Catholic Charities hosts dialogue on free-market economics vs social justice regulation
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April 6, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – Catholic Charities of New Mexico hosted a live-streamed dialogue on April 1 contrasting a conservative vision of free markets through a Catholic lens against government economic intervention advocated by the church’s contemporary social-justice factions.
Dr. Vincent Miller, professor of Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton, began his remarks by quoting Pope Francis’s February declaration that the COVID-19 pandemic “shown us the face of a world that is seriously ill,” as evidenced by inequalities such as those who could and could not withstand the forced shutdown of so-called “nonessential” jobs.
Miller called on Catholics to base their approach to economic questions on two core principles. The first is the universal destination of goods, which holds that God intended the Earth’s resources for the good of all but how those goods are distributed must ultimately serve what Miller cited as the second principle: the common good of mankind.
Invoking Pope Pius XI’s words on “social justice,” Miller argued that while the free market does do good, Catholics should recognize its limitations and ultimately make it subservient to the common good. He blamed economic deregulation in the second half of the 20th century for economic inequality in the United States.
The economy is “how we decide to run the world; we make the rules for how it works,” Miller said. “When we’re in communion with others, we are called to be acutely aware of how others are hurting in the system.”
Steve Bogus, Catholic Charities USA’s vice president for Social Engineering and Workforce Development, largely agreed, but added a third governing principle, a “preferential option for the poor and vulnerable” (meaning those deemed the most in need are owed the strongest consideration), and a fourth principle, the dignity of work and the rights of workers. “Everyone should be able to draw from work the means of his life,” Bogus said.
He quoted St. Basil of Caesarea’s declaration that the “bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor: the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.”
Jon Decker, executive director of American Commitment and Committee to Unleash Prosperity (disclosure: Decker is a friend and former colleague of this author), represented a more market-friendly perspective, framing the economic freedom found in the United States as superior to competing economic systems thanks to a “ glimpse of God at work in your life, in a way that you maybe never thought much about.”
“Freedom creates prosperity because it empowers people to use their God-given talents to the best of their ability,” he argued. “An economy is just a collection of individuals. That’s it. Where individuals are most able to use their unique gifts from God, that is where prosperity is most evident in the world today. And not only does freedom allow us to work jobs that are increasingly tailored to our individual talents and desires — we also enrich the lives of others while doing so.”
Decker contrasted the vast diversity of highly-specialized careers that exist today with the relative conformity of past centuries, in which farm work was the dominant profession, and noted how the innumerable variables that go into the production of a single product or business all necessitate the creation of distinct job opportunities.
“The level of cooperation and teamwork necessary, between all sorts of people with varying degrees and skill sets to keep the lights on in this store, is simply astounding,” he said. “Walking into a Whole Foods may not seem like a miracle, but maybe it should.”
“In many parts of the world, 200 years ago their economies didn’t look all that much different than they do today,” Decker continued. “And curiously those countries all have one thing in common: people do not have the freedom to use their gifts from God like we do here. This is not an argument against any and all government intervention in our economy, and I wouldn’t want it to be construed as such, but it does illustrate why I generally approach economic problems through a free market lens.”
Instead of government restructuring of the economy, Decker called on Catholics to view their religious values as informing their personal obligations as participants in the economy, from business owners’ responsibility to listen to the concerns of both employees and customers; to workers’ responsibility to recognize how many people their actions impact; to shareholders’ responsibly to oversee corporate culture; to consumers recognizing that how they spend their money sends signals about what products, practices, and messages society finds morally acceptable.