Now, back to the pope. Pope Francis, in his exhortation, notably does not call for a complete overhaul of the economy. He doesn't talk revolution, and there's certainly no Marxist talk of inexorable historical forces.
Instead, Francis denounces, specifically, the complete rule of the market over human beings—not its existence, but its domination.
"Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest," he writes. "Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded," and "man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption." He rejects the idea that "economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world." Instead, he argues, growing inequality is "the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation," which "reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control." And he repeats the exact language he used in an early address: "Money must serve, not rule!"
Seeing the similarities yet?
Polanyi, the Pope, and Blaming the Market for Big Crises
Where things get really interesting is when Pope Francis brings up the financial crisis. "One cause of this situation," he writes, "is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person!"
It's nothing new to say the financial crisis came from a lack of regulation. That's a fairly popular analysis. But what Pope Francis is saying is more Polanyan, hearkening back to the idea that the tipping point has to do with the relationship between the market and society/humanity, and which is subordinate to the other. Just as Polanyi argued that the extension of the market economy across the globe (through the gold standard) was the root cause of World War I (and you'll have to go back to the original book for that, but it's a beautifully, hilariously gutsy, Guns, Germs, and Steel kind of argument), Francis is arguing that failing to keep humanity at the center of our economic activity was the root cause of the financial crisis.
A Vision for the Future
One of the tricky and crucial parts of Polanyi's argument is that he doesn't actually believe (at least, back in the 1940s, when he was writing) that we're living in a world where the economy has become fully disembedded from society. This "Utopia," he writes, that many economic theorists and policymakers are foolishly striving for, "could not exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society; it would have physically destroyed man and transformed his surroundings into a wilderness."