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

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).’

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

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12 Responses to “The Pope just backed a Universal Basic Income and a lot of other stuff”
  1. Heather Marquette

    My parents are always hopeful that someday l’ll see my way back to church. I’m not so sure about that, but reading Sojourners – from time to time reminds me that they’re not alone in putting social justice at the heart of their faith.

  2. My youthful atheism is born again into some kind of spiritualism and therefore makes me look at faith ,its power and influence.
    Thanks for bringing this to the platform Duncan- indeed there are words used in the message that Oxfam latest rescue proposal will be happy because it reflects some of the core message on dignity and so forth.More of it Duncan..

  3. ken smith

    Not sure the Pope would use an English word like “carnies” of his own bat. I’d guess this has been translated by a committee of Vatican bureaucrats so exactly what he means by “Universal Basic Wage” is maybe still a bit hazy.

  4. peter

    thank you Duncan – great piece. I think that ‘the signals’ can be seen now, and generally, in a lot of places – it’s deciding to act, or the catalyst to act, that is often missing -or the reasons not to act are too great or powerful. (I also wondered about carnies).

  5. Duncan: Great to see you spotlight Pope Francis! He has been walking this radical social change walk ( refugees, prisoners, foot-washing ) and talking the talk ( eg Laudate Si) since he became Pope in 2013. The Vatican Dicastery on Integral Human Development is the focal point at the Vatican on visioning social transformation, and now in a post COVID world. Although the values he champions are grounded in Catholic Social Teaching (see eg 1986 USCCB Economic Justice for All his leadership is definitely not the usual “Papal Patter”. He is an outspoken and loving progressive, cannily deploying the leverage of his position for universal call to action for justice, equality, inclusion and compassion. I notice in my own work in the interfaith world that the Pope is held in high esteem across faith lines for his prophetic witness. His unpopularity with conservatives in the church is a testament to his radical leadership. I can see how he could cause a man’s defenses of atheism to wobble a bit!

  6. Rasti

    World would be much better if those bankers, CEO’s and other white collar businessmen release and share their multi-milion incomes with rest of the of population. Globally 90% of people lives from wage to wage and spend most of the time resolving existecial issues. How to survive from week to week.

  7. Thank you, Pope Francis,i ha ve been askin for a basic income for many years. I also not that the way you phrase it, the basic income would not be just virus ‘first aid’, but a permanent feature. But it is important that the basic income is closely linked to saving the ecosphere.

  8. Mary Springer

    Social justice is a tenet of Catholic faith, ex: Mother Theresa, Dorothy Day, Father Berrigan, Oscar Romero, scores of priests and nuns killed in El Salvador, Mexico and other Latin American countries as they stood up against military oppressors and gangs. This is just a small sample. I suggest you read America magazine or go to to get updated on these issues. It is no surprise to me the stands that Pope Francis has been taking for the years he has served.

  9. Kate

    I think if you look into the UN Agenda 2030 you’ll see that the Pope is just echoing parts of the Sustainable Development Goals therein . He has also previously spoken about a single world currency & a one world religion and government and also about welcoming AI into our futures . All very in keeping with the neo-liberal globalist world view . I would be rather sceptical I’m afraid that he is merely relying the globalist agenda message to his flock . ( ie sheep)

  10. Larrykenan

    Great read May get attacked by mentally Disturbed POTUS! I a 70 year old black guy from Newark NJ : I detec some reference to Trump$ in my area POTUS gets a 0 0 rating! Unacceptable that Christian leaders are silent to his insane idiot behavior that I saw before his electoral college: If he we’re black he won’t have a chance at re-election; everyone I know think he fool idiot and stupid! Why would you vote for him he’s sick: the POPe knows!

  11. Some of this is indeed “Standard Papal Patter.” Catholic Social Teaching puts an emphasis on ideas like the Common Good — social responsibilities over individualism — and a “Preferential Option for the Poor” which considers public policy according to how it affects the poorest and most vulnerable. And the last two popes were just as critical of our modern Capitalist system and the income inequality it brings about. But Pope Francis has been more an activist pope than his predecessors. Coming from South America, he’s a bit more steeped in Liberation Theology which stresses a more active faith, more in tune with serving the poorest of the poor.