Common-good serves people not the market

Citing encyclicals from the church’s canon of social teachings for authority, Republican Senator, Marco Rubio last week outlined a political economy that he called “common-good capitalism.”

Rubio argued from a basis in Catholic social teaching that businesses should be obliged “to act in the best interests of the workers and the country that made their success possible” and that “unguided” markets “may lead to GDP growth and record profits” but not to “the creation of dignified work.”

Poignantly, he insisted that “our nation does not exist to serve the interests of the market. The market exists to serve our nation and our people.”

These are bold words for social justice Catholics to hear.

Should we imagine, then, that Rubio is now persuaded by the church’s many warnings regarding what Pope Francis once termed “the dung of the devil” — the logic of unbridled capitalism? That remains unclear, but what is certain is that something Trumpian is also afoot.

Still, it must be recognized that the senator is making a telling and possibly important pivot. Let me put this in perspective.

In 1986, led by Richard Nixon’s former secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury and zealous free marketeer William Simon, American Catholic political conservatives submarined the U. S. bishops’ pastoral letter, “Economic Justice for All.”

“The nation does not exist to serve the interests of the market. The market exists to serve our nation and our people.”

Eerily anticipating current social justice concerns, the pastoral letter had raised alarms about the supply-side economics favoured by the Reagan administration, which was seen leading to ”extreme inequalities” and a growing ”gap between rich and poor in our nation” that weakened families and marginalized those in poverty.

The bishops counselled that the economy needed to be better guided for the “common good” of all.

Opposing the bishops, Simon and other conservatives promoted an opposite thesis — that freeing markets from governmental and similar constraints was actually the only cure for economic injustice, not its cause.

Rejecting the bishops’ call for more intervention in markets, the conservatives argued that the church should instead focus on instilling personal virtue in economic actors.

While not quite repeating the Wall Street catchphrase of the ’80s that “greed is good” then, Simon and all nevertheless maintained that thanks to the magic of self-interested competition, the free market system would automatically remedy any concerns the bishops might have about poverty and economic justice.

In the decades after the bishops’ economic letter, conservatives went on invariably to recommend market solutions for nearly every concern in the purview of Catholic social teachings — poverty and pollution, health care and education.

That’s why Rubio’s pivot is curious.

Here’s a Catholic conservative who not only thinks that the market is not the solution; he thinks the unguided market is a problem.

Free marketeers are put on notice.

Rubio’s common-good capitalism ostensibly proposes active intervention in the economy both to advance the common good and to promote human dignity.

t’s not to be confused with socialism, though. Continue reading

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