A Keynesian Pope?

Teivo Teivainen, Professor of World Politics, University of Helsinki

The conservative politics of the new pope on gay rights, women and many other questions is obvious. His economic policy inclinations are less clear.

In my first reactions to his election, I have been playing with the “Keynesian pope” label. These kinds of labels obviously simplify, and I am not claiming that he would have a deep appreciation or understanding of Keynesian economic theories. Or any other economic theories for that matter.

The simplified expression Keynesian pope was a reaction based on my initial reading of his earlier comments on distributive justice, social debt and other economic-policy issues. Still, having had another look at his positions, I decided to cling to that expression.

For left-leaning economic-policy observers a promising sign in Bergoglio is that the Cato Institute folks seem worried. Cato Institute is one of those places where people defend privileges based on property rights and call themselves economic liberals. Headquartered in Washington DC, but with affiliates in different parts of Latin America and elsewhere.

I have now been reading comments by Alberto Benegas, who is affiliated with the Cato Institute and has chaired the economics sections of the National Academy of Science in Argentina. In December 2011, Benegas commented on Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was then the archbishop of Buenos Aires, and expressed worries about his message around questions of the social debt.

For Benegas, Bergoglio seemed a well-meaning priest who expressed a significant lack of understanding on the meaning of property rights and free markets. One sign of Bergoglio’s economic-policy ignorance, according to Benegas, was that he attributed the causes of the economic crisis to “neoliberalism”. For Benegas, the concept of neoliberalism is never used by true intellectuals and mostly used by enemies of open society.

Other concept used by Bergoglio and detested by Benegas were “social justice” and “speculation”. Together with neoliberalism, all are concepts that we can often find in the discourse of different kinds of social movements. Criticism of “speculation” is also a central tenet of Keynesian approaches in economic analysis.

“Speculation” terminology can also be used by others than Keynesians, especially Marxists. Unlike some of his Jesuit colleagues, however, Bergoglio was never part of those radical tendencies of the catholic church who used Marxist theories as the basis for their social and economic commentary. Also reading his commentaries from different times, it is easy to conclude that Marxist he clearly is not. So should we settle for calling him a Keynesian?

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