American Capitalism is just plain broken.
Why do I say that? Because American Capitalism has in essence declared that its god is the Almighty Dollar. And in such circumstances as these, the problem identified by Pope St. John Paul II cannot be escaped.
True development cannot consist in the simple accumulation of wealth and in the greater availability of goods and services, if this is gained at the expense of the development of the masses, and without due consideration for the social, cultural and spiritual dimensions of the human being. (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis §9)
So long as development is reduced to the question of how many goodies I can collect, capitalism remains hopelessly broken and will never bear the fruit that the gift of private property ought to bear. The system must be fixed. St. John Paul II offers a remedy.
I wish to appeal with simplicity and humility to everyone, to all men and women without exception. I wish to ask them to be convinced of the seriousness of the present moment and of each one’s individual responsibility, and to implement — by the way they live as individuals and as families, by the use of their resources, by their civic activity, by contributing to economic and political decisions and by personal commitment to national and international undertakings — the measures inspired by solidarity and love of preference for the poor. (ibid., §47; emphasis added)
Why does he call upon all of us for this great task? Because, quite frankly, those with the power and the gold are not going to give up either their power or their gold for the sake of the poor. It is up to us, the Holy Father essentially says.
Once upon a time I had a discussion (perhaps I am charitably describing it) with someone who simply rejected the notion that human beings have a right to something better than the barest existence. This person may have supposed that if we start talking about rights then we start talking about the involvement of the State. But if we cannot agree at the very least that man has a right to something better than “living” in a mud heap without reference to any particular order for delivering that right — if we cannot agree on something so fundamental as this then it seems like waiting for a consensus before action is taken is the wrong answer. This is why, I think, the Holy Father calls us to the personal commitments that he does in the encyclical we are perusing. The poor have waited long enough.
What does this commitment look like? I can’t tell you. I do not think that the Holy Father would have tried to tell you. But it is something that we must think about and pray about and then act upon. With God’s help we can do what is right in our small corners of the world.