National / International News
Pope Francis released his much-anticipated encyclical, "Laudato Si'" ("Praise Be To You"), on Thursday, calling on all nations and all peoples to take action on climate change. He came down with the overwhelming majority of scientists, who say global warming is caused by the activities of man.
And he was pretty critical of two of those activities: capitalism and consumerism. The quest for too much profit, and for too much stuff, harms the planet, he said.
In going there, the pope staked out territory that most economists make a point of avoiding: a moral interpretation of our economy.
This isn’t the first time a major faith has put forth a moral interpretation of economic prosperity — even within the Catholic Church, from popes going all the way back to Leo XIII.
Leo XIII wrote an encyclical titled “Rerum Novarum,” taken from the Latin for “of revolutionary change,” which was meant as a push back against some of the negative aspects of the Industrial Revolution.
More recently, even Pope Benedict XVI wrote about the need for “adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth.”
“Consistently the popes have spoken that the marketplace is not God; that it’s not going to solve all of our problems,” says Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and senior analyst at the National Catholic Reporter.
Reese notes that economists tend to view their subject as “value free” — a matter of the efficient allocation of scarce resources— but that the Pope feels that approach isn’t addressing the needs of the poorest and weakest among us.
“The realm that he deals with, and the morality of life, is one that economics has struggled with," says Maureen O’Hara, a professor of finance at Cornell University. "I think that economics is beginning to rethink that a little bit.”
In talking about issues like climate change and the environment in terms of “values,” the pope is entering territory many economists tend to avoid.
“The closest we tend to get is things are ‘inefficient’," O’Hara says. “I think many people kind of feel that may not tell the full story, and that's where I think the pope is trying to blend both the pieces from the economics perspective and the moral perspective together."
O’Hara says she agrees with much of what the pope said in his encyclical, but not his opposition to trading carbon credits. Cap and trade, she says, can be an effective tool for reducing pollution.
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Fitness tracker maker Fitbit went public Thursday, and was received surprisingly well. The stock went up 50 percent as soon as trading began, ending the day at $29.68 a share.
"We’re at a scale of revenue and profitability that we felt it made a lot of sense to go public," says Fitbit CEO James Park.
In 2014, the company reported $745 million in revenue — proving that people will spend a lot of money on wearable technology.
"There’s a lot of great things that we can do with the capital that we raise from the IPO. There’s a lot of advanced research and development that we can do on our products ranging from, more hardware to more incredible software to make people healthier," Park says. "We started investing in pretty significant sales and marketing campaigns. Fitbit is pretty much already synonymous with health and fitness tracking — we’re almost a ‘Kleenex’ of the category."