ASSISI, Italy (ChurchMilitant.com) - A lead organizer appointed by Pope Francis to oversee the "Economy of Francesco" event — a conference for young economists and entrepreneurs — is a Salesian nun championing "feminist economics."
Sister Alessandra Smerilli slams modern economics for being "shaped entirely from a male point of view," contending that it "has been shaped entirely by a traditionally masculine way of looking at the world" in its "assumptions, axioms, methodology, tools and data collection."
Modern economics as a scholarly discipline has a "founding father" in Adam Smith, but it lacks a "founding mother," Smerilli writes in a Nov. 9 article posted on the Coopération Internationale pour le Développement et la Solidarité (CIDSE) website.
"What if the economy was female?" asks Smerilli's article, citing feminist economist Victoria Bateman — who gained notoriety after stripping and lecturing completely naked in front of her students at Cambridge University in protest at Britain's leaving the European Union.
Bateman engages in "nude publicity stunts" at economic conferences and on Britain's national television to make her point on "feminist economics."
According to Bateman, economists' questions, tools, assumptions, and "what they choose to measure, everything reflects a traditional and masculine way of looking at the world." Smerilli endorses this view by citing the "nude" economist in her writings — including an article titled "Economy is Woman" for Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.
"Economics is in need of a sexual revolution — and with feminism on the rise, now is the time to push for one," writes Bateman. "Let's face it, most economists are male ... Gender imbalance has inevitably resulted in economists tending to look at the world through male eyes."
But distinguished academic Janice Fiamengo told Church Militant that "women have had plenty of opportunities over the past half-century to contribute to economic theory, and the fact that we are still, now, asking women to 'think about economics' indicates quite clearly that women have not, on the whole, been very interested in doing so."
"The absence of women from economic theory surely provides one of the flimsiest rationales imaginable for touting the value of a female contribution," stresses Fiamengo, former professor at the University of Ottawa.
Fiamengo said "the very idea of a 'female economics' versus a 'male economics' reeks of the crudest sexism."
"What is a female (or feminist) economics?" she asked. "Anyone who has ever lived with a group of women knows that there is nothing innately fair, generous, or empathetic about how women share resources or make financial decisions."
"Feminist economics sounds very much like communist economics, which has been known to require heavy-handed state control and to produce vast inefficiency, scarcity and waste," Fiamengo remarked. "It is nonsense and should be dismissed as such."
"Smerilli asks people 'Who do you care for?' rather than 'What do you do?' This sounds sensitive. But the best way to care for people is to create an economy of efficiency, abundance and maximum productivity through a properly functioning market, not through the imposition of untried and unworkable fancies," Fiamengo said.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis has invited a controversial feminist economist and political theorist to address the Assisi-based "Economy of Francesco" conference Nov. 19–21.
Professor Jennifer Nedelsky from the University of Toronto, who has been closely associated with the Vatican during the current pontificate, has been criticized for being anti-property rights.
"The egalitarian conception of liberty and justice requires incursions on traditional property rights," writes Nedelsky in her book Private Property and the Limits of American Constitutionalism, arguing that the Founders were mistaken in their belief that "the acquisition and use of property were essential elements of liberty."
Nedelsky dismisses the right to property as merely a "social construct" which has no greater value than any other social construct and, which, like any mere construct, can be put in the service of human progress — a progress that is not limited by "deeply problematic" notions of "natural rights" or "limited government."
Nedelsky believes that the fabric of American constitutional law has been permanently "distorted" by the framers' preoccupation with protecting private property against redistribution and so proposes various kinds of "redistribution" driven by the "regulatory welfare state."
Catholic thinkers have expressed grave concern over Pope Francis' rejection of property rights in his recent encyclicals.
"The Christian tradition has long backed private property. It's the Marxist tradition that has done just the opposite," papal biographer and expert on communism Paul Kengor told Church Militant.
"The Communist Manifesto says emphatically: 'The entire communist theory may be summed up in the single sentence: abolition of private property.' Marxism rejects private property as a natural right," remarked Kengor, author of The Devil and Karl Marx: Communism's Long March of Death, Deception, and Infiltration.
"The Church, beginning with Pius IX's Qui Pluribus in 1846, condemned communism's rejection of private property as a natural right," noted Kengor.
However, in his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis quoted himself from Laudato Sí, stating that "the Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property."
"The latter half of that statement isn't as bad, but the first half is highly problematic. The Scriptures (as well as Christian tradition) are loaded with defenses of private property as an absolute right. That's as old as the Ten Commandments, i.e., "Thou shall not steal," and "Thou shalt not covet" [what belongs to thy neighbor] which implies an inherent human right to property.
In 2019, Pope Francis appointed Sr. Smerilli councilor of Vatican City State. The nun teaches political economy and statistical elements at the Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences Auxilium and is secretary of the Scientific and Organizational Committee of Settimane Sociali dei Cattolici, sponsored by the Italian Episcopal Conference.