“Cathonomics: How Catholic Tradition Can Create a More Just Economy” by Anthony M. Annett. Georgetown University Press (Washington, 2022). 336 pp., $29.95.
Catholic social teaching, as it is known today, began with the papal encyclical “Rerum Novarum,” promulgated by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. Most of the popes since Leo have further defined this church teaching into a comprehensive way of looking at the entire world.
Anthony Annett, in his masterful work “Cathonomics,” argues persuasively that Catholic social teaching provides the framework for developing economic principles that will serve the world better than the current neoliberal ones do.
Annett, a Gabelli fellow at Fordham University and a senior adviser to the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, outlines the biblical roots of Catholic social teaching, showing how concern for the poor, for those most at risk and for the world in which we live are at the heart of the teachings of the prophets and especially of Jesus.
Annett’s examination of the teachings of Jesus related to the destructive power of debt are most convincing: Praying the Lord’s Prayer takes on new meaning once this perspective is understood.
Annett then shows how Catholic social teaching is also rooted in the theological thinking of St. Thomas Aquinas, who took the political thought of Aristotle and applied it to Christianity.
By connecting Catholic social teaching to the Bible and to foundational church teaching, Annett shows that rather than being a modern invention, Catholic social teaching is actually an ancient part of the very root of the Christian faith.
Annett explains clearly that the modern spelling out of this important teaching by recent popes is in response to the massive upheaval to societies around the world caused by the industrial and electronic ages.
Annett’s primary target in this book is the neoliberal economic policies that have shaped the world since the 1970s.
This approach, whose cornerstone teaching is “maximization of shareholder value,” undermines the idea of the common good and has created vast disparities in wealth between the poor and rich.
Annett carefully shows how and why neoliberal economic policies are detrimental to the well-being of the peoples of the world and to the earth itself.
Annett, who for 20 years served as speechwriter to the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, shows a mastery of his craft in this well-written and carefully argued work.
His presentation and explanation of economic terms and principles makes them easy to read and to understand. He clearly defines terms and offers easy-to-understand examples to make what has been referred to as “the dismal science” actually interesting.
The only thing missing from this excellent work are ideas for how we can move from a neoliberal economy to one founded on Catholic social teaching.
Annett provides the organizing principles for a Catholic social teaching-guided economy, just not how we might make that switch happen from the dominant neoliberal position. Perhaps that might be the grounds for his next book.
“Cathonomics” deserves to be included in the reading list for any course of study related to Catholic social teaching at every level from college, high school and parish discussion groups. It could easily be the source material for a foundations course at Catholic business schools.
Please read this book and discuss it at your parish and in your communities. You will find it a rewarding experience.
Mulhall writes from Louisville, Kentucky.
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