German cardinal calls for 'social market economy' in wake of crisis

By  Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service
  • June 1, 2012

WASHINGTON - German Cardinal Reinhard Marx called for a "social market economy" in the wake of the fiscal crisis that has gripped much of Europe over the past year.

In a May 30 talk delivered at Georgetown University in Washington, Cardinal Marx, the archbishop of Munich and Freising, said the economy needed to move "beyond capitalism" in order to be more fair.

He added that he was not calling for the abolition of capitalism, saying that capitalism was "an element" in the social market economy he has in mind. But Cardinal Marx suggested that it was the practice of "financial capitalism" in the era since the tearing down of the Iron Curtain that had brought Europe to its crisis point today.

The cardinal's talk, "Economic Crisis as an Opportunity for Change," was delivered at Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs.

"The revolution of 1989 is one of the prepositions of this crisis," Cardinal Marx said. "The world became free from communism. As a consequence, it became free for financial capitalism." One of the ills this form of capitalism wrought, he added, was that it "separated the virtual from the real economy," giving people "the dream of permanent easy money" without acknowledging "the problem of debts, particularly in Europe."

Cardinal Marx said, "We cannot step outside the history, but we can learn from it." Lessons from the current crisis, he noted, are "not yet learned."

The cardinal, who wrote "Das Kapital: A Plea for Man" in 2008, is head of the Committee for Social Issues for the German bishops' conference and is president of the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community. He is member of both the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Christianity has its part to play in formulating lessons to be learned, Cardinal Marx said. "Christianity is the mother tongue of Europe. If you don't know the mother tongue, you can't understand."

Cardinal Marx added, "The Bible is not, in fact, the last word" in coming to terms with the euro zone crisis. "We can make it better. This is very important."

On the day of judgment, "we will have a new heaven, a new earth," Cardinal Marx said. "Jesus will ask, 'Did you make the world a better place while you were on earth, or did you not?'"

In response to a question from the audience, Cardinal Marx said he approved of the idea of "Eurobonds," an instrument that could help manage the debt of euro zone nations more equitably. "In the long term, it's something like a transfer," he said. "Subsidiarity works on many levels. But we will have transfers from rich countries to poorer countries."

He added that rich euro zone nations cannot tell struggling ones, "Oh, you can go out," or tell themselves that poorer nations' crises are "not my problem. That's not how it should work."

Berkley Center director Thomas Banchoff noted that some in the United States interpret the Catholic social teaching principle of subsidiarity -- which holds that decisions or actions should not be made on a higher level when a lower level of competence would suffice -- as meaning "keep the government out of it."

Cardinal Marx replied, "The state is not a bad thing, as Aristotle told his disciples," nor is the state "unfriendly." Without the state, he said, "man does not come to the fullest possible life," adding, "You cannot navigate the common good only with the assistance of families. It is not possible."

The cardinal traveled from Washington to Chicago, where he was to lead a May 31-June 1 symposium called "Toward a Moral Economy."

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