‘We live in a system that espouses merit, equality, and a level playing field, but exalts those with wealth, power, and celebrity, however gained.’ Derrick Bell Last week Pope Francis spoke out on the need for global ethical financial reform and the end to the ‘Cult of Money’.? In his address to new ambassadors to the Holy See, he acknowledged that in a period of great advances is health, education and communication throughout the world, there is increasing levels of insecurity, fear, desperation and a diminishment of the joy of life.? The Pope attributes this situation to our relationship with money and the power that we accept it has over ourselves and our society.? We have created new ‘golden calf’ that has led to individuals being viewed consumer goods that can be easily discarded be free market pressures. http://www.cathnews.com/article.aspx?aeid=36244.
This call is nothing new it echoes the Old Testament view that abundance is a gift from God but that economic goods and riches should not be an end in themselves but rather a means to the service of all mankind.? Jesus called for a new social order to find solutions to poverty, oppression and reduce the effects of physical afflictions.? St Gregory the Great said that rich men are “only administrators of their possessions” in giving to those in need the rich man is simply repaying the gift he owes.?
This message has been repeated by the church throughout the centuries.? In marking the anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum “Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor”, Pope John Paul II in 1991 concluded that “economic freedom is only one element of human freedom. When it becomes autonomous, when man is seen more as a producer or consumer of goods than as a subject who produces and consumes in order to live, then economic freedom loses its necessary relationship to the human person and ends up by alienating and oppressing him“?
Such alienation and oppression can be evidenced within the changes to social policy of the “Commonwealth” of Australia.? Both the public and private policy focus on economic rationalism has meant that the cherished Australian notions of a fair go for all and development for the common good have been reduced to the principle of equality of distribution and the cult of the consumer.? Policy has emphasised wealth creation through tax incentives and superannuation to encourage investment but the reality is that only the top 10% of society has shown significant increases in wages over the last 35 years in Australia.? The movement of pursuit of profits in the public utilities sector, where ‘competition’ is viewed as being beneficial to all, has meant that the family is increasing viewed in pure economic terms, valued only as a power of consumption or source of labour (The Gift of Family in Difficult Times).? Over time we have come to view ourselves as consumers and investors rather than citizens with community responsibilities.? The maximisation of profits ahead of care of its member’s belongs in neither a democratic nor a Christian society.
The recent changes in support for the family announced in the Federal budget, like changes to the Baby bonus reflect the priority given to economic rationalism in Australian public policy (The Record 22/05/13) and mark according to Barry Jones one of the attributes of a mediocre society in its preoccupation with short term gain over long term vision for the common wealth.
Catholic Social Teaching has its basis in this principle of subsidiarity, that the dignity of an individual can only be promoted through due concern for the family, groups, associations and the systems within which that individual operates (The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church).? Social psychology reflects this in viewing that the individual must be viewed in context of their relationship with others and the social systems within which they function.? In unethically reducing the individual to a disposable consumer, both Governments and free markets are placing the means ahead of the end.
The questions that we need to ask ourselves in light of the remarks from Pope Francis, given the recent global financial disasters, relate to whose future are we best serving by building our personal wealth?? Our own, our families, our society or are we unwittingly perhaps in some ways supporting the philosophy of individuals as consumer goods.
The failure to ask such questions can result in disasters like the death of over 1127 workers in the building collapse in Bangladesh in April this year.