Posts Tagged ‘catholicism’

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Special mention

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Readers will remember that, in Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis developed a scathing critique of trickle-down economics and of the existing economy of inequality and exclusion.

How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

But, in that exhortation, the pope didn’t really address the issue of alternatives to contemporary capitalism. Now, he has—in the form of cooperatives.

In a recent audience [ht: db] with members of the Confederazione Cooperative Italiane,* Francis offered a practical alternative to the “throw-away culture created by the powers that control the economic and financial policies of the globalized world”: to establish new cooperatives and to strengthen existing cooperatives.

he spoke of the economy and its relationship with social justice and human dignity. Speaking of the need to “globalize solidarity,” he urged the confederation to bring co-operatives to the “existential peripheries” and to continue to be “prophetic” by “inventing new forms of co-operation.”

The Pope spoke of “a certain liberalism,” which “believes it is first necessary to produce wealth—and it does not matter how—to then promote some state redistribution policy.”

Others think it is up to a company to “bestow the crumbs of accumulated wealth” to those in need to then, in turn, “absolve themselves” of “their so-called ‘social responsibility’,” the Pope said.

“You run the risk of deluding yourself that you are doing good while, unfortunately, you continue only to do marketing,” without ever escaping the “fatal loop” of egoism, “which has the god of money at the centre,” he said.

Instead, the co-operative creates a “new type of economy” that allows “people to grow in all their potential,” socially and professionally, as well as in responsibility, hope and co-operation, he said. The Pope clarified that while he was not saying income growth is not important, it certainly “is not enough.”

 

*The Confederation of Italian Cooperatives is one of three cooperative organizations in Italy (the other two being the Associazione Generale Cooperative Italiane and the Federazione Nazionale delle Cooperative). Catholic-inspired cooperatives were originally part of the Federazione, which was founded in 1886, but then then they left to form a separate organization in 1919. In the 1920s, the fascist government opposed all cooperatives and cooperative unions and the various cooperative organizations at the time were disbanded. After World War II, the cooperative organizations were formed once again.

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During last night’s discussion of capitalism verusus Catholicism, I made the point that everyone—rich and poor—is negatively affected by capitalist inequality.

My argument was that poor people are put at a distinct disadvantage within an “economy of exclusion,” because they are denied the basic material conditions necessary to sustain not only their individual lives, but also their participation in the wider society. But, I went on, rich people are also hurt by inequality, in the sense that are forced to act in selfish and unethical ways in order to maintain their positions of privilege.

I then referred to the psychological literature on the behavioral effects of inequality, about which I’ve written before (here and here). The latest contribution to this literature was just published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: “Social Class, Power, and Selfishness: When and Why Upper and Lower Class Individuals Behave Unethically,” by David Dubois, Derek D. Rucker, and Adam D. Galinsky. The authors set out to disentangle the differences between unethical and self-serving behavior in relation to social class. Here’s what they found:

Both higher and lower social class individuals can engage in unethical behavior, but the target of that behavior might often differ: The unethical behavior of upper class individuals is more likely to be self-beneficial, whereas the unethical behavior of lower class individuals is more likely to be other-beneficial. This parsimonious account complements and qualifies recent work on social class and unethical behavior (Piff et al., 2012) by advancing the argument that the link between upper social class and unethical behavior occurs primarily for self-beneficial reasons.

As I’ve argued before, the point is not that rich people per se display behavioral pathologies—or, for that matter, that poor people are noble. It is fascinating that there are systematic differences in the target of their unethical behavior. But I’m more interested in the idea that both groups, within a highly unequal society, are forced to behave in ways many of us would consider unethical, whether self-serving or altruistic.

What I had in mind when I made my remarks was, of course, Marx’s statement “that the capitalist is just as enslaved by the relationships of capitalism as is his opposite pole, the worker, albeit in a quite different manner.”

But after the fact, as I was driving home from the discussion, I had another thought: what if that is the true content of the preferential option for the poor? We often think of the preferential option as a kind of basic moral test, in the sense of judging the adequacy of current economic arrangements in terms of how the most vulnerable members of society are faring. But what if there is a somewhat different interpretation—that changing society to eliminate poverty will benefit not only the formerly poor but also everyone else? In other words, creating institutions that eliminate the kinds of grotesque inequalities that characterize contemporary capitalism will benefit even those who are not poor, since they will no longer be forced to lose or undermine or otherwise forsake their humanity by engaging in unethical self-serving behaviors. Thus, eliminating capitalist inequality can be seeing as restoring humanity to everyone, both poor and rich.

In that sense, the poor and vulnerable represent a universal class—not because of some kind of inherent nobility, but because eliminating the conditions of poverty and vulnerability will benefit not only themselves, but all others in a capitalist society.

That—and not pity or charity or individual instances of social mobility—may be the truly radical content of the preferential option for the poor.

Capitalism VP Poster FINAL

A debate tomorrow at Notre Dame, which will be broadcast on Vantage Point Radio.

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Anthony Stevens-Arroyo has nominated Michael Moore Catholic of the Year for his latest film, “Capitalism: A Love Story.”

The reasons?

First, Moore places a favorable light on his lived Catholic experience and the trust he places in Catholic priests. . .

Second, Moore puts a human face on the suffering caused by economic hardship. . .

Third, the picture’s upbeat message is based on several real successes, experienced by Moore. . .

Finally, Moore’s alternative is not some pie-in-the-sky radicalism.

Stevens-Arroyo also offers a warning, a historical lesson, for those who inspired by the utopian moments of Catholicism:

The Catholic doctrines of Social Justice is a difficult one to practice, and in practice it often leads to error. . .When Catholic thinkers decided that capitalism and socialism were both wrong they looked for a third way and many found fascism, which was a heavily Catholic phenomenon. Beware of Social Justice and Utopianism.