By Zekeh S. Gbotokuma,
Associate Professor of Philosophy, Morgan State University

THE 44TH POTUS BARACK OBAMA WAS BORN IN HONOLULU, HAWAII (USA) ON AUGUST 4TH, 1961. Today is his 61st birthday. In celebration of this day, I chose to pay a special tribute to him by sharing some of the things that I wrote about him and Pope Francis in the introductory portion of my new book titled, OBAMANOMICS AND FRANCISCONOMICS: A Call for Poverty Alleviation, Fairness, and Welfare” (Europe Books, 2022, 505 pages). The book is reminiscent of my study, understanding, and interpretation of two global and charismatic leaders whose critical approaches to economics and general well-being are similar. The book is also my way of contributing to keeping their legacy alive. 

The main argument of the book is that President Obama and Pope Francis are two global crisis leaders, whose elections have symbolized hope for the hopeless and change in a status quo-ridden, unequal, warming, flattening, ‘covidding,’ and spider’s web-like world. This is “the World 4.0” that is characterized by “The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Artificial Intelligence. The two leaders have not been able to possibly change everything that needs to be changed. Obama had eight years (2009-2017) to bring about “Change We Can Believe In.” He did his best under political circumstances characterized by Congressional Republicans’ obstructionism. Pope Francis is still pursuing his reform agenda within the Catholic Church. Fortunately, a collaboration between Barack (meaning ‘blessing’ in Swahili) and Francis (named after Saint Francis of Assisi) was useful in a concerted effort to raise awareness about and wage the global wars on poverty and climate change, among other things. These wars must be fought on many fronts and consistent with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or the Global Goals (2016-2030), the Paris Climate Accord of 2015, the Global Migration Compact, the ‘green revolution,’ the “ecology of the heart,” (Pope Francis) and of course, the Vatican’s Laudato Si’ Action Platform. 

Capitalism and junglobalization (Gbotokuma 2015, 508; Gbotokuma 2011, 32, 43, 64, 181), or ‘savage globalization’ have contributed to the exponentially widening divide between the ‘Global North’ or rich and industrialized democracies and the ‘Global South’ or poor and developing countries. In other words, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, some forms of capitalism, and globalization have increased the gap between the rich and the poor, also referred to as the “1 percenters” and the “99 percenters,” respectively. In 2012, this phenomenon resulted in the Occupy the Wall Street Movement, or the Occupy Movement, the U.S. relatively peaceful version of the Arab Spring, so to speak. Global security and peace are at a serious risk when, according to the 2014 Oxfam Report, “85 richest persons in the world own as much as 3 billion poor.” The United Nations couldn’t fully achieve its MDGs (2000-2015) and smoothly transition to SDGs (2016-2030) under these circumstances. The chances for a successful collaboration on social and environmental justice were apparent in the two global leaders’ shared views on trickle-down economics and the anthropogenic phenomenon known as climate change, a crisis that has become an emergence and “A Code Red for Humanity” (UN Secr. Gen. Antonio Guterres). 

President Obama and Pope Francis have courageously dealt with and raised awareness about trickle-down economics and climate change in their speeches, writings, and policies. We are referring, among other things, to “A Renewed Nationalism.” We are referring to some of Obama’s domestic and foreign policy-related acts, executive orders, and statements. For example, “The Patients’ Protection and Affordable Care Act” (PPACA); the DREAM Act; the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative; the Executive Order 13532 Regarding HBCUs; the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; the New U.S.-Cuba Relations; and the U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change. We are also referring to Pope Francis’ encyclical letters, Evangelii Gaudium, or The Joy of the Gospel (2013); Laudato Si’, or Praised Be You (2015), Fratelli Tutti (All Brothers) as well as the first pontifical messages to the United States and elsewhere. 

Obamanomics and Francisconomics is, to some extent, a critical economics theory. It offers a critical look at, reexamines and questions existing capitalist economic model, theories, and practices, especially the obsolete trickle-down economics. President Obama and Pope Francis don’t intend to and are not necessarily interested in enunciating new economic theories of production, distribution, and consumption of goods. Their commitment to socioeconomic and ecological justice, general welfare, and peace leads them to suggest ways of modifying and improving life in our unequal world and warming planet. They believe that poverty and climate change are anthropogenic phenomena over which humans have some control. They decry and reject trickle-down economics, individualism, greed, and consumerism as big contributing factors to poverty and unspeakable inequalities. They are mostly concerned with the impact of modern-day mode of production and consumerism, both of which are inconsistent with sustainable development. Pope Francis proposes good Samaritanism and a new approach to property based on the early Christian thought. Undoubtedly, in the United States, such approach would be controversial. It would easily be labeled as socialism and at odds with the capitalist view of property. Obama stresses the need for equal opportunity through “fair share and fair shot.”

Obamanomics and Francisconomics challenges us to follow the advice of David Brower, founder of Friends of the Earth, and ‘think globally and act locally.’ Local and global actions on poverty must begin with global awareness and thinking. Obamanomics is deeply rooted in cross-cultural competence and global thinking. It is not only about poverty alleviation in the United States. It is also about an ecologically sound international development and solidarity in a complicated, interesting, unequal, and warming world. These are some of the things to talk about as we celebrate the YesWeCan President’s birthday.


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