The Catholic Church’s teachings on economic justice became mainstream media conversation when Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate on the Republican ticket for the 2012 election. Ryan is the author of the much-talked-about “Ryan Plan,” a federal budget proposal that includes cuts in tax rates for big income earners and corporations, as well as significant cuts to government spending on social services such as Medicare and aid to the poor, including Medicaid and food stamps. A practicing Catholic, Ryan claims his plan is inspired by his faith and in particular by the doctrine of Catholic Social Teaching (CST). This claim drew strong criticism on several Catholic fronts, among them the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which said that Ryan’s budget plan “fails to meet” the moral criteria of CST. In spite of this criticism, Ryan maintains that his plan does indeed adhere to CST’s primary tenets.
We are led then to some basic questions: What is Catholic Social Teaching, and what does it say about the economy? Is the Ryan Plan truly in accordance with CST, or is Ryan’s claim a political maneuver or misreading? Is there room for debate on what CST is? The answers to many of these questions and more can be found in The Almighty and the Dollar, edited by Mark J. Allman. More than twenty-five years ago, the U.S. Catholic bishops wrote Economic Justice for All, a pastoral letter devoted to economic issues. In this letter the bishops engaged both scripture and CST to outline the Christian demands of economic justice. The Almighty and the Dollar draws on the ethical principles the bishops articulated in Economic Justice for All and applies them to contemporary topics such as welfare reform, racism, globalization, and other key issues. The volume begins with substantial excerpts from the original letter itself and includes chapters on some of the basic principles of CST. The release of this informative volume could not come at a more opportune time, a time when Catholic Social Teaching and public policy have become part of the national discussion.