Sunday, April 12, 2009

Catholic Teaching & Capitalism

The Church has always spoken of the need for a moral base to stabilize capitalism, the economic system agreed upon as that which, when operating from a moral base, is best for all people.

In this column from the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan, a Catholic and former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, explores this in relation to events of the recent past, that of the aftermath of September 11th.

This is a must read.

An excerpt.

“Wall Street, or what remains of it, has dealt a catastrophic blow to its reputation in the past eight months of bonuses, bailouts and bankruptcies. What its current leaders, and the young who are lucky enough to be entering business, have to do now is begin rescuing and restoring that reputation.

“This will, in fact, be the great work of a generation of American business leaders.

“More is at stake than their standing. At stake is the standing of a free-market system that has flourished since America's founding and made it the wealthiest nation in the history of man.

“In his classic "The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism," the philosopher Michael Novak noted that capitalism is good because, of all the economic systems devised by man, it is the one that lifts the greatest numbers out of poverty. Capitalism is itself not selfish, exploitative, unequal; it wants to grow and produce, bringing more services, more creativity, more opportunity, more ferment and movement—more life. It is not just an economic system, it is a public good.

“To Mr. Novak, business is a vocation, a deeply serious one. But it cannot exist in a void. It requires an underlying moral edifice, a knowledge of right and wrong, "a sense of sin." Greed is not good. Wall Street is a stage, a platform on which men and women can each day take actions that are ethical or not, constructive or not. When their actions are marked by high moral principle, they heighten their calling—they are not just "in business" but part of a noble endeavor that adds to the sum total of human happiness. The work they do strengthens the ground on which democracy and economic freedom stand. "The calling of business is to support the reality and reputation of capitalism."

“Noble. Constructive. Admirable.

“When was the last time anyone thought of Wall Street like that?

“There was a moment, a very public one well within memory, that was all of those things. And it might help the coming generation of business leaders to keep its lessons in mind.

“It had to do with the last time Wall Street was in ashes—literally. It had to do with how they brought it back.”