All posts tagged: economics

The Catholic Resistance to Corporatized College

In 1986, Stanley Hauerwas wrote an essay with the long title, “How Christian Universities Contribute to the Corruption of Youth: Church and University in a Confused Age,”[1] reminiscent of the accusation against Socrates, but ultimately siding with the Athens of our day. This came to mind as I was recently teaching Marx’s Manifesto and reflected upon our academic penchant for turning Marx outward rather than towards our own sacred cows, so to speak. What should we find were we to turn his critique against the realm of higher education as many of us experience it today? We need not be Marxists of the orthodox persuasion, of course, but at least use him as a jumping off point. Some thin description of the college experience is necessary first. Somewhere in the United States, let us say Idaho, a young person receives to great joy their college acceptance letter and, close on its heels, a letter regarding either discounts to tuition or loans which will sum to a rather large number by the end of their college …

An African Reflection on the Common Good, Migration, and the Youth Synod

As a young African I am happy that the topic of migration has emerged in the Synod’s discussions. Migration is a crossroads issue since it is one of the peculiar burdens that the hands of the developed world are forced to carry with those of the developing world. The Church has long defended the dignity of migrants partly because of her keen understanding of the difficult choices faced by them. In Pacem In Terris, Pope St. John XXIII laments the social instability wrecking the precarious lives of those we now refer to as “economic migrants” (§120), something I know too well even as a scholar abroad. For many young Africans, the decision to leave home or remain abroad in pursuit of legitimate aspirations, no matter the difficulties associated with them, is reflected by the waves of truth that ripple throughout the stanzas of “Home,” an acclaimed poem by the British-Somali writer Warsan Shire.[1] This is especially the case for those fleeing from the violence perpetuated by institutionalized greed and intolerance. The Church in Africa, already …

An Open Secret: White Privilege’s Targeting of Vulnerable Populations with Abortion

The prenatal child, of course, is the paradigmatic vulnerable person. But abortion disproportionately impacts many other kinds of vulnerable populations as well. Poor and low income women account for 3 in every 4 abortions in the United States. Given the economic pressures especially on single mothers, it is not difficult to understand why. If one cannot afford to take time off of work or pay for child care—especially if one have another mouth to feed (50% of abortions are procured by women who already have children)—it can seem like abortion is the only option. It is an open secret that the broader culture seems to perniciously think the solution to poverty is to make abortion as accessible as possible for the economically vulnerable—rather than help the economically vulnerable choose something other than abortion. Indeed, we are told quite often in the public debate over these matters that when women are denied abortions they are at risk for poverty or for becoming even more economically vulnerable. Politically-biased studies are released right around the anniversary of Roe v. …

A Theological Critique of Economic Modernity’s Myths

Pope Francis frequently speaks of our irresponsible use of goods, the violence in our hearts, unchecked human activity, and how our current models of growth, of production and consumption are unsustainable. He tells us early in Laudato Si’ that the deterioration of nature goes hand in hand with deterioration of the culture, and that both share a cause: “Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless” (§6). He echoes St. John Paul II, who writes in Centesimus Annus: “Indeed, what is the origin of all the evils to which Rerum Novarum wished to respond, if not a kind of freedom which, in the area of economic and social activity, cuts itself off from the truth about man?” (§4). Similarly, Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008 social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, is structured around the belief that love must be firmly based on the truth about the human person (§1-10). Each Pontiff is concerned with a misunderstanding of what it means to …

The Search for the Holy Grail of a Conservative Socialism

With the ghost of the visionary William Morris hovering somewhere in the background, The Politics of Virtue is nothing short of a brilliant, sometimes quirky, compendium of political, economic, and theological perceptions and insights. It is perhaps something only gifted artists such as John Milbank and Adrian Pabst could have produced. As a former classicist and something of a Dorothy Day Catholic, I am drawn by instinct to visions such as this. Even as I have some mental reservations. Divided into five major sections (Politics, Economy, Polity, Culture, and World), the book reads something like an extended position paper for a human-scale future utopia. Not that the authors’ two-part thesis cannot be summarized fairly quickly. First, they assert that post-Cold War notions of the end of history and the supposed universality of liberalism have been shaken by two developments: the extra-civilizational challenge of Islamism after 2001 and the intra-civilizational financial and civil breakdown after 2008. Moreover, the exposure of the role in these events of the social-cultural liberalism of the left since the 1960’s, and …

Humanae Vitae After Planned Parenthood v. Casey

The contraceptive revolution has made quite a lot of people—especially drug companies—quite a lot of money. Imagine, for instance, that you had the Supreme Court of the United States promoting your product: The Roe rule’s limitation on state power could not be repudiated without serious inequity to people who, for two decades of economic and social developments, have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail. The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives. The Constitution serves human values, and while the effect of reliance on Roe cannot be exactly measured, neither can the certain costs of overruling Roe for people who have ordered their thinking and living around that case be dismissed. This, of course, is the (in)famous “reliance clause” in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the case which tried to rescue abortion rights …

Work: A Four-Letter Word?

There is a certain ambiguity in Scripture about the meaning and value of labor, and I am aware of no clear and positive statement on the subject by the Church. Rerum novarum and Quadragesima anno just don’t really approach the subject, and especially not from a more modern scriptural viewpoint. What I have to suggest on this topic hardly constitutes an exhaustive treatment of what the idea of work might be for a Catholic, but I do think it might open up some avenues for thought. Genesis has God laboring for six days and then resting (Gen 2:1–4), although this does not seem to mean that labor is tiring even for God; it seems rather to show him as a model for our freedom on the Sabbath day, a gift God gives us by his example. Genesis 3:17–19, on the other hand, takes the position that labor is indeed a curse, at least in the way that Adam and Eve would have to do it after the Fall. Job takes a very negative view of …

A Prayer for the Poor

David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years (2011) is a strange, brilliant, frustrating, and perhaps indispensable book. It remains controversial among economists, of course, if only out of the resentment some of them feel at the very notion that an anthropologist might presume to intrude on their putative area of expertise, and to do so on so vast a historical scale. It continues, moreover, to strain the credulity of those who cannot imagine how anyone could express such doubts regarding the practical inevitability of a monetary economic system, or could seriously propose anarchism as a real alternative to the injustices of capitalism. And, of course, there are those who not unreasonably accuse Graeber of offering a grandly buoyant critique of the contradictions and cruelties of capitalist culture without the ballast of a few proposed solutions. But, exotic as Graeber’s book was as an intervention in economic analysis, at its heart lay a rather ordinary observation, one that was made just as grandly a couple years later by Thomas Piketty in his magisterial treatise Capital in …

MacIntyre on What is Sinking Catholic Education

There is a university chapel in Washington State that always makes me think it could be easily converted into a low-key Starbucks café. It would not be the most architecturally interesting Starbucks, but it would do. It would make money. The university that houses the chapel is well-known for stressing its identity as formed by a brand name religious order, rather than being “Catholic.” I used to think this distinction was hyperbole, rather than actual practice. But then a friend told me that an acquaintance of his who is a recruiter for that very university tells its recruits that the university “is x, and not Catholic.”[1] I’ve withheld names because there is no reason to single out an institution when this pattern is all too familiar in Catholic universities.[2] I mention this because Tim O’Malley briefly proposed in “Letting the Imagination Out to Play” that the rejuvenation of the Catholic liturgical imagination will take place through Catholic institutions of higher education: Yes, of course, the Church needs to put aside money to this process. To …