Vatican to Issue Radical Document on Economy By Fr. Tom Reese, S.J.
On Monday, the Vatican will release a document on the reform of the international financial system which will be to the left of every politician in the United States. It will be closer to views of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement than anyone in the U.S. Congress. It will call for the redistribution of wealth and the regulation of the world economy by international agencies. Not only will it be to the left of Barack Obama, it will be to the left of Nancy Pelosi.
It is easy to predict what will be in the document by simply looking at what Pope Benedict XVI has said in the past. In his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). Pope Benedict’s encyclical calls for a radical rethinking of economics so that it is guided not simply by profits but by “an ethics which is people-centered.”
Profit is not an end in itself but a means toward the common good. “Once profit becomes the exclusive goal,” he writes, “if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty.” That certainly proved true by the economic greed and reluctance that caused the recent recession.
The Pope decries “Corruption and illegality” that are evident in the economic and political classes in both rich and poor countries. He also says that “Financiers must rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity, so as not to abuse the sophisticated instruments which can serve to betray the interests of savers.”
Benedict, like his predecessor Paul VI, hoped that economic development would produce real and genuinely sustainable growth, of benefit to everyone. Benedict disappointedly acknowledges that “The world's wealth is growing in absolute terms, but inequalities are on the increase” [italics in text]. He does not accept the trickle-down theory which says that all boats will rise with the economic tide. Benedict, like Paul VI, decries the “The scandal of glaring inequalities” and sees a role for government in the redistribution of wealth.
“The dignity of the individual and the demands of justice require,” he affirms, “that economic choices do not cause disparities in wealth to increase in an excessive and morally unacceptable manner, and that we continue to prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone.”
The encyclical notes the globalization that has taken place, but he notes that globalization “makes us neighbors but does not make us brothers.” True “development of peoples,” he writes, “depends, above all, on a recognition that the human race is a single family working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side.” The goal of such development, he says, is “rescuing peoples, first and foremost, from hunger, deprivation, endemic diseases and illiteracy.”
Sounding like a union organizer, Benedict argues that “Lowering the level of protection accorded to the rights of workers, or abandoning mechanisms of wealth redistribution in order to increase the country's international competitiveness, hinder the achievement of lasting development.”
Rather the goal should be decent employment for everyone. What does he mean by “decent employment”? It “means work that expresses the essential dignity of every man and woman in the context of their particular society: work that is freely chosen, effectively associating workers, both men and women, with the development of their community; work that enables the worker to be respected and free from any form of discrimination; work that makes it possible for families to meet their needs and provide schooling for their children, without the children themselves being forced into labor; work that permits the workers to organize themselves freely, and to make their voices heard; work that leaves enough room for rediscovering one's roots at a personal, familial and spiritual level; work that guarantees those who have retired a decent standard of living.”
The pope disagrees with those who believe that the economy should be free of government regulation. “The conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from ‘influences’ of a moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way,” he writes. “In the long term, these convictions have led to economic, social and political systems that trample upon personal and social freedom, and are therefore unable to deliver the justice that they promise.”
Benedict even supports an international “political, juridical and economic order which can increase and give direction to international cooperation for the development of all peoples in solidarity.” The purpose of this world authority would be “To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration....”
While Benedict acknowledges the role of the market, he emphasizes that “the social doctrine of the Church has unceasingly highlighted the importance of distributive justice and social justice for the market economy.” He unflinchingly supports the “redistribution of wealth” when he talks about the role of government. “Grave imbalances are produced,” he writes, “when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.”
In short, Benedict is to the left of almost every politician in America. What politician would casually refer to “redistribution of wealth” or talk of international governing bodies to regulate the economy? Who would call for increasing the percentage of GDP devoted to foreign aid? On economic issues, the pope is to the left of Obama. He is even to the left of liberal Democrats like Nancy Pelosi.