Pope Francis surprised many with his strong words in his encyclical Laudato Si (in June, 2015), to raise awareness of the urgency for an "integral ecology". An integral ecology would take care of human beings and nature – both of them being currently sacrificed on the altar of Mammon, the money-god of profit at all costs, regardless of the consequences to the environment and on people.
In paragraph 203 of Laudato Si, the Pope spoke about the financial system that "tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending."
One example of this is what is called, in technical terms, "planned obsolescence": goods are conceived and manufactured to last as shortly as possible, to force consumers to replace them as quickly as possible. Other times, even though the product is still working or usable, publicity campaigns will convince you that it is now unfashionable, and that you need the latest stuff on the market. As long as people consume, everything will be fine!
One only has to think about inkjet printers: when the ink cartridge is empty, it is cheaper to buy a whole new printer than just replacing the cartidge... The same reasoning applies to most electronic devices: stores do not repair them; it is cheaper for you to buy a new model, even if your old device just needs a small piece to operate again.
If one examines the problem from up close, one sees that it is the "laws" of the present financial system that cause such a useless degradation of the earth's resources – especially the rule that ties the distribution of purchasing power to employment. This leads us to situations such as: Pro-environment groups want to stop a plant from polluting the environment, but the Government replies that it would cost the company too much money to do so and would force it to close its plant; that it is "obviously" preferable to keep those precious jobs even if this is done at the expense of the environment.
The environment, something real, is sacrificed, abandoned for a symbol, money. Jobs are created to keep people employed, at the very expense of the survival of our planet. Never mind if people are poisoned, as long as it is profitable! As Pope Francis wrote in paragraph 195: "The principle of the maximization of profits, frequently isolated from other considerations, reflects a misunderstanding of the very concept of the economy. As long as production is increased, little concern is given to whether it is at the cost of future resources or the health of the environment."
There is a Cree Indian elder saying that goes like this: "Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money."
What about all the artificial needs that are created for the sole purpose of keeping people employed, of all the people kept busy doing paper work in offices, of goods manufactured to last the shortest time possible in order to increase sales? All of this leads to the useless waste and destruction of the environment while degrading the human person.
The basic cause of environmental pollution and of the waste of natural and human resources is the chronic shortage of purchasing power which is inherent to the present financial system. That is, consumers, at any given moment, do not have enough money to buy all of the existing products; people cannot afford to buy the products their community has produced. Artificial needs have to be created to distribute wages and salaries to be able to purchase the goods already produced.
From there, you can imagine all the effects these disastrous economic policies have on the environment. For example, one always hears about the need for economic growth, the need for nations to be more competitive and always increase their Gross National Product (GNP). In reality, since the real purpose of economics is to satisfy human needs (at least the basic ones), a country should be able to increase, stabilize, or reduce its production according to the needs of its population — and in many cases, a decrease in production would be more appropriate.
If, during two years, a nation was able to supply to every household a washing machine that could last twenty years, it would be totally insane for this country to continue to produce even more washing machines! Henry Ford once said that the goal of a good car manufacturer should be to build a family car that lasts a lifetime. This is technically feasible, but if such cars were to be produced, it would bring about economic chaos: what would we do with all these auto workers now unemployed?
If one thinks in financial terms only, economic growth seems to be a must, but from a realistic or practical point of view, it does not make sense.
At the very end of his encyclical, the Holy Father wrote about the need to change our lifestyles and reduce our consumption. But talking about voluntary simplicity, consuming less goes against the current financial system and leads to the closure of factories and laying off of thousands of workers. Besides, Pope Francis himself admits that to make the changes he is calling for in his encyclical, a change of the financial system must first take place, to adapt to the real economy and the common good.
Our whole environment would be changed if the financial system was adapted to the needs of the population. We would not need huge factories nor people leaving the countryside to the cities in search of employment. (Douglas observed that large plants are not necessarily more productive than small ones, and if they exist, it is simply because banks prefer to finance large firms instead of family businesses.) We could go back to producing at a human scale, in local communities.
Machines at the Service of Man
The Pope is not against the use of machines, of progress, but man must come first, before profit. For example, he wrote in paragraph 114: "Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur."
A few lines before, one can read in paragraph 112: "Yet we can once more broaden our vision. We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology; we can put it at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral... for example, when cooperatives of small producers adopt less polluting means of production, and opt for a non-consumerist model of life, recreation and community. Or when technology is directed primarily to resolving people's concrete problems, truly helping them live with more dignity and less suffering."
What place should be given to the machine, when should it replace human labour, and when is it better to have human persons instead of machines? What constitutes the dignity of work, and when does a job become dehumanizing and no longer respect the dignity of the worker? Some jobs require a human touch: a doctor, a teacher, care for the elderly, the education of children, whereas other jobs can be better done by machines, especially in work requiring repetitive movements on the assembly line, where human creativity cannot be expressed.
Robots are not an end in themselves; they exist to accomplish difficult tasks, to help human beings, giving them some time off. The problem is that when the income is linked solely to employment, the introduction of a machine means the loss of all income for a worker who loses his job. As it has been explained many times in this magazine, Social Credit would provide for this problem by allocating a dividend to all, based on the double legacy of the natural resources and progress, which would put the individual in a position to choose the activity that appeals to him most. Under a Social Credit system, there would be an outburst of creative activity.
Societal choices must be made, but the fact is that, under the current economic conditions, all the basic goods can be made despite unemployment rates of 10, 20 percent or more. Moreover, large companies move their factories to countries where labor is cheaper and where environmental regulations are less stringent. (This is called offshoring.) How can a country in Europe or North America compete with countries like China, Bangladesh or other Asian countries where salaries for the textile industry are not 38 dollars an hour, but $38... per month!... and on top of that, with working conditions that make them literally slaves.
The introduction of a dividend to all does not mean that people would stop working nor all be replaced by machines; on the contrary, this additional purchasing power would stimulate personal initiative and the creation of local jobs.
All those who care for the environment, and consequently for the future of mankind on earth, all those who want to "save the planet", should therefore study and spread Social Credit, a system that would put money at the service of the human person while putting an end to the waste of resources.
Alain Pilote has been the editor of the English edition of MICHAEL for several years. Twice a year we organize a week of study of the social doctrine of the Church and its application and Mr. Pilote is the instructor during these sessions.