What is Neoliberalism? Does it Align with Catholic Social Teaching?

Photo by lo lo on Unsplash

At Commonweal, Anthony Annett has written one of the most important articles on economics and Catholic social teaching in recent years. Here are some key points:

Technological changes have benefited high-skilled workers and the owners of capital; globalization has allowed corporations to set up camp in countries with the lowest taxes and the fewest regulations and social protections; and the increasing plutocratic capture of the political system has led to policies that favor the rich. The result has been the hollowing out of the middle class and the evisceration of the working class in advanced economies. No wonder the global financial crisis, when bankers were bailed out and ordinary people left to sink, left a bitter legacy of resentment in its wake.

Grave social problems have arisen in tandem with this concentration of wealth. As Robert Putnam has documented in the United States, social ties have become frayed over the past few decades as neoliberal ideology has undermined our sense of solidarity. Signs of this fraying are all around us. They include obesity, substance abuse, and mental-health disorders. Indeed, such problems have become so common and so grave that life expectancy is actually falling among some key demographics.

Hovering over all of this is the existential environmental crisis threatening to destroy the conditions for human flourishing….

Blame for the current state of affairs can, to a large extent, be laid at the feet of an ideology known as neoliberalism. That ideology involves an extension of the values of neoclassical economics—values like individualism, efficiency, and competition—to all aspects of society. According to neoliberalism, free markets always and everywhere promote well-being, economic growth will always trickle down, and the private sector needs to be unshackled from the grip of government to be efficient and innovative. Public services should be privatized, industries deregulated….

The first question to ask is what motivates the person. In neoclassical economics—and by extension neoliberalism—the answer is self-interest. This is often traced to Adam Smith’s famous dictum that without self-interest, businesses would not supply the goods we need and want. By contrast, Catholic social teaching elevates such principles as solidarity, reciprocity, and gratuitousness. It insists that a core human motivation is willing the good of the other, including the person on the other side of an economic transaction….

The next question to ask is what constitutes the good of the individual. For neoclassical economics, the answer is straightforward: you seek to maximize your subjective preferences. Put simply, you try to consume the most you can, in line with your personal tastes, with whatever resources are available to you….

When Catholic social teaching ponders the good of the individual, it points in a sharply different direction. It emphasizes instead integral human development, which is the good of the whole person and all people. Thus, it goes beyond the material to emphasize all dimensions of well-being. In an Aristotelian sense, it calls for the fullest development of each person’s potential. Implicit in this is a more objective notion of the good, a good common to all people that sets natural limits to their needs and desires. It does not confuse happiness with the maximal satisfaction of appetites. And that means it does not confuse our collective well-being with maximal economic growth….

As noted, neoclassical economics assumes that the sole role of the corporation is to maximize profits, typically equated with shareholder value, and hence that the corporation has no wider social role—this view was stated most forcefully by Milton Friedman. In this framework, labor is simply a factor of production….

Catholic social teaching takes a different perspective. Under its principles, the role of business, just like the state, is to further the common good. This has numerous implications. First, it calls on businesses to produce goods and services that further genuine human flourishing rather than support mere preference satisfaction. This casts a moral pall over many goods in our modern economy, including addictive products, advertising, luxury brands, pornography, and the fossil-fuel industry. Second, business must support decent work, putting this goal above profits—Catholic social teaching recognizes the priority of labor over capital.

You can read the full article here.



Millennial of the Year 2021: Andrew Kaczynski

Andrew Kaczynski. Rachel Ensign, and their daughter Francesca “Beans” Kaczynski

During a pandemic that has taken over 5 million lives around the world, there has been no shortage of grief. But much of it remains hidden to the outside world, particularly after the initial period of loss, when some level of stigma seems to still exist about openly expressing such feelings. This, in turn, can compound the sadness of loss—the sense of emptiness, isolation, and brokenness. It is within this context that Andrew Kaczynski’s public response to the loss of his beloved infant daughter, Francesca “Beans” Kaczynski, has been so valuable and made such an important contribution to the common good.

There is no right way to react to the death of one’s child, the most devastating loss any loving parent can experience. Who could blame any parent for retreating from the public at such a time? Yet Andrew Kaczynski’s willingness to publicly share his experience over the course of the year—not just the grief and feelings of emptiness and anger and sadness, but the pride and love and gratitude that endure, as well—is helping to reduce that stigma and make those experiencing loss feel more connected and less alone.

That pride in Beans was always there. People from across the nation and around the world had come to know and love the CNN reporter’s daughter through her doting father’s posts on social media. And as she began to battle infant brain cancer (diagnosed with an atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor), many of us prayed for her on a regular basis and were profoundly sad when she died on Christmas Eve in 2020. But her legacy endures.

By the end of 2021, Andrew Kaczynski and his wife, Rachel Ensign of The Wall Street Journal, had raised over $1.8 million for the Team Beans Infant Brian Tumor Fund at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. This remarkable effort itself is worthy of an award. They worked hard to raise this money in the hope that other families will be spared the worst of what they have experienced. To suffer, but to proceed in love, to work to alleviate the suffering of others is a testament to the power of love and the courage of these parents.

Our 2021 Millennial of the Year, Andrew Kaczynski, has consistently been an inspiring witness to the power of love—as a devoted and loving father, through publicly sharing his experiences and emotions this past year, through Team Beans’ fundraising, and by advocating on behalf of these children and their families.

In a recent article at USA Today, Kaczynski, who said that he had once been afraid of dying, explained, “Francesca died, so now I can die. Wherever she went, that’s where I get to go. It’s such a peaceful thing to think about. When it’s my time to die, I know I’ll think, ‘I get to go be with Francesca now.’ So I don’t stress things anymore.” This is the power of love. We do not doubt that the communion with his daughter that he desires so greatly will one day occur, but we also wish to recognize the great impact of his work and witness in the meantime. And for such efforts, Andrew Kaczynski is our 2021 Millennial of the Year.

You can donate to the Team Beans Infant Brain Tumor Fund here.

Amanda Gorman Releases Her Latest Poem, “New Day’s Lyric”

Photo by Moritz Knöringer on Unsplash

via Instagram:

May this be the day
We come together.
Mourning, we come to mend,
Withered, we come to weather,
Torn, we come to tend,
Battered, we come to better.
Tethered by this year of yearning,
We are learning
That though we weren’t ready for this,
We have been readied by it.
We steadily vow that no matter
How we are weighed down,
We must always pave a way forward.

This hope is our door, our portal.
Even if we never get back to normal,
Someday we can venture beyond it,
To leave the known and take the first steps.
So let us not return to what was normal,
But reach toward what is next.

What was cursed, we will cure.
What was plagued, we will prove pure.
Where we tend to argue, we will try to agree,
Those fortunes we forswore, now the future we foresee,
Where we weren’t aware, we’re now awake;
Those moments we missed
Are now these moments we make,
The moments we meet,
And our hearts, once all together beaten,
Now all together beat.

Come, look up with kindness yet,
For even solace can be sourced from sorrow.
We remember, not just for the sake of yesterday,
But to take on tomorrow.

We heed this old spirit,
In a new day’s lyric,
In our hearts, we hear it:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
Be bold, sang Time this year,
Be bold, sang Time,
For when you honor yesterday,
Tomorrow ye will find.
Know what we’ve fought
Need not be forgot nor for none.
It defines us, binds us as one,
Come over, join this day just begun.
For wherever we come together,
We will forever overcome.

Governor John Bel Edwards Pardons Homer Plessy

via NOLA.com:

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Wednesday formally pardoned Homer Plessy, the long-dead civil rights pioneer whose stand against racial segregation led to an infamous U.S. Supreme Court case.

Edwards issued the pardon on the grounds of what is now the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, where Plessy bought a ticket for a train to Covington as part of an 1892 challenge to Louisiana’s racist Jim Crow laws. Plessy, a Creole man of African descent, was ultimately convicted of sitting in a Whites-only section of the train….

The Louisiana Pardon Board recommended the posthumous pardon in November, under a law initially designed to offer clemency to veterans of the 20th-century civil rights movement. Plessy is the first person so pardoned.

Before he signed the pardon document, Edwards quoted from the dissent of Associate Justice John Marshall Harlan, the sole vote against the majority in Plessy v. Ferguson.

“The pernicious effects of Plessy [v. Ferguson] linger still in terms of race relations, equality and justice,” Edwards said. “We are not where we should be, and quite frankly we’re not where we would have been, had at least four other justices had the same fidelity to the Constitution.”

Pope Francis’ Message to Married Couples

Photo by Jimmy Dean on Unsplash

via the Vatican:

We too have experienced uncertainty, loneliness, the loss of loved ones; we too have been forced to leave behind our certainties, our “comfort zones”, our familiar ways of doing things and our ambitions, and to work for the welfare of our families and that of society as a whole, which also depends on us and our actions….

Different situations in life, the passage of time, the arrival of children, work and illness, all challenge couples to embrace anew their commitment to one another, to leave behind settled habits, certainties and security, and to set out towards the land that God promises: to be two in Christ, two in one. Your lives become a single life; you become a “we” in loving communion with Jesus, alive and present at every moment of your existence. God is always at your side; he loves you unconditionally. You are not alone!

Dear spouses, know that your children – especially the younger ones – watch you attentively; in you they seek the signs of a strong and reliable love….

They are thirsty for love, gratitude, esteem and trust. Being parents calls you to pass on to your children the joy of realizing that they are God’s children, children of a Father who has always loved them tenderly and who takes them by the hand each new day. As they come to know this, your children will grow in faith and trust in God….

The family remains the primary environment where education takes place, through small gestures that are more eloquent than words. To educate is above all to accompany the growth process, to be present to children in many different ways, to help them realize that they can always count on their parents. An educator is someone who spiritually “gives birth” to others and, above all, becomes personally engaged in their growth. For parents, it is important to relate to children with an authority that grows day by day.  Children need a sense of security that can enable them to have confidence in you and in the beauty of your life together, and in the certainty that they will never be alone, whatever may come their way.