Plutocracy or Democracy?

How Bad Policies Brought Us a New Gilded Age

It is clear by now that the state of the U.S. economy will be the primary issue in this year’s election. As voters and as Catholics, how should we evaluate the country’s economy and the government’s role in regulating it? More than a century of Catholic social doctrine, drawn together in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church and expressed most recently in Benedict XVI’s Caritas in veritate, provides some basic standards.

In the words of John Paul II, the “first principle of the whole ethical and social order” is that of the “universal destination of goods,” which requires that all persons have access to sufficient goods to live in dignity and develop to their fullest potential. This is a goal best realized, furthermore, through a vibrant market economy based on private property, the economic arrangement that most efficiently creates wealth, respects human initiative, and allows people to support themselves and their families with dignity. The Catholic tradition is not opposed to wealth, private property, or free markets. Their value, however, is instrumental rather than intrinsic; they are beneficial to the extent that they contribute to the good of all, creating a widely shared prosperity. To ensure they do this, markets need government. Laws are needed to enforce contracts, insure transparency, and prevent corruption, and regulation is needed to prevent what Benedict XVI calls the “scandalous speculation” in the financial sector...

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About the Author

David Carroll Cochran is professor of politics and director of the Archbishop Kucera Center for Catholic Intellectual and Spiritual Life at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.