Pope Francis joined the Yang Gang this weekend with his proposal for a “universal basic income," which he delivered in a powerful letter to social movements around the world. He observed that a global pandemic ravaging the world is not the time to have another go at trickle-down economics. He suggested instead a “downshift" where affluent societies re-examine our habits of consumption and exploitation.

Many of you live from day to day, without any type of legal guarantee to protect you. Street vendors, recyclers, carnies, small farmers, construction workers, dressmakers, the different kinds of caregivers: you who are informal, working on your own or in the grassroots economy, you have no steady income to get you through this hard time ... and the lockdowns are becoming unbearable. This may be the time to consider a universal basic wage which would acknowledge and dignify the noble, essential tasks you carry out. It would ensure and concretely achieve the ideal, at once so human and so Christian, of no worker without rights.

Wow! That's impressive and more than just lip service to the poor. American politicians can fall into the trap of praising “essential workers" without offering any material policies — you know, like better wages and health care — that acknowledge how essential they are. The pope gets right to the point: Don't just love on poor people but pay them decently so they won't die poor. Donald Trump fancies himself a "war time president" fighting an "invisible enemy." The pope refers to workers as an "invisible army, fighting in the most dangerous trenches."


I know that you have been excluded from the benefits of globalization. You do not enjoy the superficial pleasures that anesthetize so many consciences, yet you always suffer from the harm they produce. The ills that afflict everyone hit you twice as hard.

Damn. It's like Pope Francis is looking right at folks who are eating their perilously delivered pizza and watching #SNLatHome. He gave his actual Easter address in a barren St. Peter's Basilica. More than 100 priests in Italy have died in the fight against an “invisible enemy" with painfully visible victims. The Pope believes God is still with us, and although that's not my bag, I appreciate that the sentiment gives solace to the faithful.

The Pope described members of social movements as the "indispensable builders of this change that can no longer be put off." It's almost as if he's preaching revolution, but I was told we just want a return to normal! The Pope is steeped in tradition yet he still manages to reject the false promises of the status quo.

I hope that this time of danger will free us from operating on automatic pilot, shake our sleepy consciences and allow a humanist and ecological conversion that puts an end to the idolatry of money and places human life and dignity at the centre. Our civilization — so competitive, so individualistic, with its frenetic rhythms of production and consumption, its extravagant luxuries, its disproportionate profits for just a few — needs to downshift, take stock, and renew itself.

The reference to climate change caused conservatives to roll their eyes some more. What does this old guy who studied chemistry in his youth know about science? They don't seem to have a problem with a supposed celibate male weighing in on abortion.

(Slight digression: I grew up watching Dennis Miller on Saturday Night Live and thought it was a great tragedy that he stopped being funny. However, I've been listening to a podcast that reviews past SNL seasons and I realize now Miller was never funny. I was just a stupid kid.)

I'm glad that the pope demonstrates how a leader can balance an uplifting, "we're all in this together" message with fierce advocacy for constructive change. This is what I'd like to see more of from American politicians during this crisis.

[America: The Jesuit Review / Text of Pope's Letter]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).

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