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The capitalist and the Pope share a common enemy


Vinnies’ CEO Sleepout

Earlier this month, Pope Francis visited Rome's Sant'Egidio Community, which is well known for its commitment to the poor. Before an audience that included many homeless people and immigrants, he once again blasted capitalism. 

He regretted that financial capital is often given priority over human capital: 'At the centre of today's global economy aren't men and women, but leaders and money. What isn't productive is thrown away.'

His answer is the concept of solidarity, which is fundamental to Catholic social teaching. It includes investing in — rather than discarding — humans who cannot be regarded as viable units of economic production.

'Some people have tried to take the word 'solidarity' out of our vocabulary,' he said.

But it is not true that all business leaders dismiss the idea of solidarity with those who appear chronically unproductive. Vinnies' CEO Sleepout (pictured), which took place overnight on Thursday, included investment bankers and other capitalist 'true believers' often in Pope Francis' firing line who are willing to express solidarity with those who are homeless.

The business leaders demonstrated that they were prepared to take a physically gruelling first step towards working with these people. Especially if they were able to look them in the eye, there is the possibility the CEOs will include their needs and aspirations in their own corporate thinking processes in the future. 

Hopefully the CEOs have seen for themselves that the profile of the homeless these days is no longer the stereotype of the dishevelled alcoholic man on the park bench. A Vinnies spokesperson cites victims of domestic violence and parents with kids who have just run out of options and can't afford the rent. Prospective employers with the imagination to believe in the future productive capacity of today's down and outs is one who is building a nation and not just his or her own business. 

Vinnies' CEO Sleepout seemed quite a crazy idea when it began five years ago. Coincidentally this week, investment banker and venture capitalist Mark Carnegie went further and proposed a form of compulsory 'national service' that might include older and younger Australians volunteering for organisations such as those assisting the poor and unemployed. 

Carnegie's vision is for a more inclusive and engaged Australia. It is to defeat the 'enemy' of an inequality that is the antithesis of solidarity.

The enemy that we face at the moment is growing inequality, growing divisiveness, growing disengagement, getting people through some universal program to get re-engaged is going to defend us against what's happening in America where you see the society just absolutely sheering because the rich and the poor are just getting further and further and further apart.

As long as a capitalist like Carnegie, and Pope Francis, can be fired up against the common enemy of social exclusion, there is hope for a better life for all of us. 

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street. 

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Pope Francis, Vinnies, Mark Carnegie, capitalism, solidarity, poverty, social inclusion



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Existing comments

I agree with the sentiments expressed in this article. However unless large corporations pay their correct rate of tax, otherwise we're wasting our time.

Terry Steve | 23 June 2014  

“As long as I live I will side with the weak against the strong, with the mistreated against the powerful”. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832 - 1910) Norwegian writer awarded Nobel Prize for Literature in 1903.

Jane | 23 June 2014  

this sentiment is also congruent with my own perspective; i have experienced being on the brink of homelessness with my 3 teenage children and one night in an enclosed area (in Canberra) does not constitute insight into the underbelly of homelessness in a wealthy country. I also concur with Terry and would add that the blatant law-breakers (e.g. Wall Street etc) need to be held to account ... jail time at the least.

mary tehan | 23 June 2014  

Good article. The sentiment which suggests "national service" for everyone in matters of charity is excellent and perhaps should be the basis of lobbying governments in this country. However, the extremes of both capitalism and of a preferential option for the poor are equally flawed as are all extreme positions. Pope Francis has already received criticism for being "a communist", quite ridiculous of course, but unfortunately difficult to shake when he comes from South America which gave birth to militarily armed liberation theology and personally practises his commitment to the downtrodden. Pope John Paul II was highly critical of liberation theology and Pius IX cautioned against the extremes of both socialism and capitalism in his encyclical Quadrigesimo Anno in 1931 which was one of the bases of Catholic social teaching and policy. Social justice needs to walk a middle road to be effective and garner support as does capitalism. Then perhaps both might find themselves hand in hand for the benefit of the disadvantaged rather than at loggerheads. However, that is probably a pipe dream because then there would be no 'holier than thou' cause to fight over. Ned had it right when at 26 yrs of age he uttered the profound understanding, "Such is life".

john frawley | 23 June 2014  

The social justice group from St Ann's in Seaford has been working amongst homeless people for the past 9 months in and around Frankston. We have found Many homeless people chose to live along the foreshore, in tents and swags, almost all are eventually robbed of their very few goods and their money. Fancy cloths draw attention to themselves from the predators.

Kevin Vaughan | 23 June 2014  

Jane, there's something really appealing about the simplicity of black-and-white images. Sadly, this and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector.

Plato revisited | 23 June 2014  

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