Saturday, September 24, 2011

The neglected importance of the occupation of Wall Street

Raymond De Souza, writing on John Paul II and the Problem of Consumerism, notes that human beings are "set free in Christ in order to be more fully [themselves]." In other words, we realize who we are and why are by giving ourselves wholly to God and neighbor. De Souza goes on to note that anything seeking to replace "that end" renders us "less free to be truly human." Among those other things that seek to replace the end for which are created and redeemed are those "things that are evil in themselves, such as drugs or pornography." There also those things "that are good in themselves, like the many goods we need to survive and flourish as corporeal creatures," that can easily become ends in themselves.

He goes on to use the definition of consumerism articulated by the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus in his otherwise very flawed commentary on JPII's Centesimus Annus:
Consumerism is, quite precisely, the consuming of life by the things consumed. It is living in a manner that is measured by having rather than being. As Pope John Paul II makes clear, consumerism is hardly the sin of the rich. The poor, driven by discontent and envy, may be as consumed by what they do not have as the rich are consumed by what they do have. The question is not, certainly not most importantly, a question about economics. It is first and foremost a cultural and moral problem requiring a cultural and moral remedy
Indeed, in Christ we have "been set free for freedom," De Souza notes before going on to observe that John Paul insisted "that economic freedom is part of that freedom, but only part." While clearly favoring a free economy, John Paul II cautioned:
But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed with a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative (Centesimus Annus par. 42)
This brings me to the occupation of Wall Street, which began a week ago. Thanks to our hopeless and hopelessly compromised and dysfunctional fourth estate, it has not been big news despite its size and the fact that it cuts across the ideological divide.

Dustin Slaughter, writing for The Public Record, sets the agenda quite clearly: "The encampment that began there on Saturday, September 17th, is a vocal and stark reminder of growing American youth discontent. Banks and other corporations are sitting on record profits and CEO salaries continue to climb at an unprecedented rate, while students and the average American worker face an anemic job market and growing economic disparity." Especially on Wall Street, it is time for the status quo to end.

In his most recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, the Holy Father noted, that today nation states find themselves "having to address the limitations to its sovereignty imposed by the new context of international trade and finance, which is characterized by increasing mobility both of financial capital and means of production, material and immaterial. This new context has altered the political power of States" (par. 24). These limitations are very much at odds with the common good. Citing Gaudium et Spes, Pope Benedict takes the opportunity "to remind everyone, especially governments engaged in boosting the world's economic and social assets, that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity: 'Man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life'" (par. 25). I could go on multiplying examples of how the movement and allocation of capital seems designed these days not to benefit society and common good, but to concentrate more and more wealth in the hands of the already wealthy, but I will just cite Caritas in veritate once more:
Without doubt, one of the greatest risks for businesses is that they are almost exclusively answerable to their investors, thereby limiting their social value. Owing to their growth in scale and the need for more and more capital, it is becoming increasingly rare for business enterprises to be in the hands of a stable director who feels responsible in the long term, not just the short term, for the life and the results of his company, and it is becoming increasingly rare for businesses to depend on a single territory. Moreover, the so-called outsourcing of production can weaken the company's sense of responsibility towards the stakeholders — namely the workers, the suppliers, the consumers, the natural environment and broader society — in favour of the shareholders, who are not tied to a specific geographical area and who therefore enjoy extraordinary mobility (par. 40)


  1. Thank you for writing about this, Deacon Scott. We live in an economic system that rewards greed. I am not talking about capitalism in general, but about the particular brand of it being practiced in the USA right now. The system rewards greed, and the political system rewards campaign contributors who are greedy and care nothing for the common good. Yes, this cuts across ideological lines. I cannot imagine how this country will continue to sustain itself, if in fact we currently are, with a withering middle class.

  2. Thank you, Allison. Well said on your part. We can't sustain ourselves if the point and purpose of so-called "recovery" is get back to where we were before, which is what caused this debacle in the first place.

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Readings: Jer 23:1-6; Ps 23:1-6; Eph 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34 No doubt you've heard the saying, "There's no rest for the wicked...