Kristine Christlieb reports for ChurchMilitant.com — The Latin America-based group, World Meeting of Popular Movements [El Encuentro Mundial de Movimientos Populares (EMMP)], has released a letter from Pope Francis to its member organizations in which he says circumstances created by the global pandemic “may be the time to consider a universal basic wage.”
Pope Francis shared that thought with an organization he initiated and whose purpose is to create opportunities for Church leadership and grassroots, social justice organizations to strategize about structural changes that promote social, economic and racial justice.
The Pope’s Audience
Released on Easter Sunday, the letter is addressed to “our brothers and sisters of popular movements and organizations.”
The pontiff fondly recalled his three previous meetings with the organization, twice at the Vatican in 2014 and 2016 and once in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia. He speaks fondly of the “beautiful projects” that emerged from the meetings and says their time together “warms my heart.” Based on the organization’s website, it does not appear the group has met with the pope since 2016
However, a by-invitation-only regional meeting took place in Modesto, California, in 2017. It was convened by the Vatican’s department for Integral Human Development (IHD), the Catholic Campaign for Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and PICO National Network.
Twice noting their work “on the peripheries,” the pope pointed out that “market solutions” do not reach there. He also expresses concern that these “social poets” are “looked upon with suspicion when through community organization you try to move beyond philanthropy or when, instead of resigning and hoping to catch some crumbs that fall from the table of economic power, you claim your rights.”
Universal Wage Needed?
In his letter, Pope Francis wrote about the plight of the poor, difficult in the best of times, nearly unbearable during the current global crisis. “How difficult it is to stay at home for those who live in tiny, ramshackle dwellings or for the homeless! How difficult it is for migrants, those who are deprived of freedom and those in rehabilitation from an addiction.”
He continued his description of and empathy for people around the world who are suffering.
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.
It was in this context that Pope Francis wrote, “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.”
In addition to a universal wage, the pope expressed his hope for universal access to “the three Ts that you [EMMP] defend: Trabajo [work], Techo [housing] and Terra [land]. These are the three human basics around which EMMP organizes its global activities.
The pope called for an awakening from our [the West’s?] “sleepy consciences” that indulge in “frenetic rhythms of production and consumption,” extravagant luxuries, and profits that benefit only a few in favor of a “humanistic and ecological conversion.”
Pope Francis’ tone of encouragement and admiration for EMMP-member organizations is in sharp contrast to his messages for American Catholics. One writer called out “Francis’s harsh attitude toward economic sinners and his red-hot contempt for the Western ‘myths’ … individualism, consumerism and blind faith in technology.”
Finland’s Failed Experiment
At least one person was excited about the pope’s universal wage suggestion. Andrew Yang, a former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, tweeted in response to the pope’s wage proposal: “Wow … Game-changing.” Yang was the candidate whose platform called for a basic income plan that would give every adult citizen $12,000 per year through a series of monthly payments.
Meanwhile, in Finland, the response was less effusive, as the nation’s own universal basic income experiment was failure. Beginning in January 2017, the Finnish government gave a random sample of 2,000 unemployed people a monthly stipend of around $700 with no requirement to seek or accept employment. The stipend was not enough to live on, but leftists thought it would fill in wage gaps and conservatives thought the plan would streamline a bloated welfare bureaucracy.
Two years later, many recipients remained jobless, by choice. Branding the experiment a dismal failure, the government cancelled the scheme and began pursuing other welfare options.