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Popes talk about new approaches to the economy Print
Letters to the editor
Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

To the editor:

Tony Magliano’s reflections on Pope Benedict’s Day of Peace message in the January 10 Catholic Herald is relevant to this time and place. As noted by the pope, inequality has been increasing for decades as a result of selfish and individualistic deregulation of financial markets.

Deregulation caused the financial crisis of 2008 and recession. Millions lost their jobs, families lost their homes, and $16 trillion in household wealth evaporated. But since then, 93 percent of new wealth has accrued to the richest one percent.

A week later followed the economic column in the Catholic Herald by Anthony Esolen about some of Pope Leo XIII’s views on socialism in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum. The pope denounced socialism because it deprives working people of the gains of their wages in the form of private property.

Mr. Esolen does not define socialism and so the reader is left to conjecture about what Pope Leo was condemning as unjust in 1891. This is especially needed since most Americans have never experienced socialism. Was 1891 socialism similar to that presently in North Korea or China or to the democratic socialist countries such as Sweden and Norway?

Mr. Esolen cites the encyclical’s observation that guilds were abolished but skips its statement that unions are one of the most important institutions to help working people obtain a share in prosperity. In Wisconsin that information is important since our governor has promised his political supporters that he will work to destroy unions.

His divide and conquer strategy has deprived many workers of their right to organize and advocate for the welfare of their families. He has inspired many private employers to demand wage and benefit cuts even when their businesses are enjoying record profits.

Rerum Novarum reflects this problem,   “. . . the first thing of all to secure is to save unfortunate working people from the cruelty of men of greed, who use human beings as mere instruments for money-making.”

Pope Benedict stated: “One of the social rights and duties most under threat today is the right to work. The reason for this is that labour and the rightful recognition of workers’ juridical status are increasingly undervalued, since economic development is thought to depend principally on completely free markets.”

Pope Benedict states that work is a fundamental good, “Corresponding to this good are a duty and a right that demand courageous new policies of universal employment.” This would be part of the new model of development and new approach to the economy, which he says are needed.

Pope Benedict sums it up: “Both integral, sustainable development in solidarity and the common good require a correct scale of goods and values which can be structured with God as the ultimate point of reference.”

What might this new model of development look like? Since it will not be unregulated financial capitalism or socialism, what third way will we work toward that includes “. . . Courageous new policies of universal employment”? What articles on the pope’s new model can we expect in the Catholic Herald?

William Dagnon, Baraboo