Extreme Capitalism

The Working Catholic: Extreme Capitalism
by Bill Droel

Economic indicators ebb and flow, though not with high predictability. In the years after World War II the U.S. economy was growing and its benefits were enjoyed by most middle-class families. Sputtering began in the late-1960s and by the mid-1970s U.S. companies were losing their competitive edge, details Steven Pearlstein in Can American Capitalism Survive? (St. Martin’s Press, 2018). U.S. consumers judged all types of imports to be of better quality and/or of a better price than the U.S.-made counterpart. Several U.S. companies, slow to innovate, were near extinction.
A rescue effort, indeed a transformation, began in the 1980s. President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) is often associated with this economic comeback, but the factors were many. Re-engineering, mergers, deregulation, sub-contracting, new tech businesses and more all played a part. “The transformation was messy, painful, contentious and often unfair,” writes Pearlstein. However, “it worked.” He outlines the business philosophy that drove the recovery. Briefly: 1.) Government is “significantly responsible for the decline” in U.S. competitiveness; 2.) “The sole purpose of every business is to deliver the highest possible financial return to its investors; 3.) No matter how ruthless, no matter how big the wealth gap, business “must ignore and dismiss moral concerns as naïve and ultimately self-defeating.” Pearlstein nods favorably toward these principles—to a degree. He summarizes them as supply-side economics, maximum attention to shareholders and a self-justifying market.
Pearlstein goes on to argue that the improvements of the 1980s have gone extreme. “What began as a useful corrective” became “morally corrupting and self-defeating economic dogma.” The business philosophy of the moment is driven by supply-side fantasies, anti-regulatory zealots, single-mined management focused on short term stock returns, the “grubby pursuit of self-interest” and a perversion of justice that cheats, manipulates and disrespects loyal workers and ordinary consumers. Today’s business philosophy has “betrayed its ideals and its purpose and forfeited its moral legitimacy,” Pearlstein concludes.
Catholicism agrees. But it is not because the economy has taken some useful principles to an extreme. No, the principles named by Pearlstein are at fault, no matter the degree. Business is a noble vocation, Catholicism repeatedly proclaims. (See Vocation of the Business Leader, NCL, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; free.) Further, there can be legitimate differences over how much government regulation is proper; over the relationship between shareholders and stakeholders; over the best way a business can serve the common good. But the prior principles for business are different in Catholicism than in extreme capitalism.
Work and creative genius are needed for any healthy economy, Pope Francis recently told an Italian business publication. A healthy economy “is never disconnected from the meaning of what is produced and economic activity,” he said. The meaning of work, Catholicism insists, is the worker. The first purpose of a business is its workers, which includes executives, janitors, sales force, delivery drivers, part-time consultants, assembly-line people and all others. Start with that principle, says Catholicism, and the chances increase for regular customers, honest suppliers, responsive lenders, successful recruiting and profit over time.
Unfortunately, Francis continued, some people have a business mentality which says money is made by money. But “money, real money, is done with work. It is work that confers dignity on people, not money.” Of course, financial investment is essential. And of course, profit is a good thing as long as “actions and responsibilities, justice and profit, production of wealth and its redistribution, operation and respect for the environment, become elements that over time guarantee the life of the company… From this point of view the meaning of the company widens and makes us understand that the sole pursuit of profit no longer guarantees the life of the company.” When Francis says “This economy kills,” he means extreme capitalism. It kills the very outcome that it pretends to desire.
Presenting Catholic economic principles is a hard sell. Who believes that our company or any company or firm is here for all the workers? It is a hard sell too because Catholic institutions are hypocritical when, for example, they preach justice but do not pay a family wage. Or hypocrisy is the word when bishops do not deal responsibly with deviant employees while preaching respect for life.
Yet some companies do operate under the principle that each worker is a subject of work. They do not—and should not—trumpet Catholicism on their marquee. A company does not have to be Catholic in any sense to be excellent. Nor is it is necessary that these good companies are even aware of any ethical sources for their operations. Finally, they don’t—and probably cannot—be consistently principled. There are though—partially, imperfectly, inconsistently—companies that are not interested in extreme capitalism.
Can you think of any? Chobani? Southwest Airlines? Starbucks? Procter & Gamble? UPS? Dick’s Sporting Goods? Please react to these suggestions and nominate others.
Businesses, says Pope Francis, “can make a great contribution so that work retains its dignity by recognizing that people are the most important resource of every company, working to build the common good, paying attention to the poor.”

Droel is associated with National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

On the Edge

The Working Catholic: On the Edge
by Bill Droel

There are prophets of peace and builders of peace. There are protesters and institutional reformers. There are outsiders and insiders. The distinction is fluid. A person might be a prophetic outsider on one topic and an expert insider on another.
Newspapers and textbooks often present the outsider as a model for social justice. The outsider is concerned with social change but not overly concerned with how to implement reform. The insider gets less attention. They are the ones who speak institutional jargon. They can be dull. They know tax tables and zoning laws; they know about international protocols and about pipeline treaties. These insiders resist the first answer that occurs to them because they have heard the world’s complexities reduced to slogans. They take confidence in their faith but they do not believe that God is on their side or that God is opposed to their opponents. Insiders regularly wonder if they are right. They readily acknowledge to themselves that in this or that situation they are only 75% right.
The outsider is necessary for momentum but eventually the insider makes social change. Without inside reformers there are only passing reactions to grievances. Are there any bridges between the vociferous outsider and the stodgy insider?
The term ginger group is sometimes used in England and elsewhere. It refers to a conscience within a broader social reform movement or organization. A ginger group is loyal but it also dissents from an organization’s leaders. For example, Labor Notes (www.labornotes.org) with offices in Detroit and Brooklyn is loyal to unions. But it champions those workers that reform a workplace without waiting for clearance from an international union headquarters. Voice of the Faithful (www.votf.org), to mention a second example, has headquarters in suburban Boston. Its members have not left Roman Catholicism in disgust over bishops’ malfeasance nor have they challenged Catholic dogma. Instead they are a controversial ginger group that presses for reform.
Center for Action and Contemplation (www.cac.org) is the hub for all things regarding Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM. In a 2013 pamphlet titled Eight Core Principles and in some of his blogs, Rohr uses the term edge of the inside. A group on the edge of the inside of an institution is “free from its central seductions, but also free to hear its core message in very new and creative ways,” Rohr writes. An edge of the inside type group must love both the institution and the outsider critique of the institution, and it must “know how to move between these two loves.” An edge of the inside group advocates for change by “quoting [the institution’s] own documents, constitutions, heroes, and Scriptures against its present practice. This is their secret: systems are best unlocked from inside,” Rohr writes. The total outsider simplistically chooses one idealized alternative while denigrating the other institution. “This has gotten us nowhere,” Rohr concludes.
Does a posture of edge of the inside make sense in our current predicaments? Would Democrats for Life be an edge of the inside example? How about Change to Win, an affiliation since 2005 of four labor unions? Is an edge of the inside group ever effective? Or is edge of the inside but a temporary stop for outsiders with their denunciations and agitations on their way to being insiders? Please share your experience with this columnist.

Droel is an editor with National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).


The Working Catholic: Personalism
by Bill Droel

Is there a sustaining philosophy for idealistic young adults? Is there a creative path that cuts through the inanity of social media, of most TV programming, of the self-help industry? Is there a comprehensive outlook that resists cynicism and resentment? Is it possible to access a fountain of inspiration while maintaining a busy work schedule and keeping up with family obligations?
World War I ended in 1918, only to be followed by the Great Depression which began in 1929. In the wake of these major traumas, idealistic young adults seriously probed the meaning or lack thereof in the feverishness of modern progress. Could it be that the promise of plenty necessarily results in the opposite? In grappling with these and similar questions, a cadre of young adults in Paris and elsewhere constructed a philosophy they called personalism. Emmanuel Mounier (1905-1950) was its initial leader; the literary journal Espirit (www.espirit.presse.fr) was its main organ. In addition to Mounier, other personalists included Jacques Maritain (1882-1973), Nicholas Berdyaev (1874-1948) and Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973). A young actor and seminarian in Poland, today known as St. John Paul II (1920-2005), contributed to Espirit. Jacques Ellul (1912-1994), sociologist and leader in the Reformed Church, can likewise be considered a personalist.
The common response to the Great Depression and to our own societal and economic disruptions is a call for more self-reliance, more unencumbered liberty. A personalist, however, knows that a hard accent on individualism only leads to worthless relativism. Today of course, relativism has taken over our culture. For example, White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, a Catholic, says there are “alternative facts” and Rudy Giuliani, another Catholic, says there is no truth to be found. Or there is this extreme expression of relativism from former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, also Catholic: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concepts of existence, of meaning, of the universe and the mystery of human life.”
Liberty is a marvelous modern achievement. Personalists, however, make a distinction between a solitary individual and a relational person; between freedom from and freedom for. One’s future is not predetermined by nor subordinate to one’s family of origin or by one’s caste. But the modern celebration of autonomy cannot mean an absolute defense of individual privileges. A person naturally self-actualizes within relationships, personalists say.
There is another characteristic of personalism that appeals to today’s young adults. The plan for life “emerges from the comradeship of the road rather than the diagrams of the classroom,” Mounier writes. Abstract principles preached from on high only answer questions no young adult is really asking. Moralizing, says Mounier, only further alienates. Experience is what counts. Serious thinking alone is but one more rotation on the merry-go-round. Friendship and involvement are crucial. Then young adults process the experience with critical reading and thinking, along with deep conversation. There must be action. A book club or a rump group is good, but alone such gatherings do not adequately contain enough substance. Action is essential for a meaningful, holy life. And along the way, young adults in action/reflection improve our world.
The secret is involvement in the world absolutely combined with a spiritual element, the personalists say. Don’t expect a fully formed spiritual life to come first, however. “The first step in the spiritual revolution is the economic and political revolution,” Mounier writes. The material world has to be reformed in a way that allows distressed people “to find their way towards things spiritual.”
Personalism is not an organization with a website. There is no Personalism for Dummies workbook. So where can a young adult find this philosophy? It is a process of reading, thinking, finding friends and small collective efforts for improving one’s workplace, school, neighborhood or society.
Peter Maurin (1877-1949) brought personalism to the United States from France. He was a co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, a chain of 174 hospitality communities in the United States, plus some overseas. Several publish a newspaper. The flagship publication is titled The Catholic Worker (www.catholicworker.org). The Houston Catholic Worker (www.cjd.org) is particularly good.
Some organic community organizations in our country, though maybe unaware of its influence, are promoting the basics of personalism. They stress one-to-one encounters prior to any public policy topic or any grievance. The bigness of the state and of industry is not a solution, a personalist group maintains. Action is essential. Then reflection, or what Maurin called “clarification of thought,” must follow.

Droel’s booklet, Public Friendship, is available from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $5)

Corporate Elections

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

There are new rules for electing players to the All Star teams. As in a presidential election, fans now vote in a primary and then in a conclusive election. The primary determines the top three players at each position for each league (each league’s top nine outfielders are grouped together). The fan’s conclusive vote determines the starters. Then MLB players have a ballot, plus the All Star managers and the commissioner have some discretion. Thus some players will be in Cleveland on July 9, 2019 by way of the fans, others by way of fellow-players and some by way of management.

New rules for electing corporate boards are needed. Currently, stockholders vote (including by proxy). Many of these stockholders are “the most uninvested, irresponsible parties involved” with the company, says David Ciepley in Hedgehog Review (Spring/19). “They have never contributed a dime to the corporations” because they acquire the stock on speculation in the secondary market, often in a bundled retirement fund. They hold a stock on average for four months. They are uninterested in “making improvements for long-term returns” but instead favor “quickly squeezing what they can out of the company.” A few people acquire a company’s stock in a different way, but they too are often fixated on the firm’s quarterly performance on the Nasdaq or another exchange. These people are the company’s executives who are paid in stock, not cash. At election time they nominate and vote for like-minded directors.
A crucial step “for reducing corporate misconduct and for reorienting the corporation to public purposes,” writes Ciepley, is “overthrowing the baleful notion, currently regnant in law schools, the business press and even the courts…that corporations are purely private associations and that their stockholders are [in any meaningful way] their members, owners or principals.” He admits that “there is no simple or obvious path to restoring the public purpose of the corporation.” Ciepley does though allude to co-determinism, a mechanism for including stakeholders in corporate governance.

This notion, which derives from Catholic doctrine, has long been advanced by theologians, public policy leaders and business executives, as Matt Mazewski, a student at Columbia University, details in Commonweal (3/22/19). There are examples from Great Britain and elsewhere, though he concentrates on Germany.
Catholic philosopher and mining engineer Franz von Baader (1765-1841) was among the first to develop sound arguments for worker participation in corporate governance, Mazewski finds. By 1891 Germany passed legislation for factory councils to advise management. The notion gained popularity after World War II. For example, Heinrich Dinkelbach (1891-1967), a Catholic and a steel manager, devised a plan for general input from trade unions for business direction. In 1951 Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967), also Catholic, won legislative support for special co-determinism provisions.
The general concept appears in several Church documents. It is explicitly promoted by Pope Pius XI (1857-1939) in his 1931 encyclical Reconstructing the Social Order. His Latin phrase for co-determinism, collegia ordinum, is translated industry council plan in the U.S.  Pius XI and the others said that some form of this doctrine tempers adversarial feelings between workers and owners because both are participating in the company’s success. It puts an emphasis on self-regulation and thus makes government meddling in business less necessary. The temptation to absorb these stakeholder councils into one or another government agency must be resisted. Unions do not disappear; management does not disappear; stockholders remain and government retains a role. The council plan can be variously constituted and look differently in various sectors. With genuine and full cooperation a business grows because participation is enhanced through the plan.
Establishing a true community of work “will not be easy,” Mazewski concludes. But putting varied interests on corporate boards “would certainly be a good place to start.”

Droel is associated with National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629). NCL distributes Were You Born On the Wrong Continent by Tom Geoghegan ($20), which considers co-determinism in Germany.


The Working Catholic: Process Is Product
by Bill Droel

Our Chicago White Sox are “in rebuild mode,” according to their front office. Progress is uneven. Two promising pitchers are out for the season. A left-handed slugger is back in the minor leagues. Defense is spotty. Yet, a couple infielders are hitting. The pitching is coming around. And once the clouds clear, the ballpark is sparkling. The Chicago Cubs are the prototype for rebuilding. They won the 2016 World Series in November of that year and thereby “broke the curse.” (See The Cubs Way by Tom Verducci, Penguin Random House, 2017.)
All institutions are in the rebuilding mode, except those that implicitly or explicitly have given up. Institutions use two grand strategies that ideally complement one another. One can be called the business model, the other is organizing.
For example, within the union movement business unionism refers to servicing the contract. Health care plans and pension plans require attention. The union officers help individual members or small groups who have a grievance. For the sake of public profile and influence, union leaders attend banquets and visit legislators. They publish a newspaper and distribute union information. Organizing in the union movement is about giving the union’s accomplishments away to other workers and families.
Though both approaches co-exist, the business model often dominates. Some union leaders might say that a well-serviced contract will inspire other workers to seek out the union. But in this day and time there are too many shortcuts around the tedious process of organizing one-by-one and then small group upon another small group. Too many shortcuts sap money, talent and imagination from an otherwise good institution. In time, the union realizes that its neglect of organizing has made its future less promising. (See No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power by Jane McAlevey, Oxford University Press, 2016.)
A parish, to give a second example, uses the business model to competently carry out many ministries: funerals, weekend worship, hospital visits, publishing a bulletin, raising money, maintaining the furnace and parking lot and more. Things must get done. A pastor who likely is past middle-age and who is the only priest on staff might reasonably say that servicing those who already participate is, under the circumstances, the best advertisement for growing the parish. Once again organizing (or in churchy jargon evangelization) is more-or-less neglected.
A shortcut is a bulletin announcement for young adults: “Pretzel, Beer and Bible Evening.” Then a staff person waits for someone (anyone) to show up. Organizing in a parish is a pastor or parish leader who makes appointments with young adults at their worksite or over lunch to listen and possibly discover points of connection between the young person’s interests and the Christian tradition.
A shortcut is to keep a shelf of canned goods and a few heavy coats on hand in the parish office for the needy. Organizing in a parish means a pastor and committee members make appointments with many leaders from other area churches and agencies to explore community concerns.
A shortcut is a dedicated hospitality committee that serves coffee and rolls after Mass. Organizing in a parish means 20 of its leaders gather for about 45 minutes once a month to recount what they learned from a quota of individual appointments with fellow parishioners and community members.
Some shortcuts are unavoidable and usually do no harm. Serving the base and organizing can in fact nourish each other. When either one is taken to an extreme, however, it destroys itself. Extreme organizing to the neglect of serving the regular base erodes the loyalty of faithful union members or faithful parishioners. The organization’s collective memory can be lost and soon enough few people will really care if the organization grows.
In recent decades the opposite extreme has been the norm. Most voluntary organizations have overused the business model. Their leaders assume that habitual shortcuts are a sufficient route to the future.
In our day and age the union movement and parish life (the examples used in this article) must be in the rebuild mode. To revitalize necessarily requires a deep understanding that the process is the product and that too many shortcuts defeat the goal.
There are no guarantees. We make choices. The trade of Chris Sale may or may not pay off for our White Sox. Prospects that show promise in AAA or AA may or may not perform here on 35th St. Key players like Carlos Rodon can be lost to injury. The same is true in voluntary groups. A dedicated parishioner or union leader may or may not have enough energy to help with a three-year rebuild. No guarantees. Instead, a series of choices: business as usual or organizing.

Droel’s booklet Public Friendship can be obtained from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $6).

Triangle Fire

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

The fire occurred in March 1911. Someone failed to fully extinguish a cigarette in New York City’s Asch Building (now known as Brown Building, owned by N.Y. University). “After just 18 minutes, 144 people were dead,” writes Christine Seifert in The Factory Girls (Zest Books, 2017). Two more died subsequently. The top three floors of the building were used by Triangle Shirtwaist Factory to assemble blouses. There were heroes during those frantic minutes. For example, NYU students spotted the fire and perilously rigged a ladder from their building to an upper floor of the Asch Building, saving lives. The fire department too risked health and safety during the short interval. Several workers also heroically tried to guide others down to the street.
Other historians have provided an account of this tragedy, including David Von Drehle in Triangle: the Fire that Changed America (Grove Press, 2003). Like those others, Seifert gives particulars in 175 pages. Her account though considers the historical, cultural and political factors that put young workers in a hazardous factory plus she describes today’s conditions in the apparel industry.
Seifert notes that before 1900 there was no such thing as fashion in our country; except among the elites in Virginia and elsewhere along the Atlantic coast who took cues from stylish Europe. There was no “off the rack” shopping for working women and men (only standard issue uniforms or homemade clothes). Only with mass production of apparel and other products in the 20th century could working-class people have an interest in and be able to afford fashion. The Triangle Company, like many other shops, cut and assembled the popular type of blouse known as the shirtwaist.
In order to make and widely distribute clothes for the working-class, economic factors had to align. The main ingredient in the early 1900s was cheap labor. An exploitative wage system was implicitly justified by a business philosophy called the Protestant Ethic. (It is derived from select Reformation themes, yet leaves aside key parts of Christianity. The same popular philosophy is today commonly called individualism or unregulated free market.) According to this philosophy, labor shows up in a company’s accounting as a cost like any other raw material. The wise business owner keeps costs low to become wealthy. In religious terms the owner’s success is a sign of divine favor. In secular terms success is about self-made virtue. On the other end, Seifert writes, “poverty was a moral failing.” The dominant philosophy denied that “poverty was a result of a system that was rigged to take advantage of people’s labor while lining the pockets of those who controlled production.”
Solidarity is the antidote to individualism. Seifert tells about the women from Triangle Shirtwaist and other factories who staged a November 1909 strike. Aided by Women’s Trade Union League and by International Ladies Garment Worker Union and for a time by a few wealthy women called Mink Coat Brigade, the Triangle workers held out for over two months. Their demands were modest: Managers must stop “yelling at them, threatening them or harassing them” plus a change in the pay system of set rate per day, no matter the number of hours. When they settled, the Triangle workers got a small raise and a 52-hour week. They did not get the sine qua non of every worker action: sole and exclusive bargaining rights. Nor was workplace safety found anywhere in the outcome.
Seifert devotes some paragraphs to Clara Lemlich Shavelson (1886-1982). She was 23-years old in those last weeks of 1909. At a crowded union meeting held in Cooper Union she pushed her way to the front and shouted: “I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in general terms. I move that we go on a general strike.” Her activism continued through her life. She pioneered the tactic of consumer boycott and started tenants’ groups in her neighborhood. In her 80s Lemlich Shavelson lived in a senior facility. Sure enough, she organized the nurses and aides. With these working conditions “you’d be crazy not to join a union,” she told the workers.
It is difficult to buy clean clothes today; that is, garments in our retail stores with no sweatshops in their chain of production and distribution. For example, women toiling in overseas sweatshops made the Ivanka Clothing Line, until the company’s July 2018 demise. Seifert names a handful of groups that can assist in cleaner shopping. She includes Clean Clothes Campaign (https://cleanclothes.org), based in the Netherlands with offices in several other countries. I recommend International Labor Rights Forum (1634 I St. NW #1000, Washington, DC 20006; www.laborrights.org). This is a sophisticated group that looks through the entire apparel pipeline. They are, to name one example, monitoring the compliance of those apparel lines that agreed to improve after the 2013 Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh. Currently, the H & M Line needs a push to do better. To learn more about the economics and culture of off-the-rack clothes, I recommend Over-Dressed by Elizabeth Cline (Penguin, 2012).
Social justice is a relatively new virtue in that it once was not possible to do anything about wrongdoing that occurred in remote locations or in complex systems. Today social justice, though difficult, is possible. Action on behalf of justly-made clothes is possible.

Droel edits a printed newsletter on faith and work (NCL, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

Long Lost Text

The Working Catholic: Economic Ideologies
by Bill Droel

The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (www.kul.pl/21.html) just published The Catholic Social Ethic by St. John Paul II (1920-2005). This two-volume text of 500+ pages dates from the 1950s, when Fr. Karol Wojtyla was a young parish priest/teacher. Scholars have long known about the text. In fact, about 300 copies were circulated among students and others in the 1950s. Jonathan Luxmoore, an expert on Catholicism in Eastern Europe, reported on the text a dozen years ago. He recently summarized the new book for Catholic News Service (1/19/19) and for The Tablet of London (2/2/19).

Just as there are Biblical fundamentalists who selectively invoke one or another Scripture verse to support their preconceived opinion, so too there are some papal fundamentalists among Catholics. For example, a small but influential number of Catholics in the U.S. and elsewhere pull a phrase from John Paul II or from Pope Benedict XVI to claim that Catholicism is in harmony with unrestricted capitalism (also called neoliberalism). Similarly, a few Catholics pull out one another phrase to say that Catholicism gives unqualified approval to Marxism. This new book by John Paul II got caught up in this pick-and-choose controversy, causing the long delay in publication.
The Catholic Social Ethic, along with John Paul II’s other writing and talks, shows that he never was a big fan of free market capitalism. He repeatedly rejected “individualistic liberalism.” Nor of course did John Paul II ever mount a defense of communism. Yet through study and experience of the communist regime in Poland, he was well-versed in Marxist themes.
John Paul II, Luxmoore says, recognized that Marxism appealed to young workers because of injustices in their situations. To connect with young adults, Catholicism must have a sophisticated alternative to Marxism. It cannot merely condemn a mistaken ideology. Catholicism must furnish an approach to social justice and peace that fits the daily comings-and-goings of young adults. John Paul II, along with several other Polish theologians including Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski (1901-1981), set about crafting an accessible theology of work.
In contrast to materialistic capitalism, John Paul II popularized the principle of the priority of labor over capital. That is, the worker is the subject of work; not the investment of money. Yes, investments are part of production and service delivery. But the purpose of the enterprise is the worker. According to John Paul II, the word worker is inclusive–managers, owners on the scene, shop hands, janitors, truck drivers, clerks, all those who in some way fashion and distribute the service or the product.
In contrast to materialistic communism, John Paul II outlined a spirituality of work which integrates business, family life, civic involvement and more with fidelity to Jesus’ gospel.

Young adults are familiar with today’s materialisms and other empty ideologies: careerism, cost-benefit analysis, consumerism, conspiracy theories, extreme individualism in economics and culture, relativism (or what the White House calls alternative facts), and more.
Some Catholic leaders say they are interested in young adults. Maybe so. But does a young adult ever come upon ideas and experiences within Catholicism that suggest an alternative to the harshness of work, to the arbitrariness in society or to our vacuous culture? Would a young adult ever hear themes about work expressed in spiritual terms? John Paul II’s theology of work project is suggestive, but not enough. Other theologians and particularly interested young Catholics have to take the matter a few steps further: More sources, more reflections, more conversations and for sure more focused action for justice and peace within the workaday world.

At the moment, The Catholic Social Ethic is available in Polish. Perhaps a condensed English version can be published soon. Perhaps it could include a few pastoral comments and top out at let’s say 200 pages.

Droel is editor of John Paul II’s Gospel of Work (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $7)

Quit Moralizing

The Working Catholic: Moralizing
Bill Droel

Name any social policy and there is sure to be a religious leader who has an opinion. The religious leader states his or her position in absolutes. For the religionist, the issue is a matter of high morality; no alternative position is acceptable. These religious leaders and the general public routinely fault the daily give-and-take in partisan politics for putting opportunism, gridlock, grandstanding, obstinacy and hypocrisy above moral principle.

The legislative process is a moral endeavor, says President John Kennedy (1917-1963) in Profiles in Courage (Harper Collins, 1956). An impatient public does not appreciate “the art of politics, the nature and necessity for compromise and balance,” he writes. The public is “too hasty in condemning all compromise as bad morals [when in fact] politics and legislation are not matters for inflexible principles or unattainable ideals.” Democracy is maintained by flawed people who are “engaged in the fine art of conciliating, balancing and interpreting the forces and factions of public opinion.”
Are principles then irrelevant to public life? Hardly. Though abiding principles do not come with specifics on each detailed proposal nor do they yield strategy or timing, principles give essential guidance. For an effective legislator, politics is a vocation about “compromises of issues, not of principles,” says Kennedy. A politician who “begins to compromise his [or her] principles on one issue after another,” he concludes, “has lost the very freedom of conscience which justifies his [or her] continuance in office.”
Profiles in Courage goes on to detail eight U.S. Senators who at a crucial moment put principles ahead of party loyalty and popularity. Yet even in those moments, Kennedy says, an assertion of high principle comes with calculation. Several examples in the book are about race relations, before and after the Civil War. An antebellum Southern senator decides that the principle of a United States is of higher value than the expectations of his constituents and his loyalty to his party. Introducing a pro-abolition bill, however, will be ineffective. Instead, he supports a mechanism that will delay war. He calculates that a decade’s worth of uneasy peace is worth the loss of his reputation. His principled stand, as it turns out, did not prevent the war but it bought time during which the North became stronger and the institution of slavery weaker. In other words a principled stand does not guarantee perfect outcomes; compromise is always in the mix.

There are many issues deserving attention from faith-inspired citizens: abortion, ecology, immigration, national defense, labor relations and more. With rare exception, religious leaders are advised not to take the shortcut of moralizing on these and other issues. Instead, here are alternative strategies:
1.) Support conscientious legislators. Host a support group or forum in one’s parish where politicians can explore the meaning of their work. Send along compliments when matters are resolved in an acceptable way.
2.) Be a strong, persistent voice in the public square. Over and over explain one’s religious position, using as much natural law or common good language as possible. Never stop asserting the whys and hows of pro-life or pro-planet or pro-civil rights. No matter how basic the explanation may be, there are many, many citizens and politicians who simply do not know why a religious person might oppose abortion or support unions or oppose pollution.
3.) Organize votes. Moralizing (like throwing around the threat of excommunication) likely hardens the position of politicians. Putting voting-blocks together gets attention. Bishops and other Church employees should not endorse candidates nor wade too deeply into the specifics of a piece of legislation. But lay members of any denomination can do retail organizing. Supporting an alternative Democrat in a blue district is better than hollow preaching. Supporting an alternative Republican in a red district will shake things up.
There are grifters in politics for sure. Here in Illinois some go to jail. But there are thousands of moral politicians in municipal, state and federal bodies that approach their work as a vocation. Do they ever hear their job framed in spiritual terms in their congregation, their synagogue, their mosque? There are hundreds of politicians who are capable of putting a moral principle ahead of a special interest, ahead of a party leader’s expectation, ahead of expediency. Not at every hour, on every issue. Not in big moralizing, grandstanding circumstances. But within the deliberative process of democracy, many politicians know how to frame a principle in reasonable terms and at times come away with a moral victory.

Droel edits a newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

M.L. King Day

The Working Catholic
Bill Droel

This month’s celebration of Rev. Martin L. King (1929-1968) is of course about more than King. The civil rights era is about more than the Montgomery boycott that began in December 1955. It certainly includes Rosa Parks (1913-2005), who courageously refused to give up her seat on a bus. And, Parks’ disobedience was not a momentary reaction, but was the outcome of much preparation.
In recent times several scholars have drawn attention to “the longer civil rights movement.” Karen Johnson of Wheaton College is one of those scholars. Her book, One in Christ: Chicago Catholics and the Quest for Interracial Justice (Oxford University Press, 2018), details significant civil rights activity as early as 1930—not in the South but in Chicago. Her examples, perhaps surprisingly, are Catholic organizations.
Johnson’s thorough account in eight more-or-less chronological chapters plus 49 pages of valuable footnotes is “primarily a story about laypeople” who in addition to highlighting aspects of Catholic doctrine also challenged the notion that priests are above laypeople, that urban Catholicism is synonymous with intra-parish ministries and that Catholics acting as Catholics should keep their efforts separate from Protestants and Jews.
Arthur Falls (1901-2000), a pioneering black physician involved with Federated Colored Catholics and then with Catholic Worker movement, is prominent in the first four chapters and appears throughout the book. The fifth and sixth chapters feature Friendship House with Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896-1985), Ellen Tarry (1906-2008) and Ann Harrigan Makletzoff (1910-1984); the seventh and eighth feature the Catholic Interracial Council with John McDermott (1926-1996) among others. Msgr. Dan Cantwell (1915-1996) and Ed Marciniak (1917-2004) appear in nearly all the chapters.
These Chicago Catholics were successful to a degree. They “helped enlarge America’s moral imagination,” Johnson explains. They showed that racial justice is more than a political matter. Due to these Chicago activists and also to many religious leaders in the South and around the nation, civil rights became a significant aspect of faith, both for blacks and for whites. Further, the Chicago Catholics—years before Vatican II (1962-1965)—taught others that individual salvation and personal transformation are not enough. They communicated, in words and more so by way of example, that full-time Christians must seek “the common good by reforming the institutions shaping the public sphere.”
A contagious esprit surrounded these dedicated Catholics. They nourished one another in several institutional spaces, Johnson emphasizes. They all knew that liturgical grace was essential to their efforts. They believed that the liturgy of the word continued out the church door as each of them did their part in the Mystical Body of Christ to live a liturgy of the world.
Johnson includes enough detail to dispel any suggestion of hyper-romanticism about these civil rights pioneers. These people were street savvy. They knew how to agitate and at the right moment what to compromise. They avoided getting personally bent out of shape as they necessarily engaged in sharp disagreements with one another over strategy: How to include Chicago’s bishop—if at all. Whether or not to include anti-poverty measures in efforts against racism. Whether or not to maneuver inside the Democratic Party, which in Chicago was the Daley Machine. Are discussion groups a waste of time? Can Catholics be militant?
Remarkably, most of these Catholic civil rights leaders remained Catholic their entire lives. It is remarkable because, as Johnson details in parts of two chapters, more than one bishop, some influential pastors and the Catholic system itself reinforced racial distinctions. For example, Falls once told me that the segregation that hurt him the most was on Saturday afternoons when he went to confession. Blacks had to stand in one line and wait until each person in the white line had received absolution.
Johnson writes a comprehensible story. This is an achievement because all her subjects died before she began. She thus scoured multiple libraries for newspapers, magazine articles, minutes of meetings and more. Johnson, by the way, is not Catholic. Yet the book flawlessly covers Chancery politics and points of theology.

A powerful 2% of young Catholics are once again interested in the social question–in race relations, in living wage campaigns, in the dignity of all life, in socially responsible business, in green technology, in mental health delivery, in criminal justice reform and immigration topics. One In Christ is an inspiring account of visionary Catholics who navigated the push-and-pull of public life, and had some fun along the way. As we rightly celebrate King Day, we can continue to learn from all the efforts in our country toward “liberty and justice for all.”

Droel of Chicago is a board member of National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

In Praise of Cash

The Working Catholic:
Bill Droel

It says “legal tender for all debts private and public.” But cash is out. Indeed, some businesses now refuse cash, including a hair salon in Los Angeles, a few pretentious chain restaurants and several small shops. Visa has declared “a war on cash,” reports New York Times (12/6/18). Other credit companies are implicit allies in that war. Only 30% of transactions by one survey currently involve cash, says Wall St. Journal (12/30/18). Most cash transactions are in small amounts; 55% of them are for less than $10. The popular alternative to cash is called a credit card. However, cards are also out. Nowadays a purchaser obtains ready credit through an app on a mobile device. It is not swiped; it is tapped.
We crusty old-timers prefer cash. This is not only because a cashless economy further impoverishes those without access to credit. There are other troubling consequences of going cashless, ones that threaten middle-class families.
Number One. Cash is or was a nearly universal societal benefit. The trend these days is to allow private companies to own public life. The outcome of this trend is generally no good. Prime evidence here in Chicago is the expensive parking facilities in the Loop and elsewhere. Citizens do not benefit from the revenue; a private entity does. Likewise, the ubiquitous cameras that catch any and all minor traffic miscues would be annoying enough if the tickets’ revenue went to our city. But a private company has the contract. Prohibiting cash in favor of private currency is another destruction of the public realm.
Number Two. A cashless private economy is premised on automation. Working-class jobs at what were once called cash registers are disappearing. It is entirely possible to stock one’s grocery cart and put the produce, meat and bread in one’s car without dealing with a grocery clerk. The same impersonal approach is taking over in restaurants. Banks don’t have tellers.
Number Three. Another result of cyber-automation is increased violation of privacy. The private company that extends credit and the retailer join forces to develop one’s consumer profile. This is used by the retailer to pitch more products or it is sold to other private companies. Also, cyber-banking and cyber-transactions expose one’s cyber-wallet to thieves. The best robbers these days eschew cash; they prefer hacking.
Number Four. It is true that credit, wisely obtained and carefully managed, can be a form of wealth. A home mortgage obtained from a neighborhood bank or credit union is an investment. Credit perhaps leads to wealth in sophisticated margin trading in 90-day stock options. Right? Most credit obtained by working families, however, is basically usury. There is no credit app (formerly called a credit card) that comes without a line of credit and interest fees. The singular factor that hampers the financial standing of working class families is credit app/card debt.

Is it possible to manage a household without credit? It is possible, but it requires resistance to the new capitalism—a capital economy in which products are not that important but in which investment rules. How to manage without credit? Experts at Sambla advise you to get a checking account from a neighborhood bank or credit union. Don’t deal with Wells Fargo or other national entities. Do not accept any line of credit on the account. Don’t cyber-shop too much. Use the currency that comes with a picture of President Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), President Ulysses Grant (1822-1885) or other notables. If you already have a credit card/app and you made only a partial payment last month, see a reputable, neighborhood-based finance advisor immediately.

Droel edits a free printed newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)