Does the Church have anything useful to say about the economy? The eighth century prophets certainly had a lot to say about it in their day, and now and then we’ve seen a contemporary stab at it as in the Social Gospel movement. But what about today? I’ve got my own guesses. You might wonder what they have to do with theology or the Church, but they all come from my meditation and prayer about God’s words as expressed by those old prophets, the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus.
My first guess is that there is no such thing as a free market or free market system. All markets exist within an environment established by governmental policies, and those policies, no matter how arrived at, create boundaries, rules, exceptions, and biases. So the American myth that we should get government out of the way and let business do its business isn’t even a decent myth. It’s just blatant silliness.
My second guess is that the most important question American’s can ask right now is; what policies are best for a democratic nation that values private enterprise and private initiative, and that must live and compete within a global economy?
My third guess is that speculative greed and corruption will always be a disruptive element in any economy. To what extent can it be contained without depriving the freedom to experiment and take risks?
Based on these guesses, I would like to consider some possibilities. What about economic policies based not on consumer credit but consumer savings? That would not mean the elimination of credit, but the emphasis and rewards would be tilted toward savings. What about policies that encourage manufacturing for a world market according to international standards of measurement and quality? What about policies that eliminate subsidies for most crops but keep crop insurance and environmental sustainability incentives? What about a tax system that does not deliberately exacerbate the widening gulf between rich and not rich? What if our highest national priorities were health care, education/skills training and infrastructure? That would require a politically risky change that would dramatically reduce our investment in traditional preparations for war. Finally, what if the investment markets could be cured of their addiction to quarterly results, which, in the long run and the short run, leads only to playing craps with loaded dice?
I’m not sure what the results would be, but my guess is that they would include a larger number of somewhat smaller corporations, more small business start-ups, a greater number of jobs requiring certain skills and offering decent pay, a lessening of the gap between rich and poor, opportunity for the creation of wealth for the lucky, and a pattern of international economic integration that would greatly reduce the likelihood of major war. It would not eliminate the presence of greedy speculation, but it would frustrate its practitioners enough to make them work extra hard for ill-gotten gains.