What is the foundation of Roman Catholic Social Teaching?
What the Lord requires of us is this:
“to act justly,
to love tenderly,
and to walk humbly with our God.” Micah 6:8
Rabbi Stephanie Aaron, leader of Congregation Chaveim and spiritual advisor to the courageous Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, is quoted in the N.Y. Times: “In Jewish practice, we have an idea of repairing the world … (Ms.Giffords) was very active in doing that work and being a pursuer of justice.” N.Y. Times, Jan. 10, 2011.
Roman Catholic Social Teaching, in advocating justice, is based on moral principles. But is economics a moral discipline? Could it be that the “enlightenment” has erased morality from economics, and this is why Catholic Social Teaching is ignored? Pius XI in Quadragesimon Anno says, “Even though economics and moral science employs each its own principles in its own sphere, it is, nevertheless, an error to say the economic and moral orders are so distinct from and alien to each other that the former depends no way on the latter.” (Q.A. para. 42)
What do economists and business people say? Q.A. was published in 1931, forty years after the first Social Encyclical Rerum Novarum. It appeared after W.W. I, in the middle of the Great Depression, and during the run-up to W.W. II. In 1902 George F. Baer, spokesman for financiers and mutual owners and operators of mines and coal bearing railroads, responded to striking coal miner’s union leader John Mitchel through the press, “Anthracite mining is a business not a religious, sentimental or academic proposition.” (Theodore Rex, Edmund Morris, p.133, Random House 2010) President Theodore Roosevelt settled the strike with a 10% raise to the coal miners because of political necessity.
Roosevelt declined the Republican nomination for President in 1908. He explained why and in doing so he agreed that economics is independent from moraliy. “New issues are coming up. I see them. People discuss economics more and more: the tariff, currency, banks. They are hard questions and I am not deeply interested in them: my problems are moral problems and my teaching has been plain morality.” (Ibid. p. 528)
In contrast, former Secretary of Labor and economist Robert Reich considers the possibility of moral economic analysis concerning the current economic crisis. Reich writes in his recent book, After Shock (Alfred A. Knopf New York, 2010) that he could have grounded his argument in morality, but chose to base his argument on political and economic principles. Reich concludes with a section on, “What Should Be Done: A New Deal for the Middle Class.” I would say that if he based his argument on the ethical or moral he would have to insist on a “New Deal” for the poor, not only in the U.S., but worldwide.
Don’t give up hope. Reich was once criticized for not using moral principles in his economic analysis. In a recent New York Times interview, Reich agreed. (Michael Powel, “Obama the Centrist Irks the Liberal Lion,” New York Times, January 7, 2011) Reich said, “I left out the questions of power and inequality. The Great Recession has made it impossible for me to ignore that. Economics takes its origin as moral philosophy.”