Capitalism has been condemned for many of the world’s evils, from massive income inequality to climate change. But self-interest wasn’t the core idea of the economic system first codified by Adam Smith in the 18th century. Avarice became coupled with capitalism in the 1980s, fueled largely by Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman’s theory that the singular goal of businesses is to maximize profits for shareholders. In short, it was the argument that “greed is good.”
The Vatican has said it will partner with Fortune 500 companies to address various economic grievances, including inequality and environmental degradation. But is it really incumbent upon the Bishop of Rome to virtue-signal?
Anyone entertaining hopes that planet Earth might escape the insanity of 2020 without any more mind-blowing stories may wish to fasten their seatbelts for a hard landing.
At a time when a global pandemic has swept away millions of jobs, and transformed a handful of global capitalists from ‘merely wealthy’ to fantastically wealthy overnight, Pope Francis has decided to take sides in this epic battle. Any hunches what side that might be? Hint: much like the Vatican, it is immensely wealthy, influential, and acts like a government unto itself.
Yes, you guessed it. Instead of the poor and destitute – you know, ‘the meek who shall inherit the earth’ rigmarole – taking their rightful place alongside the Pope to fight against globalization on steroids, the Vatican has announced it will form a “historic partnership” with big business, known as the Council for Inclusive Capitalism. You can’t make this stuff up. And make no mistake: this is no mere talk shop, but rather a vast undertaking that involves “more than $10.5 trillion in assets under management, companies with over $2.1 trillion of market capitalization, and 200 million workers in more than 163 countries.”
Capitalism has created enormous global prosperity, but it has also left too many people behind, led to the degradation of our planet, and is not widely trusted in society,” said Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, Founder of the Council and Managing Partner of Inclusive Capital Partners. “This council will follow the warning from Pope Francis to listen to ‘the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor’ and answer society’s demands for a more equitable and sustainable model of growth.”
In other words, in an apparent act of divine intervention, the Rothschild family (whose wealth is estimated at $20 billion, although nobody really knows for sure), together with other famous brand names of globalization, such as the Rockefellers and Mastercard, will now take up the standard for the world’s downtrodden. Who will be the first one to hold their breath?
I tried to contain my skepticism, I really did, until I read a bit deeper into this contract between the Catholic Church and corporate power. Any guesses as to who will ensure the corporate chieftains live up to their end of the bargain?
Known as the Guardians for Inclusive Capitalism – I kid you not – these 27 devout and morally outstanding individuals all hail from the golden one percent. Let’s call them the Pope’s 27 billionaire disciples. Really outstanding people, such as President of the Rockefeller Foundation Rajiv Shah, CEO of Mastercard Ajay Banga, and CEO of Salesforce Marc Benioff, will now behave like Good Samaritans, carrying out the will of the Holy See around a ravaged, lockdown-wearied planet. And here is the catch: there is not a single Vatican cardinal or even a deacon on the list of Guardians. So, who will guard over the guardians? Yes, the corporate elite themselves! They must have read Donald Trump’s ‘The Art of the Deal’.
The reason for suspicion should be obvious. Aside from the absurdity of letting profit-driven corporations play guardian over themselves, we are now living in a time when these out-of-control behemoths are no longer content to just hawk their products to consumers; they have taken a serious stand on cultural and political issues, which many people find unacceptable yet must bear silently with a smile.
Using their profits from consumer spending, corporations such as Coca-Cola can run an extremely controversial Sprite advertisement campaign, for example, that promotes a transgender lifestyle and that will be seen by millions of impressionable children. Or how about Gillette’s massively disappointing (and disliked) commercial that took issue with so-called ‘toxic masculinity.’ Are these the “other initiatives” that corporations will be forcing on an unsuspecting public with the stamp of papal authority? Personally, I’ve never heard Pope Francis speak out against these extremely provocative ideas.
Although Pope Francis may have the best intentions at heart in promoting this sort of dialogue between the Vatican and the corporate world, unless there is real involvement by the Church to rein in corporate power, it will become a wasted opportunity in very short order.