POPE FRANCIS, in a new book on world priorities after Covid-19, has demanded curbs on the liberal market economy and outlined the benefits of a universal basic income.
His book Let Us Dream: The path to a better future, co-written with a British journalist, Dr Austen Ivereigh, is believed to be the first by a pope in response to a world crisis, and reflects on opportunities offered by the pandemic.
It discusses abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church, drawing parallels with the #MeToo movement, and argues for a new politics “beyond managerialism and populism”, driven by change from the margins of society.
The 150-page book, to be published in six languages on 1 December by Simon & Schuster, also finds justification in anti-racist protests over the death of the black American George Floyd (News, 5 June), but argues against the toppling of statues, comparing this to “throwing an ideological blanket over the past”.
The Pope criticises those resisting lockdown restrictions in the name of “autonomy or personal freedom”, and says that most governments acted responsibly during the crisis, although some “mortgaged their people” by putting the economy first. He argues that women have proved better leaders during the pandemic, by making swifter, empathetic decisions, and also backs demands for women to play a greater part in church leadership.
Female economists, such as Kate Raworth, of the University of Oxford, have been particularly insightful, the Pope says, in challenging “the inadequacy of standard textbook economics” in favour of a “more maternal economy” that is not “focused solely on growth and profit”.
The book, based on answers to emailed questions, criticises the “self-evidently fictitious idea” that unrestrained wealth will “deliver prosperity for all”, and says that the neo-liberal economy, with its links to neo-Darwinist ideology, has generated “vast inequalities and huge ecological damage”.
It defines the universal basic income as “an unconditional flat payment to all citizens, dispersed through the tax system”, and argues that this would help “redesign the economy” by offering everyone “a dignified existence while regenerating the natural world”.
Merely “touching up the paintwork here and there”, while avoiding real change, could “ignite a huge social explosion” after the coronavirus, while fuelling further “hidden pandemics” in the form of hunger, violence, and climate change, he warns.
Speaking at a Monday press briefing, Dr Ivereigh compared the book’s method of “direct speaking” with a 2018 documentary on the Pope by the German director Wim Wenders, and said that it could also be read as a personal commentary on his recent encyclical on fraternity and social friendship, Fratelli Tutti (News, 9 October).
Dr Ivereigh said that Pope Francis was “fully aware” of the close link between religion and politics, but had not offered “specific policy prescriptions”, out of respect for the “competence of politicians”.
The book, which ends with a poem by the Cuban actor Alexis Valdés, discusses biblical precedents for today’s Covid-19 crisis.]
The Pope says that he personally experienced three “Covid moments” before his 2013 election: when he faced life-threatening lung problems in Argentina at age 21, when he was “displaced” to Germany for studies in 1986, and when he was sent away to teach in Cordoba for two years in the early 1990s.