Critique of capitalism


POPE Benedict XVI will not be attending the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh in September. It's just as well. The Pope might strike a dissonant chord among the leaders and finance ministers of the world's most developed economies. He is not a fan of any system that promotes conspicuous consumption or indifference toward the poor. He is an advocate of redistributing much of the world's wealth.

This week, the Vatican released the Pontiff's third encyclical. Two years in the making, "Caritas in Veritate" (Charity in Truth) does to global capitalism what Jesus did in the temple of Jerusalem - it overturns the tables of the money changers.

To be sure, Pope Benedict isn't calling for the overthrow of capitalism, just saying that the system is not immune to corruption and that regulations are needed both for the sake of investors, the poor, and the exploited.

The Pope called upon the wealthiest nations to remember the poor while devising strategies to revive the world economy. He called for reform of the United Nations and other unnamed bodies and for creation of a new authority that would have real teeth in matters of international justice and peace in regulating the global economy.

"Profit is useful if it serves as a means toward an end," he wrote. "Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty."

The encyclical warns of capitalism's dark side in terms a socialist might find agreeable. It is also critical of how unnamed institutions, presumably the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, have addressed global poverty.

The fact that the Vatican has issued a critique of capitalism doesn't mean the Pope is ready to exchange his miter for Che Guevara's beret.

The leader of the world's 1 billion Catholics is reminding us that there is a moral and ethical dimension to every dollar spent.

It isn't the economic system that matters as much as hearts inclined to hear the entreaties of the poor.