The Fatal Errors of Capitalism: Laudato Si’ & the Economy

The Fatal Errors of Capitalism: Laudato Si’ & the Economy June 20, 2015

While technology has proven itself to be beyond helpful for humans, especially in the field of medicine and communication, it has a tendency to dominate the life it was intended to assist. Advances in technology drive and are driven by an unsustainable consumption of precious resources. The consumption is unequal and the benefits of technology do not seem to make their way to the world’s poor. The pursuit for newer products, with increased efficiency, and greater power, turns the world into a mere commodity. It’s as if the world, and the life it sustains, has a binary value, useful or useless – the useful are consumed and destroyed, the useless are excluded and left to die. Of course, this is intimately related to the relativism addressed later in the chapter (LS, 122-123).

This technocratic paradigm sustains and is sustained by various “-isms” the church has repeatedly rejected: relativism, consumerism, individualism, capitalism, and materialism, to name a few (see par. 117 in the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s The Bible and Morality, for example). These ‘-isms’ are very much related to and can all be found in our capitalist world. These ‘isms’ are detrimental to the weak and the planet, they participate in the formation of a ‘culture of death’, which can be identified as a war of the powerful against the weak (see pars. 12 and 19 in John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae). This is typical of a capitalist system, its centers of power, and its dominated periphery.

[Tying together relativism, the technocratic paradigm, and consumerism with free market ideologies, abortion, euthanasia, drug use, trafficking, environmental destruction, and the plight of the poor, etc., can be done another time. Until then, consider the second half of chapter three in Laudato. Matthew Tan’s excellent piece, Abortion in/as a Consumer Structure, and James Smith’s Imagining the Kingdom, for example, are particularly useful for understanding how social habits and attitudes are formed in relation to culture, social and economic structures, at the expense of the pre-born, the poor, and the earth, etc.].

Francis is not shy about connecting capitalism-all of capitalism, that is-with the technocratic paradigm, consumerism, death (human and organic), individualism, and relativism. In pointing out the technological advances of the last two hundred years, on several occasions (LS, 46, 51, 53, 102) the Pope can be seen making a reference directly to capitalism. At least, it seems probable that he is referring to capitalism if we consider what exactly has been happening for the previous two centuries. Karl Polanyi, for example, writes, “Not until 1834 was a competitive labor market established in England; hence, industrial capitalism as a social system cannot be said to have existed before that date” (ch.7 of The Great Transformation) – about two centuries ago. The capitalism we have is a descendent of industrial capitalism, which grew out of a mercantilism that was already global. (Enrique Dussel dates the origin of global capitalism, which entails for both he and Francis a violence against the other, at 1492.)

Francis slams the destruction wrought by the last two centuries of development, which goes hand in hand with the technocratic paradigm that lives off of and fosters materialism, individualism, relativism, and consumerism; and all this perfectly identifies with what we call capitalism today. Are these our only reasons to believe Francis is encouraging us to move beyond capitalism? No. The capitalists should have a say.

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