Marco Rubio’s ‘Common-Good Capitalism’ Garners Mixed Reactions From Fellow Catholics

Sen. Marco Rubio speaks at Catholic University of America on Nov. 5, 2019, in Washington. Video screengrab via CUA

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s speech on faith and economics is triggering mixed reactions from his fellow Catholic faithful, with some praising his remarks and others arguing that he ignores elements of Catholic social teaching and that his rhetoric doesn’t match past policy positions.

Rubio delivered his address, “Human Dignity and the Purpose of Capitalism,” at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday morning (Nov. 5), speaking before a crowd of mostly students and hosted by the university’s Busch School of Business. Over the course of roughly 40 minutes, the onetime presidential candidate outlined an economic vision he said was rooted in the theology of a “19th-century Italian named Vincenzo Pecci” — a man also known as Pope Leo XIII.

“I want to ask the outrage police for forgiveness, for I have sinned,” said Rubio, who is Catholic. “I have once again mixed politics with religion.”

Rubio pointed to Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical “Rerum Novarum,” which he said described an ideal economy as one in which “workers and businesses are not competitors for their share of limited resources, but instead partners in an effort that benefits both and strengthens the entire nation.”

The senator argued it offered a model for the current political era.

“I wanted to revisit what he wrote because we are once again in the midst of transformative and disruptive economic change,” Rubio said. “And we once again face rising calls for socialism.”

He added: “We are quite familiar and enthusiastic about our rights, but not nearly as familiar or excited about our obligations.”

Rubio criticized both sides of the political aisle in his remarks. He said that while conservatives have become “defenders” of businesses and championed the “obligation to work,” they have “neglected the rights of workers to share in the benefits they create for their employer.”

Liberals, on the other hand, have focused on “everyone’s right to various benefits” but ignored the rights of businesses and the “obligation to work,” he said.

Rubio also bemoaned negative trends including increased student loan debt, lack of homeownership, drug addiction and the impact of the recent financial crisis. He dismissed socialism as a potential answer to such woes, calling instead for “common-good capitalism.”

The senator outlined an array of policy proposals, such as limiting the shifting of jobs overseas, expanding the federal per-child tax credit and revamping existing structures to invest in small businesses.  

Overall, he championed “a system of free enterprise in which workers fulfill their obligation to work and enjoy the benefits of their work, and where businesses enjoy their right to make a profit and reinvest enough of those profits to create dignified work for Americans.”

Writing for the conservative magazine First Things — where Rubio published his own piece on economics in August — Catholic writer Emile A. Doak heaped praise on Rubio’s speech. Doak lauded Rubio’s vision as “a more authentically Christian approach to political economy than anything either major party has put forth in recent memory” and said it signified a break from the norm.

“In looking to Rome rather than Vienna for his economic thought, Rubio seeks to reclaim a holistic disposition that recognizes the members of the U.S. economy as human persons, not simply scientific datum,” Doak wrote in his piece, which was later promoted by Rubio’s Twitter account. “Conservatives are turning against outsourcing — both of American jobs to China and of economic thought to libertarians.”

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Source: Religion News Service