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Economy: Crisis offers time for transformation

NewsNotes, November-December 2008

The financial meltdown and economic crisis present all of us with two tremendous challenges:

  • to respond with justice and solidarity at home and abroad to the deep suffering occasioned by the loss of jobs, homes, retirement savings, and the myriad of other dreadful consequences of this failure; and
  • to craft out of the ashes an economic system that works for the well-being of all people, rather than a small minority, in these and future generations and guarantees the integrity of creation.
As the economic crisis became increasingly visible to the U.S. public and the world, Bishop William F. Murphy, chairman of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, wrote to U.S. political leadership, lifting up moral principles that should help guide the search for “just and effective responses to the economic turmoil.”

Bishop Murphy wrote about the human and moral dimensions of the crisis and about clear ethical considerations that “should be at the center of debate and decisions on how to move forward… Economic arrangements, structures and remedies should have as a fundamental purpose safeguarding human life and dignity. The scandalous search for excessive economic rewards even to the point of dangerous speculation that exacerbates the pain and losses of the more vulnerable are egregious examples of an economic ethic that places economic gain above all other values. This ignores the impact of economic decisions on the lives of real people as well as the ethical dimension of the choices we make and the moral responsibility we have for their effect on people.”

He emphasized responsibility and accountability: “Those who directly contributed to this crisis or profited from it should not be rewarded or escape accountability for the harm they have done. Any response of government ought to seek greater responsibility, accountability and transparency in both economic and public life …A new sense of responsibility on the part of all should include a renewal of instruments of monitoring and correction within economic institutions and the financial industry as well as effective public regulation and protection to the extent this may be clearly necessary.”

The bishop’s letter also reminded the officials that “the principle of solidarity commits us to the pursuit of the common good, not the search for partisan gain or economic advantage. Protection of the vulnerable – workers, business owners, homeowners, renters, and stockholders – must be included in the commitment to protect economic institutions.” And it said that “subsidiarity places a responsibility on the private actors and institutions to accept their own obligations. If they do not do so, then the larger entities, including the government, will have to step in to do what private institutions will have failed to do.”

For years Maryknoll missioners have expressed profound skepticism that benefits of globalization would accrue to the poor without significant transformation of the assumptions, goals and processes of the economic model that had been driving globalization. (See Maryknoll’s statement on trade and investment.)

Once again in this crisis missioners are seeing the disastrous impact on communities where they live and work around the world of decisions made in distant or disconnected places.

Catholic social teaching, and struggles throughout the history of humankind, remind us that people have the right to participate in the important decisions that affect their lives: A more just global economy must recognize that all people have the right to dignified work; that human labor takes precedence over capital; that workers have a right to a living wage; that the common good and the survival of earth are of paramount importance.

A deep restructuring of the global economy to support these and other life-sustaining values is essential. In the coming months the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns will join millions of others around the world to lift up those proposals and practices that move in this direction.


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