At a secret meeting of the Justice League 3.0, Michael Moore, Pope Benedict XVI, the Dalai Lama, Bill Gates, Optimus Prime, Nelson Mandela, and the ghost of Che Guevera gathered to solve the global financial crisis.
OK, I’m making that up entirely (because Che Guevara is really still alive, ha-ha). But in light of worldwide economic troubles, two of these characters are making news weighing in on the role capitalism has played in the historic downturn. Moore just announced the title of his upcoming documentary: “Capitalism: A Love Story,” which assuredly includes uncomfortable scenes in which corporate executives hem and haw trying to explain why massive layoffs were necessary before shoving their hands over the camera and running away. The Pope, meanwhile, issued his Encyclical Letter “Caritas in Veritate” (“Love in Truth”), which doesn’t exactly bash capitalism so much as it bashes the bad, entirely self-interested people, banks, and commercial enterprises that exploit capitalism no matter the impact on others or society. From today’s WSJ story entitled “Vaticanomics”:
It is true that the encyclical registers many complaints about commercial society. It says that current economic arrangements create inequalities and injustices. It laments that people pursue self-interested goals without the broader community or the prospect of transcendence in mind. It says that “today’s international economic scene, marked by grave deviations and failures, requires a profoundly new way of understanding business enterprise.” It warns against “lowering the level of protection accorded to the rights of workers, or abandoning mechanisms of wealth redistribution in order to increase the country’s international competitiveness.” And it argues that “the continuing hegemony of the binary model of market-plus-State has accustomed us to think only in terms of the private business leader of a capitalistic bent on the one hand, and the State director on the other.”
But the more the Catholic Church criticizes a given practice or institution without calling for its abolition, the more it seems to come to terms with its existence, urging reform but accepting reality. This encyclical, more than anything else, gives the reader the impression that modern capitalism, including some of its “financial cowboy” varieties, is here to stay: “The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly — not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred.”
The question becomes: If not capitalism as we know it, then what? More responsible, regulated capitalism, I suppose. But if we’re relying on the goodness of human nature to solve problems, get us out of the recession, and establish a more stable and just global economy, we might as well sit back and wait for superheroes to step in and fix things.