The Notre Dame Forum 2010 panel on Morals and Markets included theologian Margie Pfiel, economist Bill Evans from economics, and Doug Cassel from the Law School. The video is certainly worth checking out, and will be available starting tomorrow on the forum website.
Dr. Pfiel discussed the notion of private property from the perspective of Catholic social doctrine. Her emphasis was on the idea of private property that is not an unconditional right. Caritas calls for gratuitousness, or giving freely what we have been given by God. Because of the common good, charity is not a gift to the poor, but giving to the poor what is theirs. She claims that the New Solidarity calls for a scaling down of consumption, and a moral conversion and lifestyle change that could possible be achieved through living in ecclesiastic communities.
Dr. Evans comes from the complete other side of the spectrum, arguing that the dramatic reduction in poverty has been achieved through markets. He claims that Pope Paul IV’s Popularum Progressio prescribes free trade. He says that the impacts of economic growth on changing lives cannot be overstated, even though in some circles “economic growth” is a dirty word. He claims that the Catholic church has always been an advocate of the market, and that the reviews of Caritas that suggest the Church is retreating from markets are wrong. There are no easy solutions to the downsides of globalization, but there is a silver lining: economic growth.
Dr. Doug Cassel gave the most balanced (and in my opinion, most accurate) account of Catholic thought on economics. He claims that the Papal documents have always been balanced, never a worship of the market, but an acknowledgement of both positive and negative aspects of markets. He cited John Paul II’s “Centesimus Annus” which warned against a capitalist ideology that could spread, putting a blind trust in market forces. He countered Dr. Evans’ example of China proving the superiority of market forces, reminding us that China if FAR from a free market. His understanding of Catholic teaching is that we should respect the fact of what the market has done for the poor, but not fall prey to China as an example of free market success. He cited the example of the Marlin mine in Guatemala. Gold Corp, a Canada-based company, has kept the vast majority of the wealth that the mine produced. Little was left to the Guatemalan people, but there were benefits to the company coming in. People had jobs, and wages. However, he reminds us to count the costs too. Heavy metals have been found in the water tables and the bodies of residents of the area, and these negative health effects due to the company’s negligence and disregard for the local population could outweigh the benefits. He suggests that if domestic governments are unable to regulate these situations, there should be a role for the company’s home country to do so.
The panel discussion is worth checking out. There was a bit of tension of the stage, and obviously these people have very different opinions about politics, economics, and what the Church advocates. The discussion will continue on campus, and hopefully we can keep a discussion going on this blog as well.