Hate and Fear
Re “Prophetic, Not Partisan: Why We Need Courageous Preaching about Politics” (Editorial, 2/20): While there are a lot of issues that could be addressed from the pulpit, I see how going too much in one direction can be divisive. However, there is one area that to me seems pretty clear: We need as citizens (and Catholics) to step away from hate and fear.
How can we respond in faith to a climate of such hate and fear? How does the Gospel speak to me at this moment in history? I need to examine my conscience and listen for an answer—although the answer may not be easy.
To whom does surplus belong?
Re “Confessions of a Capitalist Convert” (2/20), by Arthur C. Brooks: With some exceptions, I find it hard to believe that there is any citizen or Catholic who does not recognize the benefits of capitalism. So his argument that the capitalist system must be encouraged to all as part of the obligation of Matthew 25, while something of a stretch to my mind, does not disturb me. I understand and share his goodwill.
Mr. Brooks does not pursue the issues far enough. While capitalism “lifts all boats,” there are some “boats in the water” who do not participate or benefit in the capitalist enterprise. To whom does the surplus created by capitalism belong? What is the moral obligation in the pro-life position?
Economics and capitalism distort decision-making and encourage an emphasis on certain aspects of society at the expense of others. Mr. Brooks suggests that we should embrace capitalism as consistent with Catholic values, and as the most effective way to address the economic challenges of poverty, inequality and sustainability. I disagree. Capitalism and economics must synthesize both capitalism and socialism, infused with the values found in the words of Pope Francis and in over 100 years of Catholic social teaching.
It has been observed that there are “lies, damn lies and statistics.” I don’t claim that my interpretation of Mr. Brooks’s statistics is definitive, simply that the evidence of the reduction of global poverty is murky at best. Most of the recent poverty reduction is attributable to a handful of nations, most notably China. There are, however, still about three billion people living on less than $2.50 per day, and many of them are now in urban areas with a higher cost of living and greater economic insecurity. To the extent that this represents improvement, it is marginal at best.
The case of China brings me to another problematic aspect of Mr. Brooks’s analysis. In his paean to American free enterprise, he refers to the economic success of the “last few hundred years” and more recently the China-driven poverty reduction. This conflates so many different societies, from laissez-faire 19th-century North America and Britain, to the New-Deal-era United States and social democracy elsewhere, to post-Mao China, as to make the distinction “free enterprise” meaningless. China is a form of state capitalism and, as is the case with every nation today, a mixed economy with elements of both capitalism and socialism. Mr. Brooks acknowledges as much in an aside near the end of his essay when he states that “only free enterprise (accompanied by necessary regulation and proper social safety nets) has helped fulfill the noble antipoverty goals of our faith.”
Mr. Brooks is right that there are laudable aspects of the free enterprise system. The price system is the most efficient method of allocation ever devised. Entrepreneurship and private property rights are key to economic stability and innovation. However, he is wrong to suggest that Catholics should embrace the American free enterprise system. Catholics and other people of faith need to compel economists and politicians to shape our mixed economy in a way consistent with the teachings on worker rights, the environment, poverty and inequality. If we can change economics in such a way, that would truly be a miracle.
Brian R. Bennett
A Challenging Time
Re “The Future of Belief,” by Krista Tippett (2/20): We live in a challenging time, when many U.S. Catholics hold different opinions as to what is most important to their beliefs, mostly based on one or two specific issues, greatly influenced by politics, social and financial status, as well as regional location. I agree with much of what Ms. Tippett states in this article, and will make it a point to follow her words and writings in the future.
William C. Hoffman