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Put human dignity not profit first, Rubio says

shutterstock 3641949832 Sen. Marco Rubio addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2014. / Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock

Economic policy and debate should prioritize people and the dignity of work, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) argued in an article published Monday. 

Writing for the magazine First Things, Rubio cited Catholic social teaching and Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum novarum while reflecting that profit and human concern have drifted apart.

“Economic stability for working-class families is not a feature of today’s economy,” the senator wrote. “Business profits have become increasingly estranged from production and employment.”

Rubio cited international business interests and a globalized economy as twin pressures on domestic production and employment, as companies act to leverage domestic resources and assets for more speculative growth.

“When dignified work is lost or unattainable, it corrodes the human spirit. Recent years have seen the destruction of jobs that provided a way of life for families and communities for generations,” Rubio said.

“The dignity of work, the Church instructs us through documents like Rerum novarum, is not just the concerns of individuals. It is the concern of communities and nations to provide productive labor to their people.”

Rubio said the promise of a new economy, often based around casual or flexible so-called gig employment, has largely failed to materialize, and that “the new fabric of American work” is too thin to sustain people. 

The economic and political failure to prioritize the creation and sustaining of “dignified work” through investment now presents “serious problems,” he said, directly impacting the family life of many in the United States, and driving population losses in rural and mid-urban parts of the country. “Entire regions have been hollowed out,” the senator said.

Rubio went on to criticize the level of political discourse in response to serious problems at the ground level, saying that many politicians limit public debate to abstract economic models and principles.

“Compare a politics dedicated to restoring the dignity of work to the contemporary interest in abstract concepts like ‘democratic socialism.’ Separated from the daily lives of most Americans, where the most important decisions are how to raise children and make ends meet, elite-level politics asks people which abstract economic system they affirm.”

Terms like capitalism and socialism have long histories and are important schools of thought, Rubio said, but they have been reduced to superficial indicators of party allegiance. In contrast he proposed drawing inspiration from the Church’s teaching.

“The Church’s tradition cuts across identitarian labels, insisting upon the inviolable right to private property and the dangers of Marxism, but also the essential role of labor unions,” Rubio said. "The Church emphasizes the moral duty of employers to respect workers not just as a means to profit, but as human persons and productive members of their community and nation.” 

“The tradition sees past our stale partisan categories and roots our politics in something larger: the inviolable dignity of every human person, the work he or she does, and the family life that work supports.”

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Citing the teaching of St. John Paul II, Rubio noted that “the obligation to earn one’s bread by the sweat of one’s brow also presumes the right to do so. A society in which this right is systematically denied, in which economic policies do not allow workers to reach satisfactory levels of employment, cannot be justified.” 

Proposing his own set of economic policy measures to rebalance the direction of the national economy towards human priorities, Rubio called for a rejection of “unserious and abstract debate” in favor of an economic discussion rooted in human dignity and reflective of the Church’s teachings.

“We must recover this wisdom and remember what economics is truly for.”

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