World Trade Organization and Catholic Social Teaching

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly



After the riots in Seattle a few weeks ago outside the meeting of the World Trade Organization, the economists and bureaucrats of the world were like a mule that gets hit on the head with a 2X4.  Their attention was redirected. 

The riots and the property damage were wrong, but there was a valid point to be made, as President Clinton himself pointed out in his speech to the WTO.

The point was this.  There is a lot more to be considered in the globalization of the economy than the making of money.  The talks between un-elected bureaucrats, corporate moguls and government agencies have to focus on more than just taxes and tariffs, trade barriers and subsidies.  They have to focus on people and what the economy does to the lives of people.

This point is nothing new.  The church has been making this point for over one hundred years in a great tradition of Catholic social teaching.  Unfortunately, hardly anybody, at least in the U.S., has been listening.  As Peter Henriot said, "Catholic social teaching is our best kept secret." 

Every since Pope Leo XIII wrote an encyclical on the condition of labor and condemned the exploitation of workers and defended their right to organize, the church has done a lot of reflecting on the question of what makes a society and an economy "moral."  Pius XI, John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II have all written extensively on the "social question."  The words of the encyclicals have changed lives and galvanized movements.  It is no accident that the workers' movement that liberated Poland was called "Solidarity" a word found frequently in the encyclicals and a particular favorite of John Paul II.

The fact that the two most important negotiators for the United States on these trade issues are both Catholics shows how lamentable it is that our Catholic schools don't teach Catholic social teaching to our students.

The United States' chief trade negotiator, Charlene Barshevsky and our Secretary of Commerce, William Daley, are both products of Catholic schools.  Ms. Barshevsky is a 1975 graduate of  Catholic University Law School in Washington, DC. Secretary  Daley is a 1966 graduate of  St. Ignatius High School in Chicago.  These are the two most important people in our government in formulating trade policy.  Yet seems to have made any of the moral questions about the economy front burner issues.

The lack of the moral dimension in these trade talks, which affect every human being on earth, is sad.  The lack of familiarity with the moral teaching of the church on such things as worker rights, slave labor, protection of the environment and the preservation of the family, on the part of Catholic schools graduates is a missed opportunity to change the world.  We have something important to say on this point and we have thought it out over the past 100 years.

The current trade negotiations show the importance of teaching our own people in our own schools the great Catholic Social Teaching.   We need to do a better job teaching the social issues of the church in the classroom, so that the moral questions will have a place at the negotiating table.  There are some things about an economy that cannot be measured in money or units of production.