Caritas in Veritate

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Republican Policy Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) put out an interesting press release this morning on Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical on the global economy.

They cautioned:

Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, is neither an indictment of capitalism nor an endorsement of any political or economic agenda, and ideologues and politicos hoping to spin it as either are destined to be unsuccessful.


Boehner and McCotter are right. It is not the sweeping indictment of capitalism that some on the left might have hoped, but neither is it a sweeping endorsement of the free-market system.

The Holy Father, in fact, points out rather quickly that “The Church does not have technical solutions to offer and does not claim to interfere in any way in the politics of States.”

But the encyclical does give some interesting advice to political and spiritual leaders about the global economy, advice that should be considered by both Democrats and Republicans.
In the era of spin and counterspin, the Holy Father lays it on the line about what is the only protector of freedom: “Fidelity to man requires fidelity to the truth, which alone is the guarantee of freedom and of the possibility of integral human development.”

He also point out that the state cannot compel personal responsibility, only people can: “In reality, institutions by themselves are not enough, because integral human development is primarily a vocation, and therefore it involves a free assumption of responsibility in solidarity on the part of everyone.”

The pope warns against relying on ideology to solve problems, especially when it comes to solving the problems of the developing world: “The actors and the causes in both underdevelopment and development are manifold, the faults and the merits are differentiated. This fact should prompt us to liberate ourselves from ideologies, which often oversimplify reality in artificial ways, and it should lead us to examine objectively the full human dimension of the problems.”

Pope Benedict understands that there is plenty of blame to go around when it comes to the failures of modern society to deal with crushing poverty. “Among those who sometimes fail to respect the human rights of workers are large multinational companies as well as local producers. International aid has often been diverted from its proper ends, through irresponsible actions both within the chain of donors and within that of the beneficiaries. Similarly, in the context of immaterial or cultural causes of development and underdevelopment, we find these same patterns of responsibility reproduced. On the part of rich countries there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of healthcare. At the same time, in some poor countries, cultural models and social norms of behaviour persist which hinder the process of development.”

In this age of the endless pursuit of the almighty dollar, the pope reminds us that the most important asset is humanity: “I would like to remind everyone, especially governments engaged in boosting the world's economic and social assets, that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity: ‘Man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life.’ ”

He goes on to say: “Man is not a lost atom in a random universe, he is God's creature, whom God chose to endow with an immortal soul and whom he has always loved. If man were merely the fruit of either chance or necessity, or if he had to lower his aspirations to the limited horizon of the world in which he lives, if all reality were merely history and culture, and man did not possess a nature destined to transcend itself in a supernatural life, then one could speak of growth, or evolution, but not development.”

The Holy Father understands the importance and the efficacy of the free market: “What is needed, therefore, is a market that permits the free operation, in conditions of equal opportunity, of enterprises in pursuit of different institutional ends.”

But here is where Republicans should take note. Pleasing investors should not be the only role of a corporation. The pope makes the point that that responsibility goes both ways, towards both the management and the workers: “There is nevertheless a growing conviction that business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference. In recent years a new cosmopolitan class of managers has emerged, who are often answerable only to the shareholders generally consisting of anonymous funds, which de facto determine their remuneration …”

And here is where it get really interesting: “What should be avoided is a speculative use of financial resources that yields to the temptation of seeking only short-term profit, without regard for the long-term sustainability of the enterprise, its benefit to the real economy and attention to the advancement, in suitable and appropriate ways, of further economic initiatives in countries in need of development.” That sounds like something Warren Buffett would say.

From my reading of this encyclical, it seems that the Holy Father is giving good advice. Don’t worship at the altar of the almighty dollar. Don’t sacrifice long-term sustainability for short-term profit. Freedom requires that people be responsible to one another. Humanity trumps ideology. Governments can’t compel people to be responsible.

This is a complex document, with plenty of concepts to chew on for a long time. But while it critiques free-market capitalism, it doesn’t advocate its destruction.

Boehner and McCotter were right on.



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