“Global capitalism has brought about an increase in inequality between the poor and rich regions of the world,” declared Agnes M. Brazal, S.T.L., S.T.D., on March 30 as she delivered the 2017 D’Angelo Chair Lecture at St. John’s University.
The lecture, entitled “Does Capitalism Kill? Critical Perspectives 50 Years after Populorum Progressio,” drew more than 100 students, faculty, and administrators to the D’Angelo Center on the Queens campus. Dr. Brazal also spoke on the topic at the Staten Island campus April 3.
Dr. Brazal is St. John’s 2017 Peter and Margaret A. D’Angelo Chair for the Humanities. Established in 2007, the Chair promotes excellence in teaching and scholarly exchange. An associate professor of theology and a research fellow at De la Salle University in Manila, Philippines, Dr. Brazal is a prolific scholar of theological ethics and their relationship to feminism, migration, and postcolonial issues.
The lecture made a tangible impression on students. “It contained such a powerful message,” observed Richard Tharp ‘17C. “No matter your background or beliefs, there is a sense that those less fortunate have suffered under this system.”
Safeguarding the Value of Life
Dr. Brazal told the audience that the aim of her lecture was to show a movement toward an economic model “beyond capitalism.” This is especially significant, she observed, given today’s context of increasing global inequality, climate change, and limits to growth.
Pope Paul VI’s 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio (“The Development of Peoples”) represents an important step toward that model. The document asserts that world economies should benefit all people, not merely the few. Its focus on economic justice presaged the ministry of Pope Francis, whom Dr. Brazal paraphrased: “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shall not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, we also have to say, ‘Thou shall not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality.”
It was Pope Paul VI’s travels to Latin America, Africa, Palestine, and India that inspired him to write the encyclical. In those countries, some newly independent, the Holy Father witnessed poverty and the struggle for development. Most of those nations were dependent on a one-crop economy. “The Pope,” Dr. Brazal said, “was concerned about the gap between the rapid progress of rich nations while poor nations lagged behind.”
Moving Multitudes Out of Poverty
Essentially, said Dr. Brazal, Pope Paul introduced the concept of “integral human development,” maintaining that economic advances cannot be limited to mere growth. Instead, they must promote the health of “the whole person.” The ultimate, therefore, is social progress.
The concepts outlined in Populorum Progressio are “remarkably relevant” today, Dr. Brazal concluded. “A market economy regulated by a state with social progress in mind has helped move multitudes of people out of poverty,” she stressed, adding that of all the subsequent Popes, Francis has been the most vocal in pointing to the need for new models of production and consumption to achieve that goal.
“The thinking of the Catholic Church around the question of capitalism finds one of its most comprehensive expressions in Populorum Progressio,” observed Rev. Patrick Griffin, C.M., Executive Director of the Vincentian Center for Church and Society. “Dr. Brazal’s presentation highlighted the important elements in Pope Paul’s encyclical and made many connections to other papal documents and contemporary thinkers.”