The Pope just backed a Universal Basic Income and a lot of other stuff

April 15, 2020

     By Duncan Green     

Pope Francis generated a lot of buzz this Easter in a letter to ‘our brothers and sisters of popular movements and organizations’. As you’re probably tired of hearing by now, I’m an atheist, but fascinated by the role of faith groups and leaders in shaping social and political change, so I took a look. Some of the writing is beautiful, and the content is fascinating.

The paragraph that got all the attention was a papal endorsement for a Universal Basic Income (UBI). Here’s the whole para:

‘I know that you have been excluded from the benefits of globalization. You do not enjoy the superficial pleasures that anesthetize so many consciences, yet you always suffer from the harm they produce. The ills that afflict everyone hit you twice as hard. Many of you live from day to day, without any type of legal guarantee to protect you. Street vendors, recyclers, carnies, small farmers, construction workers, dressmakers, the different kinds of caregivers: you who are informal, working on your own or in the grassroots economy, you have no steady income to get you through this hard time … and the lockdowns are becoming unbearable. This may be the time to consider a universal basic wage which would acknowledge and dignify the noble, essential tasks you carry out. It would ensure and concretely achieve the ideal, at once so human and so Christian, of no worker without rights.’

Of course lots of people have been advocating for a UBI for a while, but the Pope’s endorsement feels like an important moment. Just as the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-11 helped normalize the idea of social protection as a standard element in government and donor social policy in poor countries, could 2020 mark UBI’s passage from margins to mainstream? A mass crisis response that works for people, rather than just the banks – a People’s Quantitative Easing?

It also raises the important question, what are ‘carnies’?!  A quick search comes up with “muscular carny men were dismantling the amusement park rides”, so something to do with carnivals? Or a typo….

But another paragraph in the same letter also caught my eye:

‘I urge you to reflect on “life after the pandemic” …. I want all of us to think about the project of integral human development that we long for and that is based on the central role and initiative of the people in all their diversity, as well as on universal access to those three Ts that you defend: Trabajo (work), Techo (housing), and Tierra (land and food).’

No one can be excluded from God's mercy
What if we took it literally?
© Copyright Jaggery and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

So here’s one of the world’s great faith leaders arguing that Covid should lead to the expansion of universal access to income, shelter, space and food as basic elements of rights and governance.

And how about this for a description of pandemic as critical juncture:

I hope that this time of danger will free us from operating on automatic pilot, shake our sleepy consciences and allow a humanist and ecological conversion that puts an end to the idolatry of money and places human life and dignity at the centre. Our civilization — so competitive, so individualistic, with its frenetic rhythms of production and consumption, its extravagant luxuries, its disproportionate profits for just a few — needs to downshift, take stock, and renew itself.

In his Easter Sunday ‘City and the World’ (Urbi et Orbi) message, the Pope added some more policy asks:

This is not a time for indifference, because the whole world is suffering and needs to be united in facing the pandemic. May the risen Jesus grant hope to all the poor, to those living on the peripheries, to refugees and the homeless. May these, the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters living in the cities and peripheries of every part of the world, not be abandoned. Let us ensure that they do not lack basic necessities (all the more difficult to find now that many businesses are closed) such as medicine and especially the possibility of adequate health care. In light of the present circumstances, may international sanctions be relaxed, since these make it difficult for countries on which they have been imposed to provide adequate support to their citizens, and may all nations be put in a position to meet the greatest needs of the moment through the reduction, if not the forgiveness, of the debt burdening the balance sheets of the poorest nations.

Am I reading too much into this – is this all just standard Papal patter? I’d be interested in hearing from people who follow the impact of faith on public policy (assuming such people exist).

Much more of this, and my atheism could be at risk……

ht Julian Filochowski and Nadia Daar for the links

April 15, 2020
Duncan Green