Unlocking the prison door of an exclusive economy
A few days ago, somebody was telling me that the corporate he works for is going to shed 350+ jobs. He explained that their income had been down by a significant amount – unsurprisingly – in April and May. What I heard next is what astounded me. He told me that the company had made a huge profit in 2019. He said that the decision, by executives, to lay people off was so that the company did not have to “dig into their reserves”.
Upon further questioning I learnt that the people that they intended to lay off were the people that most needed income. Some of the cleaners and kitchen staff, for example. Mostly people on the bottom edge of wage earners. Not one senior manager, not one executive, was in danger of being unemployed. “I am sure the big bosses will still get their annual bonus at the end of the year,” he said. “It’s people like me that live in fear.”
There have been many calls for us to re-examine and rebuild an economy that is at the service of all. This has oft been repeated since the onset of COVID-19 and the disruption of the global economy.
The Catholic Church has been calling for a more just economy since Pope Leo XIII’s ground-breaking encyclical Rerum Novarum on the rights and duties of capital and labour. Many social encyclicals, including Quadragesimo Anno (on the ethical implications of the social and economic order), Mater et Magistra (authentic community and human dignity), and Laudato Si’ (which addresses economic and human relations in the context of the environment), focus on human dignity, community and the economy.
Sadly, they remain largely unknown. The average faithful Catholic is ignorant of Catholic Social Teaching. When last did you hear a sermon on labour relations? Do young people emerge from confirmation classes with knowledge of this rich part of our tradition? While we teach morality, little relates to Catholic Social Teaching.
Many of these encyclicals are challenging, uncomfortable. They invite us to examine our consumerist lifestyles. They ask us to take what we need – not what we want! – and share with those who have less, to be in solidarity. They demand that we consider the common good, to consciously make an option for the poor on every level.
We have to have the courage to confront our family and friends in business who behave exploitatively. We need the courage to challenge and expose senior management and CEOs who choose to lay people off yet keep massive bonuses. They live in luxury and take fairy-tale vacations with absolutely no conscience. This is, simply put, mortally sinful.
Our Catholic Social Teaching tradition, if taken seriously, addresses many of the issue’s society faces. It contains the key that unlocks the prison door of an exclusive economy. It gives us a much-needed framework. The biggest stumbling block is our reluctance to dig into our personal consumerism and selfishness. We are afraid, it seems, to dig into our moral reserves too.