Economics

Once Pope Francis Knows U.S. Capitalism He Will Love It, Says Catholic Theologian-Economist

Photo via giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

Photo via giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

The Rev. Martin Schlag is a trained economist as well as a Catholic moral theologian, and when he first read some of Pope Francis’ powerful critiques of the current free market system he had the same thought a lot of Americans did: “Just horrible.”

But at a meeting on May 11 at the Harvard Club, Schlag, an Austrian-born priest who teaches economics at an Opus Dei-run university in Rome, reassured a group of Catholics, many from the world of business and finance, that Francis’ views on capitalism aren’t actually as bad as he feared.

6 Things to Expect in the Pope’s Address to Congress

Photo via giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

Photo via giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

The papal address to the Republican-controlled Congress is likely to be one of the most closely watched talks during the pope’s weeklong visit to Washington, New York, and Philadelphia this fall, especially since the presidential campaign season will be growing more intense.

Francis isn’t shy about tackling controversial topics or upending conventional orthodoxies about Catholics and politics — a prospect that makes U.S. conservatives especially nervous, given Francis’ insistence on raising concerns about issues such as economic justice, climate change, and immigration.

From the Archives: November 1993

DESPITE APPEARANCES, economics is in essence a very personal and fundamentally moral discipline. It is nothing short of the web of our material relationships with one another and with the natural environment. Economic relationships have personalities and personal histories. Inescapably, these relationships physically manifest our social and spiritual values.

Our language expresses this duality. “Values” are both moral principles and economic measures. “Equity” is defined both as a financial interest in property and as fairness or justice. The root of “property” is also the root of “propriety.” But perception and practice often reflect a division between them.

Many of the economic problems confronting us can be understood as the result of neglected or broken relationships. Americans ... have a tendency to polarize public and private interests and, in our case, to mythologize the private sector and ignore the community as a genuine economic actor.

If it will, the church can play a critical role in healing these divisions. It has a unique contribution to make: philosophically, by drawing on its theology of creation, its understanding of the individual in community, and its preferential option for the poor; practically, because it is the largest and most widespread non-governmental institution and one of the few stable institutions in low-income communities. 

Chuck Matthei was president of Equity Trust when this article appeared.

Image: Sprouts planted in gold coins,  / Shutterstock 

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Capitalism v. Democracy: Financing Seminary Education (Part II)

A Aleksii / Shutterstock.com

A Aleksii / Shutterstock.com

Author’s Note: Institutions we have valued for generations are dwindling and falling by the wayside because we no longer have the finances to sustain them. In this second essay on financing seminary education (read the first HERE), I will address the socio-political and economic concerns that add to the complexity of the current crisis in theological education.

Democracy is based on the ideal of political equality. Each citizen is to have the same potential to influence what government does regardless of financial status. Markets, on the other hand, are directly related to real dollars. The consequent result for the U.S. democratic capitalistic structure is that while the rich and the poor are equal politically, they will never be equal economically. This combination could lead to two undesirable extremes: 1) mob rule by asset-less democratic majorities, or 2) oligarchic rule by the affluent. Thus, government’s role is to oversee the enterprise through the creation of regulatory policies that prevent runaway markets and taxation that assures a sustainable distribution of wealth and resources for the whole population. In order to achieve these goals, political theorists have developed models that focus on creating and sustaining a strong middle class with the result that the median voter will correct rising inequality in wealth as well as poor economic performance.

Catholic and Libertarian? Pope's Top Adviser Says They're Incompatible

Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga prays at St. Paul the Apostle Church in New York. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.

Taking direct aim at libertarian policies promoted by many American conservatives, the Honduran cardinal who is one of Pope Francis’ top advisers said Tuesday that today’s free market system is “a new idol” that is increasing inequality and excluding the poor.

“This economy kills,” said Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, quoting Francis frequently in a speech delivered at a conference on Catholicism and libertarianism held a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol.

The pope, Maradiaga said, grew up in Argentina and “has a profound knowledge of the life of the poor.” That is why, he said, Francis continues to insist that “the elimination of the structural causes for poverty is a matter of urgency that can no longer be postponed.”

“The hungry or sick child of the poor cannot wait,” the cardinal said.

Recovering Creatureliness

The following reflection is a sidebar for "A Watershed Moment" by Ched Myers.—The Editors

I began to know my watershed—the James River in Virginia—when I realized that recovering “creatureliness” is at the core of our discipleship. I learned that my life is utterly dependent upon relationships with countless others, including microscopic organisms in the soil. It’s this grand web of mutuality that forms our fundamental context. Watershed discipleship is contextual discipleship. If we seek to follow Jesus in context, nothing is more contextual than a watershed.

Participating in God’s action to restore the world requires us to have a place. Churches have the capacity to become communities of alternative economic and political practice, embodiment, and imagination. To become communities of justice and reconciliation, we need to embrace the simple disciplines of table fellowship, relationship to water, growing food, and ecological literacy. That’s the path of watershed discipleship.

Chris Grataski, founder of Wild Oak Ecological Design, is a permaculture educator and designer living in central Virginia.

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Selling Sodas: A Cure for Human Bondage

A man holds an XS Energy Drink, which the author was selling, in Ukraine. Photo by David Vanderveen

Intending it as a compliment, a friend described my work in in Kiev last weekend as selling sodas in Ukraine. 

Hes right. I was in the embattled city to represent a company I helped co-found and our Southern California energy drink brand in meetings with more than 10,000 Ukrainian independent business owners. 

It was as simple as that and also so much more. 

Like Bono, I believe free enterprise is a cure for all sorts of poverty  economic, political, and spiritual.

Study: Protestant Work Ethic Isn't Just Protestant Anymore

Work ethic graphic created via wordle.net. Via RNS.

America’s vaunted Protestant work ethic is getting a makeover: Now it might be more of an atheist work ethic.

A new study has found an inverse relationship between the religiosity of a state’s population and its “productive entrepreneurship.” That’s professor-speak for “entrepreneurial investment responsible for real economic growth.”

In other words, the less religious a state’s population, the more likely it is to have a healthy economy.

The study, titled “Religion: Productive or Unproductive?” by economists Travis Wiseman of Mississippi State University and Andrew Young of West Virginia University, was published in the March edition of the Journal of Institutional Economics.

In the study, Wiseman and Young find that the “measure of total Christian adherents is robustly and positively correlated with states’ unproductive entrepreneurship scores” in a given state.

Pope Francis: An Imitation of Christ

Pope Francis greets the crowd in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Photo: Paul Haring/Catholic News Service. Via RNS.

Pope Francis is TIME's Person of the Year. But that is only because Jesus is his "Person of the Day" — every day. 

Praises of the pope are flowing around the world, commentary on the pontiff leads all the news shows, and even late night television comedians are paying humorous homage. But a few of the journalists covering the pope are getting it right: Francis is just doing his job. The pope is meant to be a follower of Christ — the Vicar of Christ.

Isn’t it extraordinary how simply following Jesus can attract so much attention when you are the pope? Every day, millions of other faithful followers of Christ do the same thing. They often don’t attract attention, but they keep the world together.

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