The System: Collapse, Overthrow, or Reform?

Another Smithsonian Winner, some upcoming appearances, and a new photo of Rockefeller center
Stuck in Customs / / CC BY-NC-SA

I do not support capitalism as-we-know-it, or crony capitalism. Nor do I support free-market fundamentalism.

I affirm the restructuring of our social system to make it more compassionate and more democratic, so that it better enables everyone to be true to who they really are and to become who they really want to become.

This fundamental reform would involve insisting that our society live up to its ideals. We must “promote the general welfare,” as stated in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, especially by assuring that everyone has a living-wage job opportunity. We must maximize democracy throughout society so that everyone has a real voice in affairs that affect them. And we must enrich our culture, cultivate caring communities, and engage in ongoing self-development in order to promote those values.

At the same time, I support the right of individuals and workers to start their own businesses and establish their own prices – if they do so in a way that does not damage the common good. So I support some forms of capitalism. Talking about “overthrowing capitalism” and identifying oneself as “anti-capitalist” therefore strikes me as imprecise and counter-productive.

Those who want conditions to worsen so “the system” will collapse might do well to read “Is the Safety Net Just Masking Tape?” in the December 17 New York Times. As the author, Thomas B. Edsall points out, worsening conditions can lead societies to or toward fascism. On the other hand, steadily improving economic conditions can lead to a “revolution of rising expectations.”

Edsall also points out that liberals have neglected the need for structural reforms that empower workers and increase economic opportunity, such as higher taxes on the wealthy to fund public investment and full employment. Breaking up the big banks is another needed structural reform. Instead, liberals have promoted means-tested “pity-charity” liberalism. Due to an excessive reliance on those programs, Edsall argues, “The state has become the resource of last resort, consigning just the people progressives would like to turn into a powerful force for reform to a condition of subjugation — living out their lives on government subsidies like Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit and now Obamacare.”

How to build a popular movement for empowerment through economic-security measures already supported by a strong majority of the American people is no easy question to answer. But surely not talking about the issue is no way to begin.


Excerpts from “The Joy of the Gospel,” by Pope Francis I

Pope Francis - CaricatureFollowing are excerpts from “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pople Francis I’s first apostolic exhortation, 26 November 2013:

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed…. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.


Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?


Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.


While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.


Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings.


The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings


The dignity of the human person and the common good rank higher than the comfort of those who refuse to renounce their privileges. When these values are threatened, a prophetic voice must be raised.


Trust in the unseen can cause us to feel disoriented. It is like being plunged into the deep and not knowing what we will find. I myself have frequently experienced this. Yet there is no greater freedom than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, renouncing the attempt to plan and control everything to the last detail, and instead letting him enlighten, guide and direct us, leading us wherever he wills.