The ancient debate between capital and labor continues

Much of the discussion during this election cycle is revolving around the economy and the age-old debate between capital and labor, but our country would be well-served if politicians communicated these issues through the balanced lens of Catholic teaching, which recognizes that society is best served when those with capital and those supplying labor work as a team rather than as opponents. For those interested, I encourage reading two encyclicals: Rerum Novarum (“On New Things”) by Pope Leo XIII (1891) and Centesimus Annus (“Hundredth Year”) by Pope John Paul II (1991). 

A growing pie

Charles Murray, the W. H. Brady scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, recently wrote on capitalism and makes the point that from the dawn of history until the 18th century, the world was largely impoverished with a thin layer of wealth at the very top. The Industrial Revolution introduced capitalism and, although it created other challenges such as the mistreatment of workers, there was a recognition that the economic pie could be enlarged, providing greater opportunity for all. 

In a 2008 speech, Pope Benedict XVI said, “Trying to solve the problem of poverty solely by redistribution of existing wealth is an illusion. Wealth creation therefore becomes an inescapable duty, which must be kept in mind if the fight against material poverty is to be effective in the long run.” 

Principled capitalism

One of the greatest challenges to our economy today, according to Murray, is a sense among the citizenry that the system is rigged due to “Crony capitalism” and an unfair playing field. While sufficient regulation is needed to stop collusion between businesses (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2425), it’s also important for government to be held accountable (No. 1883). 

Murray emphasizes the need for virtuous citizenry. “If it is necessary to remind the middle class and working class that the rich are not their enemies, it is equally necessary to remind the most successful among us that their obligations are not to be measured in terms of their tax bills.” 

Phil Lenahan is the president of Veritas Financial Ministries ( and the author of “7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free” (OSV, $19.95). Submit questions for columns to