Cardinal Marx: Base Economics on People, Not Capital
In an essay explaining Evangelii Guadium, the German cardinal affirms market economies but rejects a capitalistic worldview.
VATICAN CITY — German Cardinal Reinhard Marx has written an essay in the Vatican’s newspaper on Pope Francis’ recent apostolic letter, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), taking capitalism to task for centering itself on means of production rather than persons and calling for broader dialogue on the issue.
“The very word 'capitalism' is misleading,” the archbishop of Munich and Freising wrote, “to define the whole of life from a particular point. What vision of the economy and of society is that which takes capital as its starting point and renders acting persons marginal conditions or factors of cost?”
“Whoever reduces economic action to capitalism not only has chosen the morally wrong starting point, but is also wrong in the long term from the economic point of view.”
The essay affirms market economies as a good, while criticizing the worldview of capitalism as making laborers and consumers subject to capital and goods, rather than placing the human person at the center of its concerns.
“Beyond Capitalism,” written in Italian, was published in the Jan. 10 issue of L’Osservatore Romano. It appears here in full, in an English translation by CNA’s Rome bureau chief, Alan Holdren.
Cardinal Marx has served as archbishop of Munich and Freising since 2008 and is part of the group of eight cardinals appointed by Pope Francis to advise him on Curial reform. The German native was ordained a priest in 1979 and consecrated a bishop in 1996.
His essay echoes statements he made at a May 30, 2012, lecture delivered at Washington’s Georgetown University on the topic of “Economic Crisis as an Opportunity for Change.”
Cardinal Marx began his latest remarks by noting the heated opposition from some people to Evangelii Gaudium, particularly the Pope’s statement that “an economy of exclusion and inequality” ultimately “kills.”
He said that the document is not “a social encyclical,” and he pointed out that Pope Francis was writing not about economics, but first and foremost of evangelization, saying he writes in a style of “prophetic exhortation.”
“He is interested in announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ, which must have effects on the entire life of persons. In his exhortation, he recalls the great tradition of Catholic social teaching.”
Cardinal Marx stressed that the Church has a contribution to make in the public square, saying politics, economics and culture are all “part of the evangelizing mission of the Church,” despite those who “feel annoyed and upset” and “would like to limit religion to the issue of the salvation of the soul” and consider the Church a vestige of history that has been “overcome by enlightenment and progress.”
The Economization of Life
Cardinal Marx critiqued the movement of the past 25 years toward “a financial capitalism” akin to gambling, which “has brought a catastrophic crisis.”
“This capitalism destroys human lives and harms the common good,” he said, while being careful to distinguish it from market economies, which he called “necessary and sensible.”
Cardinal Marx said that the Pope’s “integral approach,” which included economics within the field of evangelization, was unsurprisingly upsetting to those who would make economics a specialization, set apart from the consideration of persons and the common good: “Self-sufficient, partial systems … defend themselves from external interference.”
A danger, he said, is that, far from being a mere specialization, economics and capitalism have broadened their purview, such that there is an “economization of all areas of life,” calling it the “rendering the rhythm of society dependent on the interests of the exploitation of capital.”
“It is precisely this which the Pope justly criticizes.”
The economization of life treats capitalism as a natural necessity “to which men, their cultures and their lifestyles must adapt.” He added that capitalism “should not become the model for society because … it doesn’t take into account” the weak and the poor.
While affirming the necessity and goodness of market economies, he critiqued the worldview of capitalism as being concerned with capital first and the human person only secondarily.
Lessons for Market Economies
Cardinal Marx said that it is necessary that market economies be reminded that they are “products of civilization … that the economy must serve the common good” and that material goods can never fulfill human desire.
“A society in which the praise of greed is invited is on the road to alienation and divides persons.”
He exhorted Christians to “engage in the fields of politics, economy and society” to improve them, acknowledging that “criticizing capitalism is not a solution.”
“Where are the political parties, especially those that define themselves as starting from the Christian image of man, when it comes to doing it properly and of introducing him in the debate at a global level?”
The Pope’s concerns are centered on the persons of the poor, he concluded: “They need to find a place in the Church and in society.”
“The call to think beyond capitalism is not a struggle against the market economy or a renunciation of any economic reason,” but is an invitation from the Pope to “reorder priorities.”
“The future is not capitalism, but a world community, which leaves always more space to the model of a responsible freedom and that does not accept that peoples, groups and individuals are excluded and marginalized. Is it really something so wrong and out of this world?”