The following comes from a Jan. 11 article in the National Catholic Reporter.

[National Catholic Reporter] Editor’s note: This talk, titled “Three Kinds of Erroneous Autonomy,” was delivered Jan. 10 at the symposium “Erroneous Autonomy: The Dignity of Work” organized by the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, Washington D.C.

…. We are poised to witness in the United States a return to public policy which moves aggressively to establish market mechanisms within ever more expansive realms of national life. It will begin with eliminating the restrictions which have been placed upon markets after the Great Recession to guard against a recurrence of the plundering of the American economy by market-based manipulations. Then it will move to repealing policies which have been enacted to safeguard the environment and public health and safety. Even now, “free market solutions” for our national programs that provide vital income and health care for the elderly and the marginalized are gaining increasing traction because they de-link these safety nets from the anchor of existing benefit levels and through market mechanisms over time will decrease costs and, of course, decrease the substance of the benefits. Finally, the swing of the free market pendulum is accompanied by a coordinated effort to roll back wage and benefit structures for workers, as well as health and safety standards and the critically important rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively.

It is vital to recognize that free markets have a vital role to play in the creation of wealth, the generation of jobs, and the advancement of human dignity. One of the great additions to Catholic social teaching in the last half century was the increased appreciation for market mechanisms as a source of good in the world economy.

But as Catholic social teaching has made clear in every moment of the modern era, free markets do not constitute a first principle of economic justice. Their moral worth is only instrumental in nature and must be structured by society and government to accomplish the common good. In Centesimus Annus, the very encyclical in which John Paul II integrated into Catholic social teaching an enhanced evaluation of the power of markets for good, he made absolutely clear that any market system must be “circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious.” The sustained conviction of Catholic doctrine is that the dignity of the human person is the mean and the measure of every system and institution, and that markets must be structured to reflect that perspective.

Pope Francis has confronted unequivocally the movement which ignores the instrumental nature of free markets and instead claims for markets ever greater autonomy from the criterion of the common good. He has condemned this movement as the sacralization of markets, a sacralization which posits a normative presumption that markets automatically function for the benefit of society, when in many instances they erode the very foundations of human freedom, justice and dignity.

 The church must work in the coming months with unions, workers, the elderly and the poor to counter the growing imperialism of market mechanisms within American public life….