A Revolutionary Pope Calls for Rethinking the Outdated Criteria That Rule the World by Ellen Brown

Pope Francis rips capitalism and trickle-down economics

Image by Devendra Makkar via Flickr

by Ellen Brown
Writer, Dandelion Salad
The Web of Debt Blog
July 3, 2015

Pope Francis’ revolutionary encyclical addresses not just climate change but the banking crisis. Interestingly, the solution to that crisis may have been modeled in the Middle Ages by Franciscan monks following the Saint from whom the Pope took his name.

Pope Francis has been called “the revolutionary Pope.” Before he became Pope Francis, he was a Jesuit Cardinal in Argentina named Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the son of a rail worker. Moments after his election, he made history by taking on the name Francis, after Saint Francis of Assisi, the leader of a rival order known to have shunned wealth to live in poverty.

Pope Francis’ June 2015 encyclical is called “Praised Be,” a title based on an ancient song attributed to St. Francis. Most papal encyclicals are addressed only to Roman Catholics, but this one is addressed to the world. And while its main focus is considered to be climate change, its 184 pages cover much more than that. Among other sweeping reforms, it calls for a radical overhaul of the banking system. It states in Section IV:

Today, in view of the common good, there is urgent need for politics and economics to enter into a frank dialogue in the service of life, especially human life. Saving banks at any cost, making the public pay the price, forgoing a firm commitment to reviewing and reforming the entire system, only reaffirms the absolute power of a financial system, a power which has no future and will only give rise to new crises after a slow, costly and only apparent recovery. The financial crisis of 2007-08 provided an opportunity to develop a new economy, more attentive to ethical principles, and new ways of regulating speculative financial practices and virtual wealth. But the response to the crisis did not include rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world.

. . . A strategy for real change calls for rethinking processes in their entirety, for it is not enough to include a few superficial ecological considerations while failing to question the logic which underlies present-day culture.

“Rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world” is a call to revolution, one that is necessary if the planet and its people are to survive and thrive. Beyond a change in our thinking, we need a strategy for eliminating the financial parasite that is keeping us trapped in a prison of scarcity and debt.

Interestingly, the model for that strategy may have been created by the Order of the Saint from whom the Pope took his name. Medieval Franciscan monks, defying their conservative rival orders, evolved an alternative public banking model to serve the poor at a time when they were being exploited with exorbitant interest rates.

The Franciscan Alternative: Banking for the People

In the Middle Ages, the financial parasite draining the people of their assets and livelihoods was understood to be “usury” – charging rent for the use of money. Lending money at interest was forbidden to Christians, as a breach of the prohibition on usury proclaimed by Jesus in Luke 6:33. But there was a serious shortage of the precious metal coins that were the official medium of exchange, creating a need to expand the money supply with loans on credit.

An exception was therefore made to the proscription against usury for the Jews, whose Scriptures forbade usury only to “brothers” (meaning other Jews). This gave them a virtual monopoly on lending, however, allowing them to charge excessively high rates because there were no competitors. Interest sometimes went as high as 60 percent.

These rates were particularly devastating to the poor. To remedy the situation, Franciscan monks, defying the prohibitions of the Dominicans and Augustinians, formed charitable pawnshops called montes pietatus (pious or non-speculative collections of funds). These shops lent at low or no interest on the security of valuables left with the institution.

The first true mons pietatis made loans that were interest-free. Unfortunately, it went broke in the process. Expenses were to come out of the original capital investment; but that left no money to run the bank, and it eventually had to close.

Franciscan monks then established montes pietatis in Italy that lent at low rates of interest. They did not seek to make a profit on their loans. But they faced bitter opposition, not only from their banking competitors but from other theologians. It was not until 1515 that the montes were officially declared to be meritorious.

After that, they spread rapidly in Italy and other European countries. They soon evolved into banks, which were public in nature and served public and charitable purposes. This public bank tradition became the modern European tradition of public, cooperative and savings banks. It is particularly strong today in the municipal banks of Germany called Sparkassen.

The public banking concept at the heart of the Sparkassen was explored in the 18th century by the Irish philosopher Bishop George Berkeley, in a treatise called The Plan of a National Bank. Berkeley visited America and his work was studied by Benjamin Franklin, who popularized the public banking model in colonial Pennsylvania. In the US today, the model is exemplified in the state-owned Bank of North Dakota.

From “Usury” to “Financialization”

What was condemned as usury in the Middle Ages today goes by the more benign term “financialization” – turning public commodities and services into “asset classes” from which wealth can be siphoned by rich private investors. Far from being condemned, it is lauded as the way to fund development in an age in which money is scarce and governments and people everywhere are in debt.

Land and natural resources, once considered part of the commons, have long been privatized and financialized. More recently, this trend has been extended to pensions, health, education and housing. Today financialization has entered a third stage, in which it is invading infrastructure, water, and nature herself. Capital is no longer content merely to own. The goal today is to extract private profit at every stage of production and from every necessity of life.

The dire effects can be seen particularly in the financialization of food. The international food regime has developed over the centuries from colonial trading systems to state-directed development to transnational corporate control. Today the trading of food commodities by hedgers, arbitrageurs and index speculators has disconnected markets from the real-world demand for food. The result has been sudden shortages, price spikes and food riots. Financialization has turned farming from a small scale, autonomous and ecologically-sustainable craft to a corporate assembly process that relies on patented technologies and equipment increasingly financed through debt.

We have bought into this financialization scheme based on a faulty economic model, in which we have allowed money to be created privately by banks and lent to governments and people at interest. The vast majority of the circulating money supply is now created by private banks in this way, as the Bank of England recently acknowledged.

Meanwhile, we live on a planet that holds the promise of abundance for all. Mechanization and computerization have streamlined production to the point that, if the work week and corporate profits were divided equitably, we could be living lives of ease, with our basic needs fulfilled and plenty of leisure to pursue the interests we find rewarding. We could, like St. Francis, be living like the lilies of the field. The workers and materials are available to build the infrastructure we need, provide the education our children need, provide the care the sick and elderly need. Inventions are waiting in the wings that could clean up our toxic environment, save the oceans, recycle waste, and convert sun, wind and perhaps even zero-point energy into usable energy sources.

The holdup is in finding the funding for these inventions. Our politicians tell us “we don’t have the money.” Yet China and some other Asian countries are powering ahead with this sort of sustainable development. Where have they found the money?

The answer is that they simply issue it. What private banks do in Western countries, publicly-owned and -controlled banks do in many Asian countries. Their governments have taken control of the engines of credit – the banks – and operated them for the benefit of the public and their own economies.

What blocks Western economies from pursuing that course is a dubious economic theory called “monetarism.” It is based on the premise that “inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon,” and that the chief cause of inflation is money “created out of thin air” by governments. In the 1970s, the Basel Committee discouraged governments from issuing money themselves or borrowing from their own central banks which issued it. Instead they were to borrow from “the market,” which generally meant borrowing from private banks. Overlooked was the fact, recently acknowledged by the Bank of England, that the money borrowed from banks is also created out of thin air. The difference is that bank-created money originates as a debt and comes with a hefty private interest charge attached.

We can break free from this exploitative system by returning the power to create money to governments and the people they represent. The strategy for real change called for by Pope Francis can be furthered with government-issued money of the sort originated by the American colonists, augmented by a network of publicly-owned banks of the sort established by the Order of St. Francis in the Middle Ages.


Ellen Brown is an attorney, founder of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books including the best-selling Web of Debt. Her latest book, The Public Bank Solution, explores successful public banking models historically and globally. Her 200+ blog articles are at EllenBrown.com.

see also:

Encyclical Laudato Si

from the archives:

Noam Chomsky: All Are Trapped By An Institutional Logic That Is Deeply Pathological And That Must Be Cured And Quickly If We Are Not To Put An End To The Human Race

Naomi Klein: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (must-see)

Noam Chomsky: Two Major Crises Looming: Nuclear War and Global Warming

Noam Chomsky on Pope Francis’ Radicalism

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29 thoughts on “A Revolutionary Pope Calls for Rethinking the Outdated Criteria That Rule the World by Ellen Brown

  1. Pingback: Pope Tells World’s Top Arms Dealers to End Arms Trade by David Swanson | Dandelion Salad

  2. Pingback: Richard D. Wolff: I’m Becoming a Fan of Pope Francis: Capitalism Runs Counter to the Plan of Jesus + What is Community Wealth Building? | Dandelion Salad

  3. David , I predicted it ! go back and read my early post when Pope Francis was first picked and everyone including you just dissed me . And you aint seen nothing yet ! He is just getting warmed up . Malachi’s prophecy and Billy Meier ‘s one also is about the same , but who says that they are reliable sources ???

    But here is the thing : lets say the Church Roman collapses ..what are you gonna replace it with ? the Kiwanas club ? American fundamentalism ? Tennis matches at Wimbleton ? the RCC is THE repository of Western Civilization . What you are seeing is the early stages of THE REGATHERING ..of Protestants and Catholics being united globally as in the prayer of Jesus in John 17 for the unity of all believers.

    That Gospel is a pretty reliable source for inspiration of the Eschatological Unitive Phase in collective humanity just as phase 3 of the same personal Unification within the individual with God called the –”Apotheosis” according to 16th century Spanish Mystic Saint John of the Cross .

    The Church in Rome wont fall apart because it is as Jesuit priest and Palentologists Teliard de Charden calls ”The Axis of Hominization for global Unity leading to the Omega Point ”. if God Almighty chooses to use the Church of Rome to be that Axis then all the naysaying and unbelief in the world wont stop it . And also , Pope Francis said where his inspiration comes from — the light of Jesus Risen . He has said that he has had 2 distinct visions in his life of Jesus; the first —his calling to be a priest , and the 2nd -the day he was picked to be the Bishop of Rome .

    if you want to get a more balanced view of the Church and Women there are 2 books that I own that are a must read :

    1. From Viral Woman to Woman Christ –Barbara Newman
    2. The Catholic Thing –by Rosemary Haughton .

    both Catholic Feminists . Both top notch scholars . At this stage of the game .. being Cathliophobic is counterproductive …for as Sherlock Holmes says ”Wake up Watson , for the game is a afoot ”.

    • The Vatican and Pope could be replaced with shopping therapy? what is wrong with consumption? the British public are happy enough with shopping and those who cannot afford to buy can enjoy window shopping.
      Napoleon had the right idea in stating Britain a Nation of Shopkeepers! what is the alternative? savoring a wafer?

    • Rocket, thank you for the feminist references. To be fair I have never truly “dissed” you, only expressed my deep scepticism about authoritarian or absolutist religious convictions. I am by nature & inclination an occultist (ie proto-theurgist,) an intellectual esotericist, a life-long student of the mind and a metaphysical pragmatist.

      I’ve said many times that I have no business criticising another’s sincere beliefs. As I recall my position has always been clear enough ~ if and when the ship of wisdom comes in I’ll be cheering, not before.

      That said, I am wholeheartedly enthusiastic about the Francis initiative, as he is obviously motivated by a pure intelligence and probably as ethical and sincere a leader as could be wished for.

      This said, I do not intend to gloss over some really crucial points about this evolving and emergent historical precedent however.

      He is a VIP ~ a head of state, and as such has real political influence, certain privileges and also colossal responsibilities. This issue is not about spiritual branding therefore, it is about planetary stewardship and ultimately, terrestrial honesty.

      We know these diabolical secret “trade agreement” negotiations are toxic, but there is as yet, very little recognition or general awareness of the singular importance and gigantic implications of the proposed ecocide amendment.

      It will really change the game if adopted, because it puts in place a legal mechanism, not just an ethical policy change. We need very strong medicine, an enduring cure, not just more allopathic gestures, that just persist in treating the symptoms and masking the real disease.

      The amendment to the Rome Statute is a binding, obligatory legal instrument that will regulate all corporate activities across the board through an international law that signatory states must adhere to ~ which is why the corporatist oligopoly is so desperate to destroy all due process , or at best, appropriate and manipulate any such “laws” with their criminal shyster tactics.

      Hence its absolute relevance, dramatic importance, and the crucial urgency that it should be consciously included in any strategic programme of reform or fundamental change, that Francis (or any other leader for that matter) is so significantly or profoundly advocating.

      Our personal beliefs are entirely our own business; the future of Earth-life is everyone’s responsibility. We are the conscious mind of this planet, and its minders. Our actions determine every outcome, except those over which we have no control ~ like seismic events, volcanic eruptions and solar flares.

      It would be wonderful to defer to an off-planet (paternalistic) authority, but for the time being we must face the task of guardianship, with whatever spiritual means we can muster and the knowledge resources we are endowed with, however these may be conceived or experienced as indigenous or acquired; but most importantly, never shrinking from the task of charting their detailed provenance and legitimacy. Nothing should be elided, nothing excluded.

      Our local galactic centre is the (spiritual) Sun, despite it being so hard to miss, some folks simply don’t seem to understand what actually illuminates their lives….

      As for Naomi preaching to the cardinals and the rest ~ all I can say is if you predicted that, mega kudos! Bravo my friend.

      • David , good reply . the only thing i would take issue with is that our personal beliefs are important because they effect the world in aggregate.

        We are not our ideas , we are human beings . However, our ideas and beliefs can and do change the world and have a rippling effect to everyone weather we know it or not ..the Butterfly Effect –Cleopatra’s nose etc…

        let us say for discussion sake that I –may 1 , 1974 ..had said no to my vision of Christ . OK, i know that my life would have been worse off, and i also know that i would not have ever done the kind of corporal works of mercy toward others that have had effects that even i dont see.

        So ..i do think that that which is personal becomes in the end public even if one says nothing with their mouth . Unless of course people say they believe in something and dont act on it , which is sometimes a good thing when you talk to people who have an Ayn Rand mentality , but in real life they will give you the shirt off their back when in need.

        • Thank you Rocket for the acknowledgement, and yes you are right. Of course you are right, as what you say is important and significant on all levels.

          It’s not dissimilar to the issue of freedom of speech ~ we may not like or agree with what another says (or believes) but we can and should concede them a legitimate right to express their convictions as they see fit. The only exception or “red line,” would be if and when when those actions impinge on another’s freedom to exercise sovereignty over their own consciousness and exercise the integrity they are entitled to.

          By that criterion, most of corporate multinational America is in gross violation of universal human rights ~ even as they purport to be serving the ideology of “freedom” ~ breaching all known restraint as with ever more strident determination they obsess to colonise ever broader uplands. The epitome of this abomination being groups like the “Highlands Forum.”

          The hypocrisy is obvious, the cynicism, criminal. The travesty of social justice is both blatant and hubristic, while the consequences and prospects for international coherence are simply lethal. The world has gone to hell in a Goldman Sachs handcart piled high with fraudulent promises, so lets all give a strong vote of confidence to Francis regardless of our intellectual and moral constituencies.

          Here is a genuine leader who appears to be riding roughshod, but without malice, over all opposition. A man to reckon with and an example of what a moral conscience can effectively achieve. My key misgiving is that we may have just cause to be wary of yet another MLKjr/JFK euphoric moment.

          The distinction between the US ideology of dominance and say Japanese, is that the latter saw business as warfare whose wages brought prosperity for all; while the former believe that fanatically waging war, is the only business. Almost all of these white-collar US iron-mongers profess ostentatious “faith.”

  4. Right now, the Greek people have shown the world they have the courage and integrity to stand up for their human and social rights and say “NO” to the European usurers’ threats of “withholding” bailout money if they didn’t succumb to bankster blackmail. Hell, if they can’t pay what they owe already, and there are a host of reasons why, how can they pay back more “debt” by borrowing more money?

    More later.

  5. The whole thing about St Francis of Assisi was that he said that the reason that he did not own anything is because the Lord owns it all , so that giving is not a sacrifice per se , but just an act of not robbing others .

    Prouden said ”Property is theft ‘[‘ , but Marx and Engels thought that Prouden had not fully thought it through . but i think that Prouden had thought it thru , and that Marx and Engels had extrapolated from that fundamental axiom to invent a system without volunteerism that forces people to give everything up … and it backfired on them . big mistake .

    the great thing about Pope Francis is that his Liberation theology is Franciscan and not Marxian , which means that gives the opportunity for people to choose as an act of joy to give to others . But also , being the Bishop of Rome he can lean on his influence globally to appeal to conscience and also to set up some kind of international law that stops the bleeding of the Earth and the Poor .

    • Rocket, that hypothetical international law you refer to already exists in draft form as the proposed Ecocide amendment to the Rome Statute….Polly Higgins’ “fifth crime against peace”

      http://eradicatingecocide.com/2012/08/14/un-ecocide-was-the-5th-crime-against-peace/

      this year is the occasion when the opportunity exists to get it tabled, as Polly explains

      “The Rome Statute can be reviewed in 2015, so right now is an important opportunity for the campaign to have the Statute amended. So far 122 nations – including Australia – are signatories to the Rome Statute. All it would take now to move the proposal forward is for one head of state to sponsor tabling of the draft legislation. There could then be a five-year transitional period and the law could be fully operational by 2020.”

      See more at: http://newint.org/blog/2014/03/05/polly-higgins-interview/#sthash.q2S4zRCm.dpuf

      • yes David … but if you dig into Pope Francis encyclical he builds on the Bishops conference in Rio to put front and center in order to use as a model for enforcement .

        I was actually amazed at how many times he brings up that Rio conference and its importance .

        I am reading Naomi Klein’s new book on the topic . as usual she leaves no stone unturned .

        • Well Naomi has already addressed the Vatican http://www.mintpressnews.com/naomi-klein-makes-moral-case-for-world-beyond-fossil-fuels/207251/

          I’ll have to familiarise myself with the Rio precedent. However the point of the ecocide law is that it encodes a duty of care, that imposes a legal obligation upon signatories to the Rome Statute to enforce the law; but it also provides a rational means by which all corporate entities have to operate within common restraints, thereby creating a mutual field of necessary innovation & redeployment that would not therefore be strategically detrimental to their “competitive business advantage.” I don’t agree with the corporate model, but that is how the majority of chief executives function, because as Prof Chomsky has pointed out so often, they are legally bound to further their own profit motive.

          A very interesting recent (Dutch) documentary explores some of the radically more progressive notions of “borg” thinking, a film I recommend for its thought provoking insights into the clustered internet complexities Google and the Silicone Valley dwellers are currently “occupying…” or perhaps “occupied by” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQy0ZCx3UCY

          However, my real point is this: we should pay particular attention to what Polly says here about the urgency of this current statute review time-frame “….All it would take now to move the proposal forward is for one head of state to sponsor tabling of the draft legislation. ”

          Francis as Head of the Vatican State could surely do just that ~ could he not? It moves beyond oratory and rhetoric by invoking the rule of law! So at the very least, he should convince other Heads of State that it is true politically exercised ecological wisdom, to support the tabling of this legislation.

          Read the detail of the Ecocide Amendment ~ it is self-evidently a most adequate, comprehensive and carefully designed, thoroughly coherent, binding instrument that would make a huge difference. At present the ICC is an inefficient, inadequate, heavily partial and frankly blunt tool.

        • She is advocating a circular economy, that I’d say is precisely the kind of thinking that supports the social justice the encyclical is calling for, also her courage as a woman and sheer determination sets her apart, no different in kind from the first suffragists; time will tell whether her example and commitment to change begin to make a difference, but more to the point, she is yet another strong woman, and we’ve surely had enough popes!

        • Yes, I mentioned that in my comment that the last part of the video is relevant.

          Why the dig on the popes, especially when Pope Francis is doing such great work right now?

        • Not exactly a dig, more like a fact in the light of current climates of (postfeminist) thought. “Vicars of Christ” in palaces of gold wrought from the sweat of the poor? Francis is the best and hopefully also the last. Maybe me he is encouraged by the example of the Dalai Lama ~ “just a monk” (in Gucci shoes….) You don’t have to be a believer to agree with him. Those who do subscribe to Malachy’s Prophecy so-called, accept we are already on the threshold of a post-papal world.

          I am not a cheer-leader for Peter the Roman (& the “end of the world” altho’ actually ~ perhaps I am, if we say “their world” or add “…as we know it ~ & I’m feeling fine!”) but more seriously, I think we can do very well without the all-male Narcissism of quasi-Areopagitean heavenly hierarchies. Rudolph Steiner constructed his entire anthroposophical model on this very late Neoplatonist world view of Pseudo-Denys. It’s just incredibly archaic and too simple.

          The scale and scope of the cosmos has changed rather spectacularly since the radical “geosophy” of Copernicus, and altho’ Steiner made a genuine contribution to our understanding of esoteric concepts, that male-only club mentality still hobbles our spiritual imagination and intelligence.

          For example Jill Stein was interviewed on Mint News very recently, making loads of sense. If Francis is truly our Evergreen Man in a cassock, then he is a far more enlightened Druid than those faux-christist cynics that preceded him.

          As an esotericist, I am deeply persuaded of the authenticity and utility of classical methods of divination, but the only thing I’ll predict right here is that I dare say I’ll be hearing from Rocket on this topic….

          And, well, I mean ~ Naomi in the Vatican? Who predicted that!

  6. Thank “god” for Pope Francis! Also, this is one of Ellen Brown’s finest articles! Again, she lays it out clearly, the need for public banking for the benefit of “We the People” rather than the black art of highly profitable “creative usury” devised in the boardrooms of the real “evil-doers” , if I may borrow a term from George Dufus Bush. Ya know, “quantitative easing,” and terms like that, enrich the coffers of the one percent and making life uneasy and for many, miserable, because of their lust for money and power.

    jtremaine, interesting website. Thanks!

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