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The EditorsNovember 14, 2011

The release of the Vatican’s new declaration on reform of the world financial system, long in preparation, happened to be published as media interest in the Occupy Wall Street movement was in crescendo. Headlines naturally drew a connection. While Catholic social teaching has often been at its most effective when social movements—labor unions, human rights movements, peace and environmental activists—have been its carriers, the still amorphous Occupy Wall Street movement and the Vatican report are not directly connected. Rather, they are parallel events responding to the suffering and loss of hope inflicted on so many by the current economic crisis.

Unlike many protesters, however, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace offers an analysis of the problems underlying the sputtering world economy. Even more, it offers challenging solutions, including a financial services tax, the conditioned recapitalization of banks that reinvest in “the real economy” and a world authority to regulate international financial transactions. These proposals are fully in line with the “the universal common good,” a principle requiring institution-building to meet global needs unsatisfied by the existing international arrangements.

The document indicts 20th-century liberal (that is, free-market) economics as an “ideology,” in the sense of a set of fixed ideas immune to correction by the inconvenient facts of human suffering. “In the 1920s,” it observes, “some economists had already warned about giving too much weight, in the absence of regulation and controls, to theories which have since become prevailing ideologies and practices on the international level.” The ideology has gone under different names: “liberalization,” “structural adjustment,” “the Washington consensus.” Its chief tenets were deregulation, small government, low taxes, free trade and the profit motive. The council admits that “global economic well-being...grew over the second half of the twentieth century, to an extent and with a speed never experienced in the history of humankind.” Nonetheless, it points out, this progress often exacted a tremendous human price.

The report recounts how more than 40 years of unrestrained free-market capitalism have produced repeated economic crises, first in the developing countries of Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe, and now in Western Europe and the United States. The result has been the rampant growth of plutocracy and inequality reflected in the anti-Wall Street protestors’ chant, “We are the 99 percent.” As if to underscore the council’s (and protesters’) point, a report issued last week by the Bertelsmann Foundation of Germany listed the United States as 27th among 31 member states in its degree of social justice, ranked above only Greece, Chile, Mexico and Turkey.

In identifying inequality as a pressing social problem, the church that repeatedly opposed class conflict in Marxism cannot be charged with stirring up class warfare. The reduction of inequality has been a concern of modern Catholic social teaching since Blessed John XXIII’s encyclical letter “Mater et Magistra” (“Christianity and Social Progress,” 1961). The Second Vatican Council asserted that “vigorous efforts must be taken...to remove as quickly as possible the immense inequalities which now exist.” Pope Paul VI’s “Populorum Progressio” (“The Development of Peoples,” 1967) described “the scandal of glaring inequalities not merely in the enjoyment of possessions but in the exercise of power” and affirmed that “private property does not constitute for anyone an absolute and unconditional right.” One might reasonably say that an allergy to inequality and the demand for its amelioration are part and parcel of the Catholic common good tradition.

The most controversial recommendation of the report is the proposal for global management of financial transactions through “a kind of ‘central world bank’ that regulates the flow and system of monetary exchanges.” The proposals build on “the logic of the Bretton Woods institutions,” the World Bank and International Monetary Fund; and, like the 2009 G-20 meeting, they recognize the inadequacies of those bodies to meet the demands of a globalized economy. Far from imposing a one-world government, the proposal allows for a wide range of possible implementations. It simply recognizes that the advance of globalization requires new rules and new governing institutions.

As the economic crisis is drawn out and protests multiply, preachers ought to take the occasion to educate congregations on the pontifical council’s report. (The report, with commentaries, is at americamagazine.org/finance.) Catholic universities and colleges ought to study it and discuss inequality as a sign of our times. In this election year, Catholics will also be listening to hear what their bishops have to say about a question so integral to Catholic social teaching.

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C Walter Mattingly
11 years 10 months ago
Personally, I think the Catholic Church should be catholic. You know, for all people, not these or those, but the 100%. 
Andrew Russell
11 years 10 months ago
The Church is solidly for the 100% when it is concerned with our salvation.  The 1% who control much of the wealth will be judged by whether or not they (and us in the other top 10-20 percent) care for the poor.  The Church is for the 100% when it acts as the body of Christ in the world.  In reference to the title, when we are for the 99% we are also for the 1%, especially in regard to all of our salvation. 

The editors are correct to explain that these two approaches are parallel responses to a precarious global situation. 
Ron Pettengill
11 years 10 months ago
I agree with the previous comment that the Catholic Church should stick to being Catholic.  

A "one world" approach to finance will only result in a concentration of power and wealth amongst an unelected hyper elite and those that tow the line.  Economic competition between nations has been responsible for an ever increaing standard of living.  

Also before lecturing the rest of the world on a "fairer" system of commerce, one  might humbley ask if the Church might look into its own finances and volunteer to shed its own tax free status.  Just a thought. 
Mike Evans
11 years 10 months ago
Gee, so many people seem to wish the church would just shut up about inequality, poverty, and challenges to the rich who amass fortunes as if it were their divine right. Even the robber barons of the 19th century profiting from their massive successes in trade, industrialization, railroads, oil and shipping found a conscience that prodded them to engage in philanthropy and investments in the common good. The G-20 is meeting today and will ultimately decided whether some more people in Greece must suffer so that the richer capitalists can preserve their wealth. Maybe now, it is the Occupier movement and others that realize we cannot go on with unregulated and untaxed free market speculation and profiteering at the expense of greater humanity. It would nice if our church would lead the way. There is no shortage of teachings from Jesus himself, like Matthew 25...
P Davis
11 years 10 months ago
If the economy is global it makes sense that regulation should be as well. I don't think the Church is offering details but a high level suggestion on how to approach the problem. Its scary but we westerners are the top 10% in most cases. Are we doing enough collectively to assist the 90% with basic needs? Safe to say no, we're not.

I echo the call for Church "transparency" on its finances to which we all likely make significant contributions.
James Collins
11 years 10 months ago
The article singles out free market capitalism as the reason for todays financial crisis and the source of the problems of the poor and those in under developed countries. I disagree. Almost all of the worst poverty and human misery in the world occurs in countries ruled by dictators or socialist economies. We will not solve the problems of the whole world by adopting the socialsit policies that have caused so much misery.
Faculty Staff
11 years 10 months ago
I certainly agree that the church should be universal in it's message. It should follow the example Jesus and the early church set in speaking and Jesus himself addresses those with material wealth (Matt 25:35-4, , Matt 6:19-21, Mark 12:41-44, , Matt 6:19-21, I Jn 3:17, Luke 18:22-25, etc.). The apostles and Saint Paul addressed the whole community with regard to material wealth (Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:34-3, Acts 20:35, Rom 12:13, Heb 13:16, 1 Cor 16:2, 1 Tim 6:6-11, 1 Tim 6:17-19 etc.). For decades the threat of Marxism occupied much of the church's attention. Now its attention turns to the inequities of Marxism's primary target and I applaud the church in addressing the shortcomings of the now dominant economic system.
11 years 10 months ago
"The document indicts 20th-century liberal (that is, free-market) economics as an “ideology,” in the sense of a set of fixed ideas immune to correction by the inconvenient facts of human suffering."

I would agree that there are facts of human sufferings.  There are also facts and theories about the causes and contributing factors of this human suffering.  It is not obvious to me that the liberal economic theories should get the blame for the inconvenient fact of human suffering.  It is not obvious to me that government intervention and regulation are primarily responsible for aleviating this suffering.  A person can make a rational, convincing argument that there are other factors to blame for this suffering and that factors allied with the free market have significantly improved the lot of humans.  Also there is data showing the unintended consequence of the noble intention of big goverment causing more harm.

I am not suggesting the solution though I have my own opinions.  I do respect the sincere motives of the big goverment liberal.  I just disagree with their conclusion.  I do however resent that the editors of this magazine often suggest or imply that the motives of a classically liberal economist are somehow allied with the rich 1% and the motives of America magazine are allied with the 99%.  The classic liberal economist does not limit himself to the 1% or the 99%.  The classic liberal economist is allied with the 100% who are consumers.
TM Lutas
11 years 10 months ago
Investing at a loss, no matter in "the real economy" or elsewhere, leads to a destruction of value and ultimately to an increase in suffering, though it will tend to make "visible" suffering go away and increase suffering far away and not easily traced back to the poor investment. This cannot be properly described as catholic as God is not fooled. The problem with the editorial is not one of class warfare but of economic illiteracy. There is a difference between the sweatshop and rural poverty. The sweatshop is better. This is why so many seek to escape *to* the sweatshop as soon as they can. The near universal opinion of those experiencing it as a real life choice is that sweat shop work is preferrable to grinding rural poverty.

Just because we have some romantic notion of the joys of unspoiled rural life does not make our preference worthy or justify distorting the world economy in a way that retards wealth creation. The pro-rural poverty romanticism that sadly infects too many in the Church.

We all need to do better in awakening our conscience in using our surplus wealth but efficient investment to maximize wealth creation and thus minimize the number of problems we are helpless to fix is what is needed. Couple that with a well formed conscience to provide true charity and a workable, authentically catholic economics emerges.
Edward Ray
11 years 10 months ago

This editorial and "Occupy" movement reminds me a a quote from Hans Urs von Balthasar:

"Societal situations can be unjust, but in themselves cannot be sinful. Only those persons can be sinful who are responsible for the existence of such situations and continue to tolerate them even though they could abolish or ameliorate them."

Here Cardinal von Balthasar was speaking of liberation theology and their emphasis on structural sin. Capitalism (Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" version not the crony capitalism so prevalent today) has helped lift more people out of poverty than any system yet devised. One must remember, however, that since human beings created capitalism, that it is human beings and their fallibilities/sinfulness that account for its shortcomings.

The wealthy nations IMO suffer from something far worse than physical poverty: spiritual poverty. The suicide rate is up more than 5000% since the "Happy Days" of the 1950s despite we rich nations (and its people) becoming ever more financailly well off. If those of us in the rich countries could work on overcoming our spiritual poverty, the physically poor amongst us would benefit.
Christopher Mulcahy
11 years 10 months ago

What is the history of poverty and economic growth?  Is it not concentrated in the history of Western civilization’s discovery of the power of the individual?  With emphasis on attitudinal factors?  Hard work? Personal responsibility? Achievement of personal goals?  Private property? The inherent dignity and capacity of each person?  Based not on the state but the family?

Or are we all to be grand theorizers  a la Russian economic philosophers and others who came up with collective solutions that just happened to require a large cadre of secret police.

A suggestion:  bear in mind that there are four cardinal virtues, only one of which is justice. (The four together, which Baltimore catechism students memorized, are prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance).    And as  a down to earth symbol,  it might be useful for all of us to remember the blessings of  private ownership and regular use of an alarm clock.  

Vince Killoran
11 years 10 months ago
There is nothing in the New Testament message that would endorse, using TMLutas' words, "maximiz[ing] wealth creation."

There is nothing "natural" about the market. It is a fiction asserted by John Locke et al.
LaRue Withers
11 years 10 months ago
What very interesting comments.  It might that be ideally a central bank would be good, but considering the sinful nature of human beings and the present greed, I'm not sure that it would  well for most people.

Capitalism is anything but "liberal."  It is not evil in itself, but it has become questionable because of the greed of those who "operate" it.  President Teddy Roosevelt had very sensible controls placed on capitalism, one of which prevented monopolies.  As far as the robber barons, it is unlikely that they would have become such philanthropists had it not been for that fact.  They were very much like those today that insist there should be NO regulations.  It should be quite apparent to any Christian that is the very reason that we have the Ten Commandments, because our humanity gets us in trouble, but if we at least try hard to obey them we are more likely to be better Christians and better citizens.

As far as everyone investing, that is hardly possible and anyone who knows anything about where the majority are in income in this country, it is hard to barely survive let alone "invest."  (I expect some of those who encourage such things might tell us that we don't need to be giving so much to the church, when the truth is that very few "tithe" as is the model in scripture.  Those in power want us to invest for our Social Security - that is simply because then we would be part of the problem, not part of the solution - we would have a tendency to want the highest return on our investment(s).  It's like a bear trap - once we are in it we will not ever be able to get out of it (that desire for a higher "bottom line.")

It is simple to see what has happened in the United States.  In an effort to make more money for themselves, the top 1% have exported our industry and certain people have made their wealth buy buying up companies, reorganizing them and firing the most valuable asset they have - human beings, then investing their profits overseas.  Our manufacturing base has been depleted and then we have some talking about hearing the alarm clock in the mornig.  Oh how I wish I could put them to work at McDonald's for at least a year with no other income, no medical benefits and no retirement plans.  Those same people do not even want them to have a minimum wage.   I observe corporations firing people who are nearing their retirement and moving their businesses to countries who do not enforce any environmental laws, polluting the air, water and earth.  I hardly think that is what God meant when he expected us to be stewards of the earth and its resources.

Well, one of the persons who commented suggested reading Matthew 25:31 forward.  It's about the sheep and the goats and I would recommend that those who really care about their spiritual welfare read it - they will probably walk away from it and be very sad as was the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-31.

It's where the rubber meets the road, folks, and there is no way to get out of it.  We have reared children to believe they should "get control" of themselves and do it on their own.  So many of these wealthy people really think they did have success on their own; but they left out the Source of everything, including their talents, and to let Him be in control.

It's very simple - it's supply and demand, and there is no demand when people are without jobs and money to spend on the supply.  It is a vicious circle, because then fewer supplies are made and more people don't have jobs.  NO matter what they say, trickle down economics has NEVER worked.  It trickles down into their own pockets.  It is easy to see by the example we have just seen.  The tax payer got these people out of trouble and they thanked the taxpayers by giving their muckety mucks higher salaries, whether or not they succeed or fail.  We can have our own opinions but we can't make up our own facts.
William Maniotis
11 years 10 months ago

Here is an interesting opportunity for a mea culpa; I do not agree, for the most part, with the Vatican's stance on this issue.  Why?  Because the Church is transgressing its boundaries too much here-it has authority over our hearts and souls, but not over the way "Caesar" does business.

What is missing in this analysis is the "moral" element of all this, as is usually the case.  Just as amoral and immoral INDIVIDUALS were responsible for much of the economic disaster we now face around the world, INDIVIDUALS must step up and change their ways to "fix" it.  Facts are funny things, because they quickly turn into opinions as soon as we use them to "interpret" a particular situation.  What I'd like to hear more about is how INDIVIDUALS have contributed to the current dilemma.  Individuals like these folks:

-The more than 42% of unwed mothers who gave birth to children last year
-The folks who bought too much "house" during the false "boom" in real estate and defaulted on their mortgage payments
-The students and parents who took out $100,000 loans to go to colleges they could not afford to attend

I am not saying that the "free market" should get a pass here.  But I do know that both the right and the left is responsible for the financial mess we are in.  Part of being a Catholic, to me, is seeing things in "wholes."  This article does not deal with the other side of the "social justice" coin, and is therefore not helpful in trying to figure this "whole" thing out.

C Walter Mattingly
11 years 10 months ago
Mike (#4),
Jesus certainly did have a great deal to say about the wealthy individual's obligation to share his wealth with the less fortunate. He likely would have approved of the generosity, for example, of former VP Dick Cheney, who gave away to charities $6 million of his $9 million income in 2005. He likely would have commented differently about our current VP, who that year made $300,000 and, according to his tax records, contributed $367 dollars to charity. Unfortunately, in Bleeding Heart Tightwads, NYTimes, 12/2008, the genuine liberal humanitarian Nicolas Kristof documents that this trend is generally true across the country, with conservatives giving 60% more than liberals at all income levels. Particularly parsimonious are liberals on the NE and west coasts.  

Of course this is President Obama and parsimonious liberals are  playing class warfare for envy votes to deflect the leadership failure. If these reforms for such a small group were made, it would lower the Obama deficit from 1.29 trillion to as low as an estimated 1.21 trillion. A gernuine solution, rather than this fig leaf, vote pandering distraction, was the Bowles-Simpson bipartisan commission's work ordered by President Obama, who then, in a disastrous failure of nerve and wise leadership, swept it under the rug.  The country is paying huge price for his failure. 

Jesus did indeed have something to say about the Biden types who talk the talk and don't walk the walk. Remember?  "O, ye hypocrites!" 
Vince Killoran
11 years 10 months ago
Since you put Jesus' imprimatur on Dick C.'s generosity I'll go further and state that I can't imagine he would have approved of DC keeping a cool $3 mil. ("Sell everything you have and distribute it to the poor. . .").

John Brown
11 years 10 months ago
It's interesting that so many people look to Europe as a model of "income equality" and social justice.  Europenans certainly think so, just ask them.  The real story is more complicated.

Europe has the VAT - a national sales tax is that is more regressive in it's impact on lower income families. 

Ironically, the heavy reliance on income taxes (and lack of VAT) makes the American tax system more progressive than those in Europe.

[From Time, Oct 31 Complexity equals Corruption] One recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development study showed that the top 10% in America pay a larger share of total taxes (45.1%) than do the top 10% in any of the 24 countries examined. (In Germany they pay 31% of taxes; in France, 28%.) Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2097396,00.html#ixzz1d7xoUbvi

It's hard for me not to see "greed" as the 99% demanding the property of the 1% - and threatening violence if they don't get it.

It seems you either believe "the rich get richer" because:

A) they have the money to invest in new business opportunities (e.g. they risk their money so they get the returns- thus they capture more growth in overall wealth increases),


B) the rich are evil robber barons who enslave and oppress people, the markets, etc.  and operate in such a way that nobody else can make an honest living.

Either one is overly simplistic, but one is clearly just class warfare, and I thought envy was a sin.

I think the tidal forces leading to this place have been a long time coming, i.e. globalization, loss of manufacturing, the information age.  There are no simple explanations, and no simple fixes.
E.Patrick Mosman
11 years 10 months ago
The following was posted before in reference to the American Bishops' effort to impose 'for the common good" on the  Federal governemt's taxing and spending policies  and it applies equally to the Vatican's recent proposal which would place the universal Catholic Church under the financial conrol of some world body.

"As the nation’s political discourse becomes increasingly theatrical and incoherent, the bishops, along with other leaders and sectors of the church, need to speak with clarity about the budget as a moral document." This memo to the Bishops continues the meme that government is necessary to "serve the all encompassing common good;" which certainly is not in keeping with Jesus Christ's teaching of who is responsible for dispensing charity.
'For you will have the poor always with you" Matthew 26.11 and nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus Christ lay the responsibility for caring for the poor, the sick the hungry or thirsty, the homeless or any oppressed people on any governmental body. He did not cite King Herod, the priests of the temple, the local mayor or the Roman powers as the source of Charity. He made it an individual responsibility time after time in His sermons, in His parables and in His own acts. The Good Samaritan was not an example because he stopped at the nearest inn and asked that a 911 call be made but because he acted.
Jesus's words "I was hungry, and you fed me; thirsty, and you gave me drink; naked and you clothed me; ill and in prison, and you visited me.   Whatever you did for these least ones, you did for me,"was directed to each and very individual not to any civil government or at the time the religious leaders of the Temple.
How did our Church leaders manage to subvert the teachings of our Lord on individual responsibility for the idea that "government is necessary to serve the common good?" in all social and moral areas.
Jesus Christ refused to negotiate with evil, the devil, three times and yet our Bishops, never really grasped the full extent of the absolute loss of Catholic moral teachings, on abortion, contraception, rationed care for the new born and the elderly, now called by Paul Krugman by its real name, death panels, resulting in euthanasia and no more conscience opt-out which were imbedded in and now are the law of the land.
The demand for a social program of government funded universal medical care made it possible for the one who paid the piper to call the tune. Now the government controls health care from conception to death.
There are many more Catholic moral beliefs, anti-Jesus teachings that have been ignored in Obamacare that the Bishops are remiss and derelict in their duties to uphold the Faith if they do not call for the repeal of this Obama abomination. 

Regarding the old canard about "regressive tax cuts for the wealthy'" the fact is only the wealthy pay income taxes,ie,the top 1% of income earners pay 39% of all federal income taxes, the top 25% of income earners pay 86% and the top 50% pay 97% of all federal income taxes. That means that the lowest 50% of income earners pay only 3% of federal income tax revenues while most actually receive checks from the government, welfare payments disguised as earned income tax credits, children's tax credits as well as a packages of federally funded programs for the poor too many to list here.
Instead of demanding bigger government involvement
The Bishops should be very concerned about the following;
-plans being put forward to eliminate the tax deduction for charitable contributions which would have a devastating effect on the financial well being of an already strapped Church.
-plans to control the teaching curriculum and diversity of what is taught through government accreditation of all higher education colleges and universities both public and private.
In every Communist country the first to fall was religion, followed by education. It appears that our Bishops need a history lesson and a detailed study of Obama's past.
The Bishops are headed for leading a Church which is subservient to the government as they meekly accept the idea "that government is necessary to serve the common good" even as it repudiates Catholic moral teachings."
Michael Siconolfi
11 years 10 months ago

Perhaps turning away from Scripture and economic theory for a while might prove beneficial to this complex topic. The ideas found in Marx and in Acts looked good at least on paper in the first instance and was short lived in the second. Communal sharing of wealth only works (sometimes) in communities that share a religious stance over against the world—and not always very well there: what vowed religious ever thinks about the cost of his or her funeral.

I do not think that great economic theories no matter what their origin do much good on a practicable level until hindsight provides a perspective by which to evaluate them after the passage of a century or two. Consider religious attitudes towards slavery and women to cite but two examples.

 Might I suggest that we are better off in a world immersed in econmic Darwinism by  cobbling things together in our own microcosms so that we as individuals can answer the disturbingly specific questions of Matthew 25.

 One possible point of light in how to proceed until the end-time might be found in Shakespeare's Lear. Only after great personal suffering and familial abandonment does he see that he has been part of the problem. He responds not with a great theory nor with scripture but with blazing insight:

 Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these?  O, I have ta'en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.

And his double, the sightless Duke of Gloucester, sees the same thing as his wealthy sovereign a few scenes later:

 Let the superfluous and lust-dieted man,

that slaves your ordinance, that will not see

Because he does not feel, feel your power quickly:

So distribution should undo excess,

And each man have enough.

I have no great insight nor power on how to change “sinful structures.” In fact the skeptic in me makes me shy away from great plans formulated in the White House, the Chamber of Commerce, or the Vatican and its conferences of bishops. But I can encourage myself and others to feel what wretches feel and make sure that each man we know have at least “enough.”

Patrick Veale
11 years 10 months ago
This document is important for one main reason.  It addresses the poverty of the two great enlightenment economic proposals, capitalism and communism.  They have not produced economic systems aimed at the common good.  In capitalism, the goal is private accumulation.  In communist societies, it is the power of the "new class" as Dijilas called the apparatchicks.  Clearly an international central bank is on the cards. Without it, the financial sector will continue to run amok.  The idea that the State interest  in the common good is prior to the businessman's interest in the private good, this document calls for the re-establishment of an independent state, one that is not elected by money.  This mirrors the middle ages, with the King more powerful than private economic interests, and the Church an independent civil society institution.  No one can doubt the validity of us coonsidering this idea, the problem lies in its implementation.  What forces exist that might do this?  However the document goes beyond this, and calls for a world central government with a select number of issues to address, while the rest of the world is ranked in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity.  This is a dangerous idea, reminiscent of the Holy Roman Empire.  But one my major tangle with the document is its blatently top down solution to the current world crisis.  The power elite, the managerial classes, the know-alls should decide.  Now haven't these very people gotten us into the mess.  
Daniel Vickers
11 years 10 months ago
Thanks so much for this interesting and well written article! I have to say I liked it a lot, it made me think over the issues.

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