Pope Francis Challenges Profit-Obsessed Capitalism and Our Complacency

As a certain group of right-wing American Catholics continues to promote free market fundamentalism—sometimes very amiably with rhetorical commitments to a (diminished) social  safety net and maybe even with a nod to an increase in the earned income tax credit—Pope Francis has once again affirmed the Church’s fundamental opposition to this ideology (however cleverly marketed) and the idolatry that often drives it.

While right-wing defenders of libertarian economics should be deeply challenged by the pope’s call for an economy of communion (along with over a century and a quarter of formal Catholic teaching), those of us who actually value Church teaching and orthodoxy should also reflect upon our own biases and assumptions. A market mentality permeates much of American culture, including the thinking of many in the center and even on the left. I sincerely doubt that, given my American background, I am immune from certain biases that pull me from identifying the best path to integral human development, global economic justice, and the common good.

It is easy to cast stones at Catholics who (against Church teaching) believe that access to food or healthcare is a privilege to be earned, rather than a right. It is easy to cast stones at those who delude themselves into believing that the economic growth under China’s state capitalism shows the efficacy of free enterprise and small government, or that the Great Depression and Great Recession were caused primarily by excessive government intervention in otherwise virtuous markets, or any other delusions that ideologues cook up while promoting policies that create the throwaway culture. It is much harder to check one’s own assumptions and ensure that we too are not complicit in this culture or guilty of being capitalists first and Christians second.

Here are some highlights of Francis’ speech on Saturday that should challenge all Americans to reflect on what we are doing (or not doing) to build a more just socio-economic system that serves all:

  1. We cannot understand the new Kingdom offered by Jesus if we do not free ourselves of idols, of which money is one of the most powerful.
  2. When capitalism makes the seeking of profit its only purpose, it runs the risk of becoming an idolatrous framework, a form of worship.
  3. Tax avoidance and evasion which, before being illegal acts, are acts which deny the basic law of life: mutual care.
  4. The principal ethical dilemma of this capitalism is the creation of discarded people, then trying to hide them or make sure they are no longer seen.
  5. The economy of communion, if it wants to be faithful to its charism, must not only care for the victims, but build a system where there are ever fewer victims, where, possibly, there may no longer be any. As long as the economy still produces one victim and there is still a single discarded person, communion has not yet been realized; the celebration of universal fraternity is not full.
  6. We must work toward changing the rules of the game of the socio-economic system.
  7. May the ‘no’ to an economy that kills become a ‘yes’ to an economy that lets live, because it shares, includes the poor, uses profits to create communion.