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  • The Pope's economist: Mariana Mazzucato's plan to revitalize the global economy

The Pope's economist: Mariana Mazzucato's plan to revitalize the global economy



It is not just the Australian treasurer Jim Chalmers looking to Mariana Mazzucato for ideas about reforming our global economic system (in The Monthly, February 2023, ‘Capitalism after the crises’), so is Pope Francis.

Francis commends Mazzucato’s thinking for offering a compelling analysis of problems in the global economy and what can be done to build a more sustainable and fairer world.  This coincides with his own hopes, including about reframing economics on the basis of universal human values. In November 2022 he appointed Mazzucato, a ‘great economist’, to the Pontifical Academy for Life to ‘give it a little more humanity’ and broaden its scope.

Both Francis and Mazzucato are highly critical of neoliberal forms of capitalism that have concentrated wealth in the hands of a few at the expense of the great majority of people. Both urge reforms in global economic systems to eradicate hunger, gross poverty and inequality, as well as averting, in the Pope’s words, the looming climate ‘catastrophe’.  Both have been strong supporters of the UN Sustainable Development Goals as the most promising program to promote a more just and inclusive order, yet they are alarmed that the SDGs are nor achieving their targets.

Many people are aware of the Pope’s call to action to remedy climate change and keep fossil fuels in the ground, but not so many know of his advocacy for reform of the international economy. Francis embraced the UN SDGs as an historic effort to create a more humane and equitable world, and wrote Laudato si’ in collaboration with some of the key architects of the SDGs. The encyclical of May 2015 did not explicitly name the SDGs, since they were not approved until the UN delegates voted for them on 25 September 2015, immediately after the Pope had addressed the UN General Assembly.

Writing in ‘Financing the Common Good’ in the Project Syndicate on 1 May 2023, Mazzucato insisted that ‘to create a truly inclusive economy… deep structural change is needed.’ She echoed UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in calling for a ‘Common Agenda’ for global cooperation with decisive action. Guterres warned that ‘the defining principle of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a shared promise by every country to work together to secure the rights and well-being of everyone on a healthy, thriving planet. But halfway to 2030, that promise is in peril.’

Mazzucato is particularly critical of how rich countries during the Covid-19 crisis, ‘aided by a flawed system of intellectual-property rights, hoarded vaccines’. She writes that ‘more than a million lives could have been saved’ if accessibility and equity had been made explicit objectives in distributing vaccines.


'Francis does not claim to be an economist, but he is appealing to Mazzucato, other economists and people of good will everywhere to work collaboratively in shaping a world where everyone has the opportunity and resources to lead a more fulfilling life.'


Mazzucato is very active in economic and policy circles, advising many governments. A dynamic speaker, she frequently addresses international conferences, and has published widely. Many of her talks are posted on the internet, including several TED presentations.  In 2020 she was appointed chair of the World Health Organisation’s Council on the Economics of Health for All. She has also served on the UN’s High Level Advisory Board on Economic and Social Affairs, the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network Leadership Council, and the UN’s Committee for Development Policy.

An Italian-American, she completed her PhD in economics at the New School of Social Research in New York in 1999, and lectured in US and overseas universities, including the University of Technology in Sydney in 2014. In 2017 she became Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London, and founded its Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose. She is married with four children.

In a recent book, The Big Con: How the Consulting Industry Weakens our Businesses, Infantilises our Governments and Warps our Economies, Mazzucato and her colleague Rosie Collington expose the astonishing fraud and malpractice in the international financial services sector. The current situation of PwC in Australia illustrates the problem precisely.

Mazzucato and Collington in ‘Consultants and the Crisis of Capitalism’ in Project Syndicate on 2 March 2023 pointed to ‘deeper structural problems with contemporary capitalism. The consulting industry may not be wholly responsible for the financialization of the economy, corporate “short-termism,” or the gutting of the public sector, but it certainly thrives on them.’ They ‘profited massively from the push toward privatization, management reform, private financing, outsourcing, digitalization, and austerity.’

Pope Francis has been reading Mazzucato for some years. Writing to a committee of judges about social inequality and the cost of Covid-19 vaccines in 2020, he urged people to read her book, The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy, saying that the world had lost sight of the true meaning of value. ‘I believe [her vision] can help to think about the future’, he commented.

Mazzucato tweeted back: ‘Deeply honoured that the Pope has read my book… and that he agrees that the future – especially post-Covid-19 – has to see a re-prioritisation of “value” over “price”.’

Mazzucato is well known for her 2013 book The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths. She highlighted the role that governments played in developing radical new innovations, like the internet, where government took the risks but private companies reaped the financial rewards.

Her 2018 book, The Value of Everything, critiqued neoclassical economics and argued that many large private firms have become rent-seekers, drawing excess profits from products that contribute no real value. Against neoliberal policies of small government, she argued that the state has to shape the market so that it is not captured by powerful special interests and instead works for the common good.

Her Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism (2021) argued that when the United States decided to land men on the moon, the government put all its available resources into achieving this goal, in cooperation with private firms. Mazzucato urged the international community likewise to prioritise critical social goals, as in the SDGs, and to mobilise resources needed to achieve them.

Francis does not claim to be an economist, but he is appealing to Mazzucato, other economists and people of good will everywhere to work collaboratively in shaping a world where everyone has the opportunity and resources to lead a more fulfilling life.




Bruce Duncan is a Redemptorist priest and an emeritus lecturer in areas of social justice at Yarra Theological Union in Melbourne. He is former editor of Social Policy Connections.

Main image: Mariana Mazzucato. (Supplied)

Topic tags: Bruce Duncan, Pope Francis, Economics, Mazzucato, Neoliberalism



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Existing comments

A big thank you must go to Bruce Duncan for initiating a much needed discussion on Christian teaching and a much fairer and a more viable world economy.

If we are to believe the claims by many western political and church leaders, Christian teaching equates with the prevailing neoliberal capitalism which has made a minority of the world’s population fabulously rich while putting the majority in a situation where they are literally struggling for survival. This has come about by the ruthless exploitation of ordinary people and the environment.

As John Falzon so justifiably stated in an earlier Eureka Street article “neoliberal capitalism is capitalism on steroids”!

I think it is very refreshing to see a church leader such as Jorge Mario Bergoglio – aka Pope Francis – is calling for more responsible and fairer economics internationally along with a greater responsibility to our shared environment and the need to avoid war. His promotion of Professor Mariana Mazzucato’s approach to economics is very important for these aims and should be applauded.

Mazzucato offers a call to bold, collective action for a better future for all with prosperity that is broadly shared, first class public services to be enjoyed by all, and a solution to the climate crisis. Her prescription is for governments to dialogue with citizens to define the grand challenges of our times and to set missions to solve them in partnership with business.
As chair of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Council, she has said “Health for all must be at the heart of government investment and innovation decisions - and it must be governed with the common good in mind. The Council will work to address these many challenges and offer the world a path forward.”
A more in-depth discussion of her work can be found in a review of her writings in The Guardian 20.0102023:
Mission Economy by Mariana Mazzucato review – the return of the state | Politics books | The Guardian

It is encouraging to know that Jim Chalmers – our federal Treasurer – has also read the work of Mariana Mazzucato, but I wonder how much of it he has really taken to heart given the massive handouts his government has given to the large corporations and the super wealthy and the amounts spent on the AUKUS pact with the nuclear-powered submarines deal. The latter is more appropriate to involving us in US power plays in our region rather than what is necessary for our defence. And then on the other hand, we see the low increases that the Albanese government has given for the welfare of those who are facing a real struggle to survive.

It seems that our government needs to be reminded of the actual origins of the statement “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” which was coined by the European Christian socialists – Louis Blanc and August Beck - based on the way early Christians lived communally and sharing resources as described in Acts 2:44-45 and 4:32–35.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 04 June 2023  

At last! We as a family have become so despairing at what has been going on in the so called "democratic" world. "Democratic" has become inter-changeable with "neoliberal capitalism" .
We look at the numbers of homeless people, the people living below the poverty line, the accumulating wealth and tax dodging of large multinational companies, the ridiculous high cost of tertiary study, the limitations of the public health sector and hospitals, the often crippling cost of medical and dental treatment in the private sector and wonder where it will end.
My husband and I are both in our eighties and this was not the future we had hoped for our grandchildren and great- grandchildren.
However, with the work going on by such people as the Pope and Professor Mariana Mazzucato , we can see some light and hope.
Thank you.
Helen and Richard Flanigan.

Helen Flanigan | 06 June 2023  

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