders if when he utters these type of platitudes he ever feels like an old time Communist apparatchik giving a speech explaining how the next five year plan was going to produce streets paved with gold and people dancing on them, when all and sundry, including the speaker, knew that what he was saying was utter rubbish.   Good intentions are never an excuse for congealed nonsense, and nonsense remains nonsense whether proclaimed by commissars or archbishops.

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  1. Why should the Church care about anything other than the salvation of souls from the fires of hell? The command Jesus gave was to preach the Gospel to all nations and baptize in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, not to platitudinize (is that a word?) about scial justice, the common good and peace at any price. St Peter says in one of his epistles that this world and everything in it will be destroyed by fire, by fervent heat. So it’s the Church’s job to save as many souls as She can from that coming conflagaration. The speech to the UN and other offices should be: Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. It should be kept that simple.
    BTW, when was the last time Pope Francis and his commie buddies read 2nd Chronicles 7:14? Repentance and conversion come BEORE God heals the land and body, NOT afterwards. It’s the Gospel of righteousness and holiness, NOT the gospel of economic and racial and political and gender equality. It’s about straightening up and flying right or going to hell to burn forever and ever. Nothing in this world or the next matters but Jesus Christ and until that sinks into everyone’s head, we are all damned of our own volition.

  2. This theory of “Technology means that there’s vast numbers of people who are good for nothing but mindless physical labor” has been around since, what, Marx? Isn’t that the idiot who pushed it first?

    Yet it keeps not happening. The only time you end up with huge numbers* percentages of people not working is when you pay them for not working and punish them for finding something to do.

    *the law of really big numbers: if you are one in a million, there are seven of you in New York City. Translated: numbers are freaking huge and can give an illusion that a freak accident on par with me tossing a basket ball over my shoulder and making it through the hoop with nothing but net happens “a lot.”

  3. I once heard an economist describe his field as the study of incentives and trade-offs. The problem with a list like this is that nearly every item can be prioritized, but most likely at the expense of the others. It’s easy to split the list into things that free-market capitalism can accomplish and things that a feudal agricultural economy can accomplish. Some of the items might even be on both lists. But obviously there’s no middle ground between those systems. So any discussion like this has to set priorities between different goals.

    My own belief is that the least damage is done by divorcing the economic system from non-economic goals. That doesn’t mean that the economic system has goals that oppose valid non-economic goals. It’s just not the tool to implement those goals. A toaster isn’t opposed to a car; they’re different tools with minimal overlap. I guess you could heat up bread on an engine block. And a car that opposed a toaster could run it over. But for the most part they can co-exist without helping or harming each other.

    An economic system can work against a non-economic system. Slavery works against democracy. Mercantilism works against international cooperation. It’s my belief that an economic system that doesn’t try to extend itself beyond economics is least likely to do damage outside of economics. Prudence requires us to constantly check the impact of our economic system on non-economic matters. But a capitalistic economy is most likely to do the least damage. In our non-economic lives we can mitigate the damage: through charity, education, and most of all spiritual development.

    I disagree with Lucius; it’s right for the Church to be concerned about these matters. A sound society would view all things through faith. I’m sympathetic to the establishment of a system that would prevent any sort of exploitation. (And I wouldn’t consider it a devaluation of free will and individual charity.) But that’s no longer an economic system, it’s a political one, and for the life of me I don’t see a historical example of such a thing succeeding without preventing most of the goals on the original list.

  4. The real world doesn’t operate in the fantastic (as in fantasy world or comic books) models imagined by Fed chairmen, politicians, popes and professors. It’s why administered markets and central planning can never succeed.

    Reading the communique from Never Land, or is it Shangri-La, I was reminded of a quote by General Patton on the “Saturday Evening Post” and its qualifications to preach to professional soldiers how to fight wars.
    FYI the green scam/climate change is a major, among others, reason that countries like Spain will never recover from national bankruptcy.

  5. This theory of “Technology means that there’s vast numbers of people who are good for nothing but mindless physical labor” has been around since, what, Marx? Isn’t that the idiot who pushed it first?

    It goes back much further than that: “”To a mechanical engineer, who promised to transport some heavy columns to the Capitol at small expense, he [i.e., the Emperor Vespasian]gave no mean reward for his invention, but refused to make use of it, saying: ‘You must let me feed my poor commons.'” (Suet. Vespasian, 18)

  6. I’m with the Cincinnati kid above. The Church has no business trying to determine the best solution for an idealized economy especially when their track record in their own expertise, spiritual matters, has been so deplorable.

    What the Church should do now is sell all they have, give to the poor and follow Christ. Doing this would ultimately have more impact on worldly affairs than all the pontificating from now to doomsday. After all, we should really believe that Christ knew the right method to get the job done.

  7. What the Church should do now is sell all they have, give to the poor and follow Christ.

    That’s just the flip-side of what they’re doing right now– focuses on the physical at the expense of the spiritual.
    It would have impact, sure, but so does a bomb– does it do anything constructive?
    This low-grade fertilizer can be battled on its own merits, and by applying good theology even. The sheer overwhelming pride involved in thinking that one is more qualified to have final control the fruit of one’s labor for everybody else, the utter contempt in which one must hold people to think that they can really be replaced by a machine….
    It’s galling, really.
    Worse, it’s counter to the very spirit of charity, because it takes away the choice of those who actually did the work– ALL of the work, not just the “work right here and now let’s ignore the giants they’re standing on” way of the work-theory of value– and it might even rise to being like those two who were struck dead for falsely claiming they’d given everything. It’s just from a different angle– there’s a quirk in human nature that makes it so that giving something up is a lot easier of everybody else has to do it, too.

  8. Technology can replace workers to some extent. If it weren’t for farm equipment, we’d all be doing nothing but farming. It’s not a bad thing that we’re able to replace workers from the farms. The problem with static economic thinking is that you assume that there are only so many jobs in the world. It can take some time for people to switch professions, but there are always new possible jobs opening every day, and that’s thanks to technology.

  9. I was thinking of farm work, too– my parents are ranchers, after all; I grew up doing that stuff!

    It doesn’t replace workers, it supplements them– it’s like a lever, but even better. It can replace the muscle, but it can’t replace the person stuff– take horses, for example. Even a really, really, REALLY good cowhorse can’t work by itself, because you need a human to understand what’s going on.

  10. Sometimes, that human can be a seven year old girl who’d rather be reading. Sometimes, it has to be someone that’s trained. But it has to be a person.

  11. To be expected from people (Abp. Jurkovic, Card. Turkson, and yes, the Big Guy himself), who have never worked a day for a paycheck, never had to meet a budget or a payroll, in the last 40 or so years. But they know it all.

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