On Easter Sunday, the lockdown was weighing heavily on Pope Francis. There were no throngs of pilgrims below his window in Saint Peter’s Square, no visible celebration of any kind to be found inside the walls of Vatican City.
The pope’s mind was far from all that, anyhow. Frustrated by the slow-footed response of governments around the world to help the out-of-work survive the coronavirus pandemic, the pontiff sat down and drafted a letter. He wanted to rouse the spirits of the global army of grassroots activists who’d been mobilizing to manage the food banks and soup kitchens that are overflowing these days. Such a letter was hardly extraordinary for Francis, a pope who’s put social justice at the forefront of his papacy. But what he called for surprised economists.
Now, he wrote, is the time for a kind of universal basic income (UBI) scheme. His words seemed carefully chosen, as if he were singling out the gig economy.