Francis shares the conviction of St. John Paul II in Centesimus Annus that the substantial creativity and freedom inherent in market economies must be “circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places [them] at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious” (CA 42).
But while the experience of John Paul in the statist dictatorship of Eastern Europe after World War II led him to underscore the ways in which government control threatens the freedom of the human person in economic and social life, Pope Francis brings the perspective of the Global South to bear, revealing that free markets can generate a totalitarian ethos no less dangerous to the common good and the dignity of the human person.
For this reason, the preferential option for the poor becomes for Pope Francis the fundamental prism through which to evaluate capitalism and free market systems. It is through the eyes and the experience of those who are poorest among us that we must judge the moral legitimacy of every economic system and discern the nature of the juridical circumscription that is necessary to promote a just economic order….
In carrying out this evaluation, Pope Francis emphasizes that it is capitalism in the concrete, not as a philosophical system, which must be scrutinized….
The first destructive pattern of twenty-first century global capitalism is the strangling force of inequality that it breeds in the world….
Francis identifies this inequality as the foundation for a process of exclusion that cuts immense segments of society off from meaningful participation in social, political and economic life. It gives rise to a financial system that rules rather than serves humanity and a capitalism that discards those who have no utility as consumers….
If direct destruction to human lives and the human community constitute the central failing of the global economy of our day, the destruction to the world which is our common home constitutes a second, powerfully devastating consequence of capitalist structures, according to Francis. The logic of market systems that privatize profits while placing the environmental destruction wrought by such profits in the public sphere has contributed enormously to the cascade of destruction that is suffocating the earth.…
The final central defect that Pope Francis identifies in the global capitalism of the present day is a spiritual one. In its twin foundations of the ever greater accumulation of material possessions and economic power, capitalism is inherently spiritually corrosive….
Only when it is recognized that free markets are not a first principle of economic justice, but merely a means to achieve such justice, can the construction of an effective and balanced juridical order within and among nations realistically advance.