Pope Francis, Employment, And The Balance Sheet
“That [38 Euros] is what the people who died were being paid. This is called slave labour,” he said. “Today in the world this slavery is being committed against something beautiful that God has given us – the capacity to create, to work, to have dignity. How many brothers and sisters find themselves in this situation!
“Not paying fairly, not giving a job because you are only looking at balance sheets, only looking at how to make a profit. That goes against God!
“There are many people who want to work but cannot. When a society is organised in a way that not everyone is given the chance to work, that society is not just.”
Another faux pas from the Pontiff and, alas, one which shows an amount of superficiality and shallow thinking that cannot but greatly alarm.
The start is good, with the Pope rightly lamenting the exploitation to which too many are still exposed, most notably in the Third World. One could discuss at length to which extent the decolonisation is responsible for it, but there is no denying the Holy Father expresses here a perfectly legitimate concern. The fraud on the pay is a sin that cries to Heaven for vengeance, and I am unable to see how shameless exploitation of a situation of great need would not amount to it.
Where the Pontiff derails in an embarrassing manner – and you see all the difference with a refined thinker like his predecessor – is in the easy populism, sweeping generalisations and general anti-Capitalist sentiment with which he builds on the premise. These slips into easy populism show a mediocrity of reasoning that would rapidly kill even the prospects of a Labour politician. Decidedly, this Pope bears all the marks of the Jesuit from South America.
The first one is the slip with the balance sheet. Every company who wants to survive looks at the balance sheet first, second and third. Those who don’t, fail. Prudence in expensive decisions – like the one whether to hire – is the Alpha and Omega in a company’s success. This prudence, this insisted looking at the balance sheet, is what makes companies and all their stakeholders – shareholders, employees, clients, & Co. – also thrive. When the Pope blames companies who “look only at the balance sheet” he is certainly not thinking at sweat shops in Sri Lanka, but rather at Capitalism as an economic phenomenon, because here he is not complaining about exploitation, but about decisions from which the life itself of a company depends.
What else should a company look at, one would want to ask the Pontiff, if not at the balance sheet? If General Electric were to say “come on, let us hire one person we don’t need for ten we do; we can’t look only at the balance sheet after all”, how long does the Pontiff think General Electric would survive? And where does he think would be the profit if this company were, in the long term, to whither and then die? Will, then, this “not looking only at the balance sheet” be very profitable to the hundreds of thousands of families deprived of one, or all income? Make no mistake, this is nothing resembling Catholicism: third is third-rate Peronism of the kind that causes hyperinflation, widespread misery and military coups.
Then there is the other pearl, the one with the unjust society that does not give work. What the Pope says is that if a society fails to ensure full employment, this society – and the economic system it uses – is unjust.
Where I hail from, this is called diritto al lavoro, meant as “right to be employed by someone”. The decade-long flag of the Italian Communist Party, this most cretinous slogan has been for decades the epitome of everything that is absurd, albeit it clearly aimed at something positively evil but not at all absurd: communism.
Now as then, the stupid readily believe such crap, as the idea that work be something they just have an entitlement to is very appealing to them. This goes, in my experience, together with another observation: that those so ready to talk about their right to have a job aren’t generally very noted for their desire to work hard, and vice versa. I wonder if there is a link?
Now, I do not want to say Vatican populism in matters of employment has started with this Pope; but it is fair to say such South-American whiffs of Anti-Capitalism are fairly new not only in the virulence of the attack, but most importantly in the incredible superficiality of the delivery. This isn’t even parish priest level; this is incompetent parish priest level, and frankly gives ground – not for the first time – that this is by far not the smart brain that was sold to us. Smart people are smart even when they go around sloganeering. This one tried to swim once where he can’t touch, and almost drowned.
This is what happens when the Cardinals pick as Pope a Jesuit from South America. Mark my words, this Papacy won’t be any fun. Except, of course, for those blessed by a strong sense of humour and able too see the Pope’s exploits sub specie aeternitatis.