Following Pope Francis’ surprisingly blunt homily about capitalism in November 2013, my friend and colleague Michel Bauwens had the brilliant idea of proposing a practical way for the Pope and Catholic Church to help address economic inequality: let unused church facilities be used as hackerspaces, makerspaces and co-working spaces. This would help local communities reinvent the very idea of the economy with a different logic and ethic, while helping people meet real everyday needs and foster social solidarity. It’s an inspired idea that I hope the Pope and his advisors will consider.
Here is the backstory: In November, the Pope issued a remarkably direct statement about the failures of the global economic system. It included headings such as “No to an economy of exclusion,” “No to the new idolatry of money,” and “No to the financial system which rules rather than serves.” In words that had more than a few wealthy Catholic moguls quivering with rage, the Pope declared, “We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”
Earlier this week, Bauwens – who has twice participated in deliberations by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences – released an open letter to the Pope thanking him for his statements of support for a more just economy and social solidarity. Bauwens proposed a helpful solution: find ways for the Catholic Church to let its old, unused church buildings and monasteries be used as hackerspaces, makerspaces and co-working spaces. The facilities would provide invaluable physical spaces for a local community to create new types of cooperative, mutualized forms of production and less money-driven, materialist livelihoods. The new uses of the facilities would not amount to charity or commercialism, but rather, a new species of nonmarket economics, commons-based peer production.
One interesting analog to this idea is the unMonastery in Matera, Italy, which Bauwens refers to. The unMonastery describes itself as "an ambitious and radical response to the challenge of bridging the gap [between work to earn money and work to make meaning]. The UnMonastery "draws inspiration from the 10th century monastic life to encourage radical forms of social innovation and collaboration. A sort of lay, off-grid mendicant order striving for a society that can better withstand present and future systemic crises."