Conclusion: What happens when the American dream does not measure up?

It is virtually impossible to grow up in the United States without absorbing, at some level, the notion of the American dream, the myth that structures our national approach to work and play. The American dream makes it clear that hard work, done properly, opens the way to happiness. But the inaccessibility of the dream to many, and the blatantly unfair way it plays out in American society, is an open secret in public conversation and economic policy-making.

Radical sufficiency, a landmark book by Christine Firer Hinze, addresses the very real shortcomings of this national myth, not simply highlighting how it marginalizes the experiences of people and communities marginalized by social structures, practices and institutions; it also suggests what churches and policymakers could do about it. In the process, Hinze convincingly describes the contours of a “twenty-first century economic ethic that situates the pursuit of livelihoods within a larger vision of enduring ‘radical sufficiency’ for each person, and for all. “

To build his argument, Hinze offers a sustained examination of Msgr’s thinking and advocacy. John A. Ryan (1869-1945). Priest, economist and social activist, Ryan drew deeply on Catholic social teaching to address the turn-of-the-century struggles facing working-class families, especially Catholic families. During the rise of the modern market economy, Ryan probed the traditions of Catholicism to offer a serious account of the material measures of what it means to live a “good life.” Ultimately a strong supporter of a decent livelihood for all families, Ryan articulated a reform agenda that reflected the themes of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical “Rerum NovarumAnd promoted a living wage, security against the vicissitudes of life and status for all in the work environment. He believed that his program was “radical enough” to effect the necessary changes in the American economic system to achieve these goals.

Radical sufficiency engages the very real flaws in our national myth.

But Hinze pushes Ryan’s approach further. It advances the tradition by engaging in deep structural analysis, taking seriously the intersecting ways in which power acts in labor justice and the achievement of material well-being. In his hands, sin and solidarity take on a lively and robust meaning; and she is tirelessly dedicated to promoting the development of all, but especially those who are poor or vulnerable in the United States of the 21st century. Hinze calls his vision “radical sufficiency” – a conception of economic sufficiency, security and status that is virtually transformative and inclusive of all people. It is also attentive to ‘critical evidence-based disciplines and analyzes for understanding material, ideological and structural barriers to inclusive livelihoods, particularly in power asymmetries and in intersecting and difference-based inequalities and oppression. “.

Hinze examines economic justice through the prism of gender, race and class. In each case, she skillfully elaborates the historical silhouettes of oppression at the personal, family and institutional levels that form the necessary backdrop for an honest and adequate account of workers’ justice. Her gender analysis examines the distribution of public (paid) and private (unpaid) work, highlighting the ways in which gender ideology has negatively influenced full access to the wage economy. The division has too often been baptized by Catholic teachings which idealize the “female genius” of caregiving, a theological construct that works to rob women of their economic power.

Hinze examines economic justice through the prism of gender, race and class.

Further, Hinze notes how our Western capitalist system itself constructs such gender assumptions in hiring and other work practices. It specifies for example: “Masculinized Homo economic, the ideal unencumbered worker, is a mythical creature; its performance in public economic arenas continually depends on the non-mythical material toil and care work of a cadre of supporters in the family home and beyond.

However, she does not denigrate the work of a caregiver; on the contrary, it deftly manages to highlight its status as an “exercise of solidarity with and for the vulnerable” while also highlighting the ways in which a just economy depends on fair remuneration for such work – and the need to all people, not mainly women, to get involved.

Hinze undertakes an equally robust analysis of race, skillfully tracing the history of racist and white supremacist ideologies as these have become integrated into American social structures and models. She calls for a thoughtful solidarity that questions the ways in which economic dialogue works to ignore or exclude particular racialized groups, and promotes the creation of larger narratives that unite rather than divide. In his class review, Hinze also demonstrates how the relative socio-economic position both stems from and contributes to the deepening of the divisions of wealth and power in the United States.

Hinze stressed the importance of caregiving as an “exercise of solidarity with and for vulnerable people”.

Too often, Hinze says, American Catholics have participated in these different kinds of dividing lines rather than resisted them. They may have been more successful, however, in the realm of mass consumerism, where Hinze highlights how at least some Catholic thinkers, especially since the beginning of Francis’ papacy, began to promote genuine sufficiency. for all rather than uncontrolled corporatism and the consumer. growth. Here again, it focuses on overlapping race and gender concerns with dysfunctional consumption patterns, also adding ecological degradation and the need for healthy and democratic civilian life.

In her final chapter, Hinze outlines the fundamental changes needed – virtues, priorities, policies and practices – to light the path to a truly inclusive livelihood economy. It puts forward various concrete proposals including, but not limited to, living wages, enhanced social programs, a guaranteed or universal basic income combined with deflationary market wage floors and a version of social entrepreneurship. which prioritizes the common good.

Throughout this analysis, Hinze brings both a Catholic awareness (and commitment to) of sacramentality and a relentless scrutiny of gender, race, and class. The result is a hopeful yet heartbreaking book, a tale of our day-to-day work and civic relations that sheds light on their connection to the divine while also highlighting ways the American Dream can be more like a nightmare. for those for whom it is structurally inaccessible. It is a book that will appeal to academics as well as laymen. Local parishes seeking to deepen their understanding and commitment to workers’ justice, the common good and family well-being will find rich cuisine here. And individual readers from various walks of life who are looking for benchmarks to more fully elaborate the commitments of Catholic social teaching will also find something to work on here.

It should also be noted that Radical sufficiency is not a book reserved for Catholics. Hinze’s analysis also serves as an invitation to ecumenical dialogue. Together Christians must reflect, both imaginatively and concretely, on what justice and healthy and inclusive livelihoods demand of us, in the context of a world deeply threatened by both local and local injustices. global, or in the face of an impending environmental disaster.


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