23 October 2022 | The Council for Inclusive Capitalism with the Vatican turns two. After his famous verdict “This economy kills,” Pope Francis seems to now be offering big capitalists a spiritual platform for polishing their public image. Unless, the commitments that corporate CEOs post on this platform are seriously intended to make the world a better place? Let’s take a look.
It’s a contrast that could hardly be greater: In late 2013, Pope Francis condemned predatory capitalism and its leaders in his doctrinal letter “Evangelii Gaudium,” something like his government declaration: “Such an economy kills,” it read, and:
“The worship of the ancient golden calf has found a new and merciless form in the fetish of money and in the dictatorship of an economy without a face and without a truly human goal. (…) A new, invisible, sometimes virtual tyranny is emerging, which unilaterally and inexorably imposes its laws and its rules. (…) In this system, which tends to absorb everything in order to increase its benefits, everything weak (…) is defenseless against the interests of the deified market, which become the absolute rule.”
Quite in line with the interpretation of church representatives, Frank A. Meyer wrote on this in Cicero that the Pope was not anti-capitalist, but a reformer of capitalism. He differed fundamentally from his predecessors, however, according to Meyer, in that for him appeals to the improvement of the actors do not suffice. Exploitation and poverty, alienation and misery could not be eliminated by an exorcism of “greed for power and property,” but only by changing the economic substructure, by law. This interpretation is supported by Francis’ writing on trickle-down theory, the theory that something always drips down from the rich man’s table to the blessing of those at the bottom:
“This view, never confirmed by the facts, expresses an undifferentiated, naive confidence in the goodness of those who hold economic power in their hands, as well as in the deified mechanisms of the dominant economic system.”
A change of mind of the infallible
The Pope Francis of the 2020s does not seem to have much in common with the one of 2013. It is a pope who, on Dec. 8, 2020, blessed a Council for Inclusive Capitalism at the Vatican into existence. Its founders, the “Guardians”, are among the most powerful high priests of Mammon. The capitalist council proudly reported that “they manage $10.5 trillion in investment capital and companies with a market capitalization of $2.1 trillion and 200 million workers in over 163 countries.” The initiator, Lynn Forester de Rothschild, promised nothing less than the purification of big capitalists’ hearts and souls, at least of those in the council:
“Capitalism has created enormous global prosperity, but it has also left too many people behind, led to degradation of our planet, and is not widely trusted in society,” said Lynn Forester de Rothschild, Founder of the Council and Managing Partner of Inclusive Capital Partners. “This Council will follow the warning from Pope Francis to listen to ‘the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’ and answer society’s demands for a more equitable and sustainable model of growth.”
In 2020, the pope apparently no longer had the will or the courage to pour water into this wine of “undifferentiated, naive trust” in the goodness of those who hold economic power in their hands. Instead, he assisted de Rothschild by saying:
“We urgently need an economic system that is fair, trustworthy, and capable of addressing the most profound challenges facing humanity and our planet. You have risen to the challenge by seeking ways to make capitalism a more inclusive instrument for holistic human well-being.”
So the infallible representative of God on earth, according to the teachings of the Catholic Church, now puts all his trust in the Guardians of inclusive capitalism, as there are, for example, the top executives of Mastercard, Visa, Allianz, Salesforce, Dupont, Merck & Co, Johnson & Johnson, Estée Lauder, BP, Saudi Aramco, Rockefeller Foundation, Bank of America.
As of 2022, the “Guardians” are called more profanely “Steering Committee”. The ordinary members are called Stewards. A few of the founders of the council have left, others were added to the steering committee, including Paypal CEO Dan Schulman, who, according to the capitalist council, is working to “democratize financial services and online commerce to improve the financial health of billions of people, families and businesses around the world.”
Factual reasons for the pope’s newfound confidence in the goodness of the masters of money is hard to find – quite the contrary. One only has to look at the Guardians or members of the steering committee of the Council, and one sees into abysses of what corporate managers will do to maximize profits.
There’s the pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson. The company has entered into a settlement with victims for knowingly selling baby powder contaminated with cancer-causing asbestos for decades, but is threatend with more law suits. In response, management intends to use a questionable trick to limit payments, spinning off the troubled activity into a new company, which would file for bankruptcy. Guardian Alex Gorsky has been with the company since 1988, first as a pharmaceutical representative, then as a manager in marketing and sales, and since 2012 as the head of Johnson & Johnson. The company was also fined $5bn in July 2021 for helping to cause the so-called opioid crisis in the US, entirely under his leadership. Uncontrolled dispensing and misleading advertising of highly addictive painkillers by pharmaceutical companies allegedly led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Now Gorsky will supposedly turn capitalism into an instrument for holistic human well-being, with the blessing of the pope.
Guardian Mark Weinberger was a manager from 2000, with brief interruptions, at the accounting firm Ernst & Young, which was to rename itself EY because of the high density of its scandals. From 2012 to 2019 he was ultimately responsible for the continued scandals as the top manager. The latest of these scandals was the rubber-stamping of multi-billion-dollar invented assets by the bankrupt company Wirecard. After leaving EY, he joined Johnson & Johnson and the Saudi oil company Saudi Aramco as a member of the supervisory board. This until recently state-owned oil multinational operates under the supervision of a medieval-ruled state where women have almost no rights, where mass beheadings are common, and where the monarch lured a journalist into an embassy to have him murdered and dismembered. Much room for improvement in promoting holistic human well-being in Weinberger’s environment.
Bank of America agreed in August 2014 to punitive and settlement payments totaling $16.65 billion, the highest ever imposed. The reason was the havoc the bank had wreaked with its subprime loans to insolvent homebuyers, including fraudulent evictions of homeowners and foreclosures after the house of cards collapsed. These illegal foreclosures dragged on for years after Guardian Brian Moynihan rose to head the bank in 2010. According to the capitalist council, he is qualified for the steering committee because he is “dedicated to making financial lives better for people and businesses of every size.”
Paypal, a company with a dominant international position in online payments, has become notorious for freezing money in the accounts of business customers for vague reasons, and withholding it until those who take the risk of suing are threatening to win their lawsuit. In September 2022, Dan Schulman’s company even announced it would take $2,500 from the accounts of customers who spread misinformation, based on new terms and conditions. When too many customers cancelled their accounts in response, a statement said the notice was in error. It is not obvious how the pope expects the manager of such a predatory company to steer others toward a better economic system.
Good intentions abound
But perhaps cynicism is out of place here. After all, the good father rejoices most over prodigal sons who return home. Why not the pope, too. Among the conditions for admission to the council -in fact, the only condition mentioned on the website – is a public commitment by managers to do something concrete to improve the economy. Perhaps Gorsky of Johnson & Johnson has vowed to never again push harmful or useless products on unsuspecting consumers in order to maximize profits.
Not quite. For a start, Alex Gorsky’s profile with the pontifical council on Inclusion provides little that would indicate great ethical ambition. The war veteran is a supporter of veterans’ issues and an advocate of diversity and inclusion, it says. The two commitments he has made for his company are: To have 35% ethnically and racially diverse leadership in the U.S. and 50% women globally by 2025.
This is the direction many of the voluntary commitments are taking. As laudable as they are, it is questionable whether it will be of much help to those left behind by the economic system, the poor in developing countries and those without opportunities in industrialized countries, if those who manage the system are a little more diverse in the future.
Yet these are still the more tangible commitments. It is apparently enough for membership in capital’s do-gooder club to commit to “ensuring that all customers and employees are treated with dignity and respect and treat others as such, not just in 2021 but beyond.”
Many are embracing the basic philosophy of the club that capitalism itself is a do-gooder. You just have to make sure everyone is plugged into that machine to benefit from it. The intention to expand one’s market to include previously neglected customer groups then becomes a commitment to improving the world. Such as when cosmetics multinational Estée Lauder pledges to “to address racial equity by ensuring that its portfolio of makeup brands deliver products that meet the diverse shade and formula needs of the Black community and its Black consumers.” But only ” as appropriate by market”, of course. Or when Visa commits “to digitally empower” 50 million small and micro businesses, that is, to sell to them an off-the-shelf digital card payment product.
Note that Johnson & Johnson stands accused of having focused marketing efforts for their dangerous baby powder on “curvy Southern women 18-49 skewing African American.” Had the Council of Inclusive Capitalism already existed at the time, they would probably have made a commitment to provide disadvantaged communities with their products.
Bank of America has pledged to “reduce barriers to homeownership by helping individuals and households buy a home with $5 billion in loans.” Mortgage lending is the normal business of a bank and too much of it was what Bank of America ruined so many people with. The commitment to the papal cpitalists’ club could have read just the same in the run-up to the subprime crises, that was caused by too much of such activities. Not to be found among the commitments is an intention to refrain from unethical practices as then. Nor does it include an intention of of bank boss Moynihan to give up his environmentally unfriendly habit of commuting in the company’s private jets between his home in the northeastern U.S. and his workplace in the southeast. After all, he is co-chair of King Charles’ Sustainable Markets Initiative. When it comes to sustainable and comprehensive human well-being, Moynihan knows no compromise, at least not when it comes to his own.
What you generally don’t find are commitments to reducing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identification, even though that’s very much in vogue in society and business right now. That could be because the issue is more than a little sensitive to the Catholic Church. Cardinal Peter Turkson, the person in charge of promoting integral human development on the Vatican side, was instrumental in the creation of the Capitalist Council. Judging by his comments, could be called a rabid homophobe.
A pact with the AI devil
No public commitment is to be found from Emil Jimenez, the steward and founder of Mind Bank AI. According to his profile with the Vatican’s Capitalist Council, “the transformative idea of his life is to build a digital platform that allows humanity to transcend its limitations by living forever in the form of data.” What began as a quest for immortality, the profile says, has grown into something greater for humanity, “because the next personal computer is you.”
I wonder if the Vatican might have had a problem with letting this person’s commitment make the list. After all, it’s a very idiosyncratic interpretation of what Pope Francis meant when he exhorted in his 2014 message to the World Economic Forum’s meeting in Davos:
“The growth of equality demands something more than economic growth, even though it presupposes it. It demands first of all a transcendent vision of the person, because without the perspective of eternal life, human progress in this world is denied breathing-space.”
Pope Francis could well have guessed that the capitalist would have a different Idea of a treanscendent vision of the person from his own. After all, Klaus Schwab, the head of the World Economic Forum, that is, the representative of the interests of all the stewards in the Council of Capitalists, is a staunch advocate of the optimization of man through his fusion with machines and artificial intelligence, including the linking of the brain to computers. In the past, people would have said that the pope made a pact with the devil.
No one should be under the illusion that Klaus Schwab is just indulging his whim and that this has no meaning. Intensive work is being done on this program. To give just two examples of many: A research institute located at the Canadian Ministry of Labor, which is interspersed with top-class sophomores of the World Economic Forum, is working on this horror scenario of “biological-digital convergence,” on computer-controlled man-machines or machine-humans. The British armed forces are researching the possibilities of “huamn augmentation” of soldiers in a joint project with the German, Swedish and Finnish armed forces. There are ethical problems with what appeals to the military, among them is this:
“Genetic modification could be used to create super soldiers who kill without mercy, don’t tire, show no fear and behave more like a machine than a human.”
But these concerns are considered secondary, because:
“Neither public opinion nor ethicists will decide the future of human optimization. Instead, governments will likely decide it, based on the national interest in prosperity, security, and safety.”
It is quite clear that the transhumanist agenda of Klaus Schwab, the supreme high priest of Mammon, is indeed the kind of world improvement through a transcendent vision of the person that the pope and the church have in mind. Nevertheless, Francis regularly sends messages of blessing to Schwab’s high masses in Davos. Transhumanism has not been a topic in any of them. As a rule, they seem to be read to the meeting participants in Davos by the infamous Cardinal Peter Turkson.
Why is the pope doing this?
What the members of the capitalist council get out of it is obvious: good publicity. The council’s web pages put the members’ commitments in the spotlight. To potential new members, the positive publicity one gets from being associated with the Vatican is touted as one of the main benefits. As the commitments tend to cost nothing or very little (extra): what could be better? One wonders why there are still companies that are not members of this council at the Vatican. Probably because membership also costs money.
But why does the pope go along with it? After his remarks about the “naive trust in the goodness of the powerful,” it is not very plausible that he thinks he is contributing enough to the improvement of the economic system in this way that it would be justified to provide the trade of the most powerful economic representatives with a public papal blessing in exchange.
Again, the answer is likely to be money. For money is what the big capitalists have in abundance to buy influence with. At the same time, money is something the Vatican needs a lot of. While it has large assets, it also has limited liquid assets, and it regularly spends many millions more than it takes in, with very little transparency in its accounting. Why shouldn’t corporations, which have managed to use money to get even the United Nations under their thumb, seek and find a gateway to repeat this trick with the Vatican. The Council for Inclusive Capitalism at the Vatican seems to be the equivalent of the Memorandum of Understanding to intensify cooperation between the UN and the World Economic Forum.
I asked the press office of the Council for Inclusive Capitalism, among other things, if it is expected or required that new members donate to the Church or the Vatican. I received no response to repeated inquiries.
Post Scriptum (24 Oct): Vaccination Coin of the Vatican
Readers alerted me to the 20 Euro Silver-Coin for collectors, which the Vatican is selling. This should please Guardian Alex Gorsky of Johnson & Johnson.
From the description of the Papal Mint: “The coin depicts a doctor, a nurse and a young person who is ready to receive the vaccine. The Holy Father has repeatedly stressed the importance of vaccination.”