Up Front and Personal

Placing Hope for the Economy in the Gospel

by Steven Kent

Waiting for “the recovery” as something that is all but inevitable may be little more than misplaced hope.

“This time it is different” was the much scorned optimistic line used by those who tried to deny historic economic cycles when touting their latest scheme, be it the medieval Holland tulip bulb craze or the dot.com bubble of the last decade.

This time, it really may be different. This pessimistic view of the economy is the environment in which bishops are writing a message on work and the economy.

“The bursting of the debt bubble three years ago was not just a severe example of the ups and downs that are an inevitable part of American capitalism,” Joe Nocera of The New York Times wrote in 2011. “Rather, it was the ultimate consequence of the modern global economy.”

He pointed out that the entry of China, Russia, India and other countries into the global economic mainstream resulted in stagnant wages, income inequality and oversupply of labor in America.

Recovery implies a return to normal. It is not all but assured; therefore, it is important to have a strong spiritual component in this situation.

The emphasis upon productivity in recent decades affected today’s situation. If recovery means restoring jobs eliminated because work could be done more efficiently, what would bring about an increased workforce?

If a store can serve the same number of customers with a reduced sales staff, what compels it to hire additional staff? If a company finds it can make an equal number of widgets with fewer people, what would motivate it to restore unnecessary — and unprofitable — jobs?

There are not many employers ready, willing and able to restore superfluous positions, and the situation may not get any better.

It is in this environment that the U.S. bishops’ conference is preparing “Catholic Reflections on Work, Poverty and a Broken Economy.”

“We are not out to provide answers,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. “Neither are we out to enter into the complicated difficult approaches to the economy.”

The purpose of the document is to set forth the principles of Catholic social teaching and to show the moral, social, spiritual and community costs of the economic downturn, Bishop Blaire said.

Waiting for recovery may be waiting for something that may not come. It is time to face the moral dimensions of the economy and the challenges it presents to workers and the poor around the world. The document would ask all “to engage, to reflect, to pray, to discuss and see what the Gospel can bring into the economy,” Bishop Blaire said.

This is not ivory tower church talk. This is how to deal with real life today. Rather than hoping for what may never come, it is far better to place hope in the Gospel.[hr]

Kent, now retired, was the editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. He can be contacted at: Considersk@gmail.com.