Friday, April 15, 2016

Chuck Collins: Bernie, Pope Francis, and the Moral Economy

A lay person’s primer on Catholic social teaching.
Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally with striking federal workers at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation on East Capitol Street NE, September 22, 2015. The event was organized on the day Pope Francis, who is an advocate for low income workers, arrived in Washington.

Bernie Sanders is on his way to the Vatican, with high hopes of a meeting with Pope Francis. Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall during that conversation?
I imagine them bonding over the moral economy and their shared concern about the idolatry of money. Between them stands a rich tradition of Jewish and Christian teachings on economic life.
Sanders will be addressing the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences about the “moral economy.” But it’s no secret he’d love an audience with the pontiff. “It’s something I would be very proud to see happen,” Mr. Sanders told The Washington Post about the prospect of meeting Pope Francis. “I believe that the pope has been an inspirational figure in raising public consciousness about the kind of income and wealth inequality we are seeing all over this world.”
“The pope is coming along at the right point in history,” Sanders told a journalistfrom the Salt and Light Media Foundation. “The pope has not only talked about the dispossessed—children and the lonely who are pushed aside—but he has also raised the issue of worship of money, the idolatry of money—and questioned whether that is what life is about. He has a very radical critique of the hyper-capitalist world system.”
The U.S. presidential campaign has touched on many issues that are central to Catholic social teaching including poverty, immigration, the refugee crisis, the role of government, taxation, and more.
A couple years ago I co-authored a book about Catholic social teaching called, The Moral Measure of the Economy. Here are a couple talking points Bernie might find useful in his meeting:
1. The Common Good. The obligation to “love our neighbor” has an individual dimension, but it also requires a broader social commitment to the common good. We have many inadequate ways to measure the health of our economy: Gross Domestic Product (GDP), per capita income, stock market prices, and so forth. Themoral measure of an economy, rooted in Catholic doctrine, is “How does the society treat the most vulnerable?” and, “Does economic life enhance or threaten our life together as a community?”
2. Economic Justice for All. The very nature of the common good requires that all members of a society be entitled to share in it, although in different ways according to each one's tasks, merits, and circumstances. For this reason, every government must take pains to promote the common good of all, without preference for any single citizen or civic group. As Pope Leo XIII, said: “The civil power must not serve the advantage of any one individual, or of some few persons, inasmuch as it was established for the common good of all.” Public policies that worsen economic polarization, such as tax cuts for the wealthy, would fail this basic test.
3. Preferential Option for the Poor. Considerations of justice and equity demand that those involved in civil government give more attention to the less fortunate members of the community, since they are less able to defend their rights and to assert their legitimate claims. The first priority of public action should be to lift up those most vulnerable.
4. Solidarity. At the core of most great religious traditions is the understanding that we are “one body,” interconnected and interdependent. We are responsible for one another.  We not only have a duty to be responsible for ourselves, but our faith requires us to be responsible for others. As John Paul II, wrote in his encyclical letter, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis,
Solidarity is an authentic moral virtue, not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good. That is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.

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