Sunday, July 31, 2011

Papal Economic Teachings

A papal encyclical is written by the Pope to address some issue of priority. Encyclicals offer critique and counsel, pointing out problems and suggesting solutions. They tend to be quite scholarly in tone and extensively researched and thought out. The Industrial Revolution prompted the first of many economics-related encyclicals. Here are some of the main ones in chronological order:

Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of Labor)
1891, Pope Leo XIII – Addresses the plight of workers in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, touching on socialism, unbridled capitalism, a living wage, workers’ rights, support for unions, and a rejection of class struggle.

Quadragesimo Anno (On the Reconstruction of the Social Order) 1931, Pope Pius XI – Written during Great Depression, offers an update on the state of labor and industrialization, and strong critiques of communism, unrestrained capitalism, class conflict, and inequalities. Pope Pius denounces the concentration of wealth and economic power.

Mater et Magistra (Christianity and Social Progress) 1961, Pope John XXIII – Notes power of science and technology to improve the human condition, but also to limit human freedoms. Calls on governments to safeguard human rights and expresses concerns for the growing gap between rich and poor nations, for the plight of farmers and rural areas, and for the arms race.

Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) 1963, Pope John XXIII – In response to the Cold War, the encyclical outlines necessary conditions for lasting world peace, looking at respect for human rights and disarmament.

Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples) 1967, Pope Paul VI – Examines the economy on a global level, and addresses the rights of workers to decent work, just wages, and to form and join unions. Pope Paul VI calls development the new name for peace, criticizes unjust economic structures that lead to inequality, and supports new international and social relationships.

Laborem Exercens (On Human Work) 1981, Pope John Paul II – Emphasizes the dignity of work and the rights of workers, and the priority of labor over capital. Also addresses disabled workers, emigration, materialism, and the spirituality of work.

Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (On Social Concern) 1987, Pope John Paul II – Critiques East‐West blocs and other “structures of sin” that compromise the progress of poor nations, and calls for solidarity between rich and poor nations.

Centesimus Annus (The Hundredth Year) 1991, Pope John Paul II – Focuses on the moral dimensions of economic life, the advantages and limitations of the market, the role of business, and the responsibilities and limitations of government.

Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) 2005, Pope Benedict XVI – Pope Benedict locates love of the poor at the center of Catholic life.

Caritas In Veritate (Charity in Truth) 2009, Pope Benedict XVI – Deals with the ethics of contemporary economics; poverty and development; global solidarity; charity, justice and the common good; rights and duties; and care for creation. Here are some excerpts:

“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 health care. At the same time, in some poor countries, cultural models and social norms of behaviour persist which hinder the process of development.” (22)

“The mobility of labour, associated with a climate of deregulation, is an important phenomenon with certain positive aspects, because it can stimulate wealth production and cultural exchange. Nevertheless, uncertainty over working conditions caused by mobility and deregulation, when it becomes endemic, tends to create new forms of psychological instability, giving rise to difficulty in forging coherent life-plans, including that of marriage. This leads to situations of human decline, to say nothing of the waste of social resources. In comparison with the casualties of industrial society in the past, unemployment today provokes new forms of economic marginalization, and the current crisis can only make this situation worse. Being out of work or dependent on public or private assistance for a prolonged period undermines the freedom and creativity of the person and his family and social relationships, causing great psychological and spiritual suffering. 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 …. (25)

“Economic activity cannot solve all social problems through the simple application of commercial logic. This needs to be directed towards the pursuit of the common good, for which the political community in particular must also take responsibility. Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution” (36).

Drawing from these and other teachings, the U.S. Catholic Bishops have put together a ten-part Framework for Economic Life as "principles for reflection, criteria for judgement and directions for action." The ten principles are all pretty short and not very Catholic-specific. The first, for example, is "The economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy." The third is "A fundamental moral measure of any economy is how the poor and vulnerable are faring." I imagine that most people would accept at least some of the statements, and that they could have wide interpretations. I'll reflect and maybe blog on them in the coming weeks.

1 comment:

  1. Cool! I can't wait to learn more! The literal translations for the first three encyclicals are Of New Things, In the 40th year, and Mother and Teacher. Yea Latin!