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Pope Francis has bluntly criticized global capitalism for causing environmental destruction and tragic consequences for world's poorest citizens. Ahead of the pontiff's first visit to the United States, economics correspondent Paul Solman takes a closer look at his economic beliefs.
Pope Francis' upcoming visit to the U.S. next week is generating huge interest and expectation.
Part of that excitement is rooted in the different tone the pope has taken on a number of issues, from marriage to the role of women in the church. But he has also issued a tough critique of capitalism and called for more action on climate change.
We kick off our coverage of the pope's trip, which will continue all next week, with a look at those issues from our economics correspondent Paul Solman.
It's part of our weekly series Making Sense, which airs every Thursday on the NewsHour.
Are you excited that the pope is coming here?
It's a blessing that the pope is coming to visit us, especially the poor people that need a little bit more.
A senior center in East Harlem, the poorest part of Manhattan and the one with the closest ties to Latin America, home to Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Argentinean Jesuit priest now known as Pope Francis.
MELISSA MARK-VIVERITO, Speaker , New York City Council: And just south of this district, we have the most wealthy district in the city of New York in the Upper East Side.
Melissa Mark-Viverito is the first Puerto Rico-born speaker of the New York City Council, where she also represents El Barrio.
There is a real contrast, which speaks to really the vision and, I think, the philosophy of what the pope is all about.
The pope put that vision and philosophy bluntly in June, with his controversial encyclical on climate change and poverty, blaming what he calls unbridled capitalism for ruining the Earth, with tragic effects on those he cares most about, the world's poorest.
I think that that's the reason why the pope's visit is so important, is to continue to shine the light on those challenges and challenge us, as government and as leaders in our communities, to overcome them.
And presumably, that's why Francis will come here, to challenge government to do more for the environment and for the poor. But will government respond?
The issue has already entered the race for president.
JEB BUSH, Republican Presidential Candidate:
I don't get economic policy from my — from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.
Conservative Americans like presidential candidate Jeb Bush, a convert to Catholicism, say the pope should steer clear of politics.
I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting into the political realm.
But Francis seems to think politics is about making us better as people, more generous, kinder and gentler to the poor, to each other, to the Earth.
Activist Naomi Klein:
NAOMI KLEIN, Author:
It kind of felt a little bit like being invited into the world's oldest secret society.
Klein is one of the pope's more surprising new advisers, a self-described secular feminist.
My views about climate change about the economy are pretty radical. There are people out there who are saying this pope is a closet socialist, and then for them to invite somebody who's written a book whose subtitle is "Capitalism vs. the Climate" is kind of saying, well, we're not backing down, frankly.
Moreover, says progressive evangelical Jim Wallis, Pope Francis is squarely within the tradition of his vow-of-poverty namesake and of Jesus, who told the rich man hoping to enter the kingdom of heaven that he should give away all his possessions.
REV. JIM WALLIS, Founder, Sojourners:
And Jesus says, you either serve God or mammon. That's pretty radical. Mammon means money. You serve God or you serve money.
Isn't that why people say that Jesus was a socialist?
REV. JIM WALLIS:
How we decide the morality, the integrity, the righteousness of an economy is not how the wealthiest do, but how the poorest do. That's in the text. Now, that is more radical than communism and socialism.
I tried to be even more provocative with Marie Dennis, who heads a Catholic peace and justice movement.
So, is the pope a communist?
MARIE DENNIS, Co-President, Pax Christi International:
No, the pope is not a communist. Pope Francis keeps — as the church ought to do, keeps a distance from any particular system, whether it's communism or socialism or capitalism, in order to be able to critique whatever system is not serving the needs of people and the planet.
But in his encyclical, he is stridently anti-capitalist, or at least the unbridled version, as he calls it.
His critique of unbridled capitalism is very strong, absolutely, and he is very serious about it, because of his experience. He lived his whole life in a Latin America that was on the receiving end of some very destructive economy policies. And I think what Pope Francis is trying to do is amplify voices that have been calling for a different system for decades.
A different economic system? Is what the pope argues for really what the world's poor need?
RICHARD SYLLA, New York University:
Well, I would say that the pope is probably not a well-trained economist.
New York University professor Richard Sylla:
And economic historians like myself study these things, and we're pretty big fans of capitalism.
The pope's argument isn't that, historically, capitalism has not done a good job. It's that now capitalism is a new form of colonialism, is suppressing the poor and keeping them down.
I have to disagree with that, because, in this age of globalization, my view is that capitalism is actually working to make the lives better for the poorer people of the world.
But there's so much poverty in the world. Hasn't capitalism created that?
No, capitalism is not the culprit. Capitalism, when it's allowed to do its work, some of us would say work its magic, it has a tremendous ability to raise living levels for the people who live under that system. That doesn't mean it's perfect, but I think to sort of say that capitalism is the problem, let's get rid of it, as the pope may be hinting, is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
The pope, however, is more than hinting. He writes that — quote — "Whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, a market that doesn't take into account fundamental rights of the poor and underprivileged."
The pope being unavailable to respond to economist Richard Sylla's defense of markets, I asked his radical bedfellow, Naomi Klein, for a reply.
Yes, this is a system that has pulled many people out of poverty, but it has also thrown many people into destitution. Now, my goal here is not to say capitalism has never done anything good. It's to say we need a better system, because now the fate of our species hangs in the balance.
Or, as Reverend Wallis puts it:
Is our economy today good news for the poor? The economy is for, more and more, the very top, the very few, and the middle are all very insecure. And half of God's children, half the world's people are left behind by the economy. God's economy is very simple. There is enough, if we share it. It's really as simple as that.
Well, maybe it's simple, maybe it isn't. But that seems to be what Pope Francis believes. And the New York neighborhood he will visit, with its homeless, its mentally ill, its drug-ravaged denizens, cries out for help, says local resident Rodney Johnson.
RODNEY JOHNSON, East Harlem resident: There's a lot of changes that need to be made.
Like people getting housing, people really getting help on their drug problems, people — somebody really sitting down and understanding people on what they been through in life, and what they need in order to get off the streets, because there's really no — there's really no compassion out here enough to help people on their feet. It's not out here no more. There used to be, but it's gone.
From East Harlem, among other locations, this is economics correspondent Paul Solman, reporting for the PBS NewsHour.
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