This past week, an old friend and one of my former professors celebrated his 50th Jubilee as a Franciscan priest. Much of my recent critique on Paul Ryan's economic philosophy derives from Fr. Joe Zimmerman's compassionate reasoning. Zimmerman agreed to let me repost his fine essay on soul-friendly capitalism, which is also published in Zimmerman's blog, Ivy Rosary.
The problem of soul-less capitalism is not only greed. Its greatest problem is idolatry. Soul-less capitalism says that an abstraction, a number on a bottom line, is more important than beauty, more important then love, more important than health, more important than worship. If the bottom line drives beauty and love and health and worship from the lives of billions of people, that is okay. In the long run and in some places things are better. The problem is that billions of people do not live in the long run or in the right places. “The long run” story is an abstraction. It is idolatry.
We need soul-friendly capitalism.
Soul-friendly capitalism takes account of the stories of each man and woman and child on the face of the earth. It says that competition is good, so long as competition does not kill. It says that incentives for effort are good, but that earning twenty or thirty times what the lowest paid worker in your company earns is good enough to motivate effort. Earning hundreds of times what that worker earns is feeding a beast with limitless hunger. The beast is an idol.
Soul-less capitalism creates a train rushing to environmental destruction, whose engineers are powerless to slow it down. Soul-friendly capitalism slows down the train so the riders can enjoy the scenery, and so there will be scenery to enjoy. Soul-friendly capitalism says that moments of contemplation are good, and that every human being should be able to enjoy such moments, not just those who worship the beast.
Soul-less capitalism creates fundamentalists, who correctly perceive that such capitalism is idolatrous. The violence needed to sustain soul-less capitalism breeds violence in reaction to it. Soul-less capitalism rests on a foundation of violence. It requires the biggest weapons in the world to sustain itself. Billions of people face those weapons and curse us for them.
We need soul-friendly capitalism, that will put down the weapons and be content with the minimum force needed to keep order in a world community whose members can live lives of beauty and love and health and worship.
Soul-friendly capitalism is the better model that we need.