Yesterday, an old friend called me from La Paz, Bolivia. He wanted to tell me about a new book that will soon be on the market called The "Poisoned Spring" of Economic Libertarianism by Angus Sibley. It is a critique of neo-liberal capitalism from the point of view of Catholic social justice teaching. The preface is by another old friend, Joe Holland, who used to work at the Center of Concern.
I have not read it; indeed, I just discovered it. But I will read it because I could hear the pleading in my friend’s voice. He is someone who has worked with the poor of South America for decades. He cares deeply about them, and about social justice. He sees the consequences of neo-liberal capitalist policies and practices that we know only by name, policies like “free trade” or “re-structuring.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about economic justice because the news is filled with data on unemployment, the increasing income gap and the inability of many people to afford housing. And this is in the developed world; economic conditions are far worse in the global South.
But then, Ayn Rand is also in the news. She is the Russian-born philosopher and atheist who championed unbridled individualism, vilified any government regulation of the economy and had only disdain for the poor. She preached an unbridled “free market.” Sound familiar? No less a figure than Paul Ryan (author of this year’s GOP budget proposal who is a Catholic) claims to be her disciple. And according to an article in Religious News Service, so do Rush Limbaugh, Alan Greenspan and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Not surprisingly, many religious leaders are challenging figures like Ryan and his cohorts to put down Atlas Shrugged (a Rand novel) and pick up the Scriptures. The gospel, of course, has an entirely different economic message.
All this is reason for some major public figure to give voice – a loud voice – to the principle of the “common good.” Yes, it underlies Catholic social teaching, but we share it with many other faith traditions. This principle unites us as surely as individualism divides us.
President Obama, are you listening?