Crisis of 2008-2009: The Logic of the Market is Unacceptable
and Louise Zwick
This article appeared in a "symposium in print" in the National
Catholic Register in November 2008.
God brought Dorothy Day
and Peter Maurin together to form the Catholic Worker movement at a time
when the world was facing an economic crash similar to today's. They
critiqued robber barons, banks, the financial system, and the free
market ideology known in their time as laissez-faire
capitalism. They did not look to socialism as a solution, but were able
to develop an alternative based on the Gospel, Catholic social teaching,
and the lives of the saints.
There is a disconnect
for Catholics between the Word of the Gospel and the economic culture.
Speaking at the recent Synod, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that the
Word of God is the true reality, that the disappearance of hope along
with the money was the result of building our lives on sand.
Jesus said his Gospel is
not about building bigger barns (or bigger banks). It is about giving
rather than receiving.
The economy that is
collapsing has been based on "barn-building" and on individual and
corporate self-interest. Its marks have included a scandalous divide
between salaries of CEO's and workers in their companies around the
world and deregulation and privatization have left the market to wolves.
Banks have pursued reckless policies that benefit only themselves.
People are owned by their credit cards, by debt at exorbitant interest
rates. Environmental concerns have been sacrificed. The media, which
might inform the citizenry, are a part of the conglomerates.
We oppose abortion. Our
culture, however, countenances every form of self-indulgence and then we
expect average people to practice heroic virtue in carrying a child
through a difficult pregnancy.
Some have sadly been
patriots-in-arms in promoting the machinations of the worst of the
marketeers, attempting to equate Catholic ethics with no-limits
capitalism. But a few days ago the Vatican spoke, in the person of
Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice
and Peace: "The logic of the market up to now has been that of maximum
earnings, of making investments to obtain the greatest possible profit.
And this, according to the social teaching of the Church, is immoral."
Less publicized than
bank and business failures is the human suffering that has come from
turning everything into a for-profit business, from medicine to
privatized prisons. Measuring everything by an ambiguous figure called
the GDP and "growth" is not a human measure at all.
agreements which benefit the United States have increased poverty in
countries to the South and pushed people to migrate. Attacks in recent
years blaming immigrants for our economic problems not only were untrue,
but outright calumny. The raids on businesses, the imprisonment of
immigrants, and the cruel, hurtful laws against them passed in many
states are destroying lives and families, not helping the economy.
response to the crisis has been to enrich the very people and
institutions who caused the problem in the first place and to continue
the same approach: "What is needed is more of the same, more free
market, more free trade, more credit for lending at interest." It is
hard to believe that, even today, politicians can get away with
denigrating any reference to a better approach by crying, "Socialism!
Dorothy Day criticized
the appeal to acquisitiveness that dominates advertisement in our
culture: "There have been many sins against the poor which cry out to
high heaven for vengeance. The one listed as one of the seven deadly
sins is depriving the laborer of his share. There is another one, that
is, instilling in him the paltry desires to satisfy that for which he
must sell his liberty and his honor ... newspapers, radios, television,
and battalions of advertising people (woe to that generation)
deliberately stimulate his desires...."
For believers, our
economics has been upside down. More of the same is not the answer. We
would do better with the logic of the Gospel, Catholic social teaching,
and the lives of the saints.
Worker, Vol. XXIX, No. 1, January-February 2009.