Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders made a highly-anticipated visit to the Vatican today to deliver a familiar message to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences: that the global economic and political system must work for more than the top one percent of earners.
“Rather than an economy aimed at the common good, we have been left with an economy operated for the top one percent, who get richer and richer as the working class, the young and the poor fall further and further behind,” he said. “And the billionaires and banks have reaped the returns of their campaign investments, in the form of special tax privileges, imbalanced trade agreements that favor investors over workers, and that even give multinational companies extra-judicial power over governments that are trying to regulate them.”
He presented his criticisms of the current state of the global economy at the 25th anniversary of Centesimus Annus, a social justice encyclical created by Pope John Paul II in the aftermath of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.
The Vermont senator repeatedly pointed to the social and economic critiques offered by Pope Francis, who has defined his papacy in large part by denouncing the excesses of greed and capitalism, as a way of showing the two are fighting on the same side of a battle between the winners and losers in a globalized world economy:
Pope” Francis has given the most powerful name to the predicament of modern society: the Globalization of Indifference. ‘Almost without being aware of it,’ he noted, ‘we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.’ We have seen on Wall Street that financial fraud became not only the norm but in many ways the new business model. Top bankers have shown no shame for their bad behavior and have made no apologies to the public. The billions and billions of dollars of fines they have paid for financial fraud are just another cost of doing business, another short cut to unjust profits.”
Prior to the his visit to the U.S. last year, Pope Francis gave a speech in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, in which he denounced the greed displayed by an increasingly small group of powerful people, and hinted that it was not a sustainable model. “Even within that ever smaller minority which believes that the present system is beneficial, there is a widespread sense of dissatisfaction and even despondency,” he said. The pope has repeated that same message many times since, making him one of the most active voices for dramatic wealth redistribution in the world today.
On the back of his visit to the Vatican, Sanders annotated a copy of that speech, adding his own commentary to Pope Francis’s. In one section, in which Pope Francis denounces the “unfettered pursuit of money,” Sanders notes that the vision being presented is more than just societal reformation.
“He is asking us to create a new form of society where the economy works for all, and not just the wealthy and the powerful,” Sanders wrote. “He is asking us to become a different kind of person, where our happiness and well-being comes from serving others and being part of the human community — not by spending our lives accumulating more and more wealth and power while oppressing others.”