Today Pope Francis met with members of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Here’s what he said:
“… The State of social rights must not be dismantled, and in particular the right to work must be protected. This must not be considered a variable, dependent upon financial and monetary markets. It is a fundamental right for dignity, for the formation of a family, for the realisation of the common good and for peace.
Education and work and access to welfare for all are key elements both for development and for the just distribution of goods, for achieving social justice and for belonging to society, and for participating freely and responsibly in political life, understood as the management of the “res publica.”
Ideas that claim to increase income at the cost of restricting the job market and creating further exclusion are not coherent with an economy at the service of man and the common good, or with an inclusive and participatory democracy”.–Pope Francis
Yesterday, Pope Francis addressed a gathering of new ambassadors with his first major analysis on the causes of the global financial crisis.
I appreciate how he makes the connection between ethics and God. In our post-Enlightenment world, we are strong on human ethics as separated from religion. But against cancerous market capitalism, ethics separated from human solidarity and God are not powerful enough. Ethics then simply becomes a new thing to be manipulated in the market place.
“…Our human family is presently experiencing something of a turning point in its own history, if we consider the advances made in various areas. We can only praise the positive achievements which contribute to the authentic welfare of mankind, in fields such as those of health, education and communications. At the same time, we must also acknowledge that the majority of the men and women of our time continue to live daily in situations of insecurity, with dire consequences. Certain pathologies are increasing, with their psychological consequences; fear and desperation grip the hearts of many people, even in the so-called rich countries; the joy of life is diminishing; indecency and violence are on the rise; poverty is becoming more and more evident. People have to struggle to live and, frequently, to live in an undignified way. One cause of this situation, in my opinion, is in the our relationship with money, and our acceptance of its power over ourselves and our society. Consequently the financial crisis which we are experiencing makes us forget that its ultimate origin is to be found in a profound human crisis. In the denial of the primacy of human beings! We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old (cf. Ex 32:15-34) has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.
“I’ve watched with increasing dismay the widening gap between rich and poor the huge injustices in our world the way that we’ve exploited other countries way that we’ve exploit our own work force. And I feel really uncomfortable with that. You know, I love the fact that we’re camping out occupying Wall Street, occupying St Paul’s – just saying, this cannot go on. So if that’s political, then I am political.
It amazes me that everyone has been able to carry on with business as normal as though there are not crimes against humanity … whether that’s dead bodies in Iraq or whether it’s the fact that the global economy has tipped over into complete chaos, it doesn’t happen by chance. It happens because people – usually men – take enoromous risks with the lives and well-being of the rest of us, usually to make money.–Jeanette Winterson, author of Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?
“Meanwhile we had riots [in the UK]. David Cameron our beloved PM said that they weren’t politically motivated, as though you can have a bunch of bankers rob the world, get bailed out by our taxes, force a global recession, meet with neither punishment nor sanctions, and expect no social consequences.
The message is that a particular class or a particular kind can behave as they like and the rest of us will pay for it. When an underclass riots and behaves as it likes, the police use water canons and kids get 18 months for stealing dustbins and bottles of water.
I hate what happened in the riots but they were nothing compared to the robbery we have all had to put up with from the banks. Pensions are gone, jobs are gone, savings have disappeared. People have lost their homes and their hope. Kids have lost their future, their chance at affordable education, and any sense of justice. They went out and smashed and grabbed. They copied the masters of the universe.
Political unrest means more than organised direct action; it can be a trigger response to an intolerable situation.
Sometimes I walk round the really poor parts of town. Frankly, I don’t know why there aren’t more riots. The toxic message is that life is all about spending power and buying power. You can’t pump that out 24/7 through TV, Web, and Social media and not expect a major mess on your hands when suddenly there is no money. If your only status is your trainers and you can’t buy the trainers what are you going to do? If there are no jobs what are you going to do?
Yes the riots were mindless, malicious, destructive, anti-social. And so was parcelling up junk bonds as A rate security and pushing loans on people who could never repay them. Malicious, destructive, anti-social – but no, it wasn’t mindless – it was done deliberately to turn a profit at the expense of the social order.
And those guys didn’t go to Court, they talked they way around a few Select Committees. They didn’t get fined – they collected their bonuses. They didn’t go to jail – they threatened to leave the country if they were regulated. But none of that was criminal was it?”–Jeanette Winterson, author of Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
“He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich – both come to poverty.”–Proverbs 22:16
On Sunday, more than a thousand demonstrators occupied Wall Street in New York City to draw attention to Wall Street’s criminal behavior and call for structural economic reforms, reports Zaid Jilani.
“People have a very simple reason to be angry — because Wall Street’s actions made tens of millions of people dramatically poorer through no fault of their own. In 2010, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank conducted studies of the effects of the global recession — caused largely by Wall Street financial instruments that were poorly regulated by government policies — and found that the recession threw 64 million people [worldwide] into extreme poverty.” Watch this short video below for a great quote from 9-year-old Sam Kessler!
The International Monetary Fund estimates that the global economy contracted by 0.6 per cent in 2009 and the implications of this have been severe for many. Economic growth in developing countries was only 1.7 per cent in 2009 compared with 8.1 per cent in 2007. However, if China and India are excluded, the economies of developing countries actually contracted by 1.8 per cent. The World Bank has estimated that an additional 64 million people will be living in extreme poverty on less than US$1.25 a day by the end of 2010 as a result of the global recession.
The question is, why aren’t even more people in the streets of the financial district in New York City?
It is very much in the tradition of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin to write about economics. Under the editorship of Dorothy Day, the Catholic Worker criticized an unbridled capitalism which put the majority of money and resources in the hands of a few big corporations and individuals. The Catholic Workers not only disagreed with industrial capitalism on a massive scale, but presented an alternative economics called distributism-a person-centered economics.
As personalists, Catholic Workers believed there had to be a better way than to have the world run by Standard Oil, General Motors and Henry Ford (today we have the global market, giant corporations, sweatshops, maquiladoras).
Peter and Dorothy recommended the works of G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc and Fr. Vincent McNabb, O.P., on distributism and R. H. Tawney on capitalism, and their ideas were published in the paper. These writers insisted that all people were created in the image and likeness of God, and should not be treated like cogs in a machine or made to work twelve hours a day in back-breaking work as wage slaves (in coal mines, for example), while large corporations and their directors became fabulously wealthy.
Chesterton, theorist of person-centered economics and critic of the excesses of capitalism, shared the views of the Catholic Workers. He knew that the opinions of Henry Ford (who said that most people preferred the mechanical action of the assembly line and were only fitted for it), were against Catholic teaching on the dignity of the human person. Ford made it clear that most people were not smart enough to do anything except repetitious work. As Chesterton put it in The Outline of Sanity, “It will be noted that Mr. Ford does not say that he is only fitted to mind machines.”
Chesterton argued that the Catholic Church taught that every human being was worth saving. He insisted on “respect for the humanity and dignity of ordinary, shabby, ignorant people.” (Margaret Canovan, G. K. Chesterton: Radical Populist, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977, p. 9).
On “The Invisible Hand” of the Market
Since Adam Smith, the proponents of wealth creation have promised heaven on earth if their ideas were followed: Just believe religiously in the market and allow it absolute freedom, then salvation will come. It is hard to imagine a heaven where one’s creativity and destiny are squandered working on an assembly line or at McDonald’s.
Pope Pius XII went so far as to call the idea that the invisible hand of the market will on its own rather like fate control the world, a “superstition. (Dorothy Day, “Distributism vs. Capitalism,” Catholic Worker, October 1954).
What Are We Talking About When We Say “Capitalism”?
Chesterton knew that when most people spoke of capitalism, they had in mind something quite different than a few very wealthy people controlling everything. To clarify for his readers what he was criticizing, he first described the situation where a few people hold the wealth and all others struggle: “When I say ‘Capitalism,’ I commonly mean something that may be stated thus: ‘That economic condition in which there is a class of capitalists roughly recognizable and relatively small, in whose possession so much of the capital is concentrated as to necessitate a very large majority of the citizens serving those capitalists for a wage.” He emphasized that others had something quite different in mind when they spoke of capitalism: “The word… is used by other people to mean quite other things. Some people seem to mean merely private property. Others suppose that capitalism must mean anything involving the use of capital.
“If capitalism means private property, I am capitalist. If capitalism means capital, everybody is capitalist. But if capitalism means this particular condition of capital, only paid out to the mass in the form of wages, then it does mean something, even if it ought to mean something else.
“The truth is that what we call Capitalism ought to be called Proletarianism. The point of it is not that some people have capital, but that most people only have wages because they do not have capital.”
More than 36 million people use the inconspicuous plastic cards issued by the government for “food stamps” to buy staples like milk, bread, and cheese. I see the cards all the time at the grocery store I use in Columbia Heights, D.C. Food stamp usage has increased by 22 percent in D.C. since 2007 and 36 percent of the District’s kids are on food stamps.
According to the New York Times, “virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, but their eclectic ranks testify to the range of people struggling with basic needs. They include single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks and workers whose reduced hours or slender wages leave pantries bare.”
The food stamp program is one way that through social institutions we answer God’s plea in Isaiah 58 to share our food with the hungry poor. Government programs should not perpetuate poverty, but they should provide a path of human dignity for those who are powerless in the culture.
Catholic social teaching reminds us: How we organize our society — in economics and politics, in law and policy — directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community. The obligation to “love our neighbor” has an individual dimension, but it also requires a broader social commitment. Everyone has a responsibility to contribute to the good of the whole society, to the common good.
Check out the interactive map of “food stamp” usage around the country. Who’s hungry where YOU live? What does it mean?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousnessa will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.”–Isaiah 58:6-8
My ears perked up this morning when I heard talk on the radio about investment gurus doing “God’s work” and a journalist calling for Christians to rise up against usury and abuse of the poor. Wow!
In a London Times interview with John Arlidge, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, defended the bank’s massive profits, saying Goldman is, quote, “doing God’s work.” The four largest firms—Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase—took in $22.5 billion in profits through September, according to MarketWatch. The top six banks set aside $112 billion for salaries and bonuses over the same period.
Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman interviewed former-LA Times journalist Robert Scheer this morning on this topic. Here’s quote from Scheer below:
It’s interesting that he should say he’s “doing God’s work,” Blankfein, the head of Goldman Sachs. And my goodness, if Scripture is clear on anything, it’s condemnation of those who take advantage of the poor. You know, after all, Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple. Scripture is devastating in its condemnation of usury, the immorality of usury.
And yet, you mentioned Chris Dodd is trying to get a bill passed that would cap interest rates. You know, where is the Christian Right? Where are the Christians? Where are the Jews, for that matter? Or the Muslims? At least the Muslims, in their religious practice, don’t believe in interest as a principle, but the idea that we’re jacking up credit cards to 30, 35—this is loan sharking. And we can’t even get a bill passed through Congress that would cap interest payments.
The other thing is, their rationalization is they’re somehow saving the economy. It’s the old blackmail thing. They ruined the economy; they got the legislation, the radical deregulation they wanted, that permitted them to become too big to fail—Citigroup and these companies; and then they turn around and say, “If you don’t throw all this money at us, the economy is going to go into the Great Depression.”
But they haven’t solved the main problems. Mortgage foreclosures this month are higher than they’ve been in ten months. We have the commercial housing market exploding, you know, apartment building rentals exploding, going into mortgages. And so, you know, they are not dealing with the fundamentals. What has happened is an incredibly expensive band-aid was put on this. And these people don’t even have—they’re not even embarrassed.–TruthDig’s Robert Sheer
I was also interested to note that in John Arlidge’s London Times profile on Goldman Sachs that CEO Lloyd Blankfein said, “I know I could slit my wrists and people would cheer.” Another GS staffer said, “We don’t club baby seals. We club babies.”
Pierce and Bednarz look at the healthcare system costs in our national economy (16% of national economy) and why reform is necessary to get us out of the economic death-spiral in which U.S. market-capitalism finds itself. They also look at how the medical industry builds up massive ecological debt–a debt that will have to be paid sooner, rather than later.
Simply stated, the present healthcare system is unsustainable for two sets of (interconnected) reasons, fiscal and ecological. The fiscal side receives attention in the current debate, but most discussion underestimates the problems and proposes solutions that provide little more than temporary band-aids. It is in the main unappreciated that the nation is in socioeconomic decline—primarily in the form of massive debt and defaults on that debt, deflation of asset values, and unemployment—which threatens the present healthcare system. Our collective understanding of the ecological dimension is abysmal, especially its connection to the economy, and if grasped would lead to the abandonment of politics and business as usual in medicine and throughout society.