Inside USD

Seeking “Common Good” During Economic Flux

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Federal efforts to end the economic recession and the rise of the Tea Party movement have renewed a debate in the United States about what constitutes “the common good.” But the notion of “the common good” also is a cornerstone of Catholic Social Thought that is found in analogous forms in other faiths.

On Tuesday night, the University of San Diego’s Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture and the School of Business Administration invited a panel of experts to reflect on the debate.

Stephen Conroy, associate professor of economics, (pictured, right), defined the common good as “considering the whole versus the good of an individual” and said the concept “stems from the dignity, unity and equality of all people.”

Aided by timelines and charts, he walked the audience through the history of the recent economic downturn, from its beginning in December 2007 through the official end of the recession in July 2009. He noted the crisis was met with a “big government” response which resulted in much “discontent” over government spending.

Referencing scripture as well as Church documents on Catholic social teaching, Conroy said the common good “is a multi-faceted concept.” Advocating the need to raise taxes to provide revenue for schools and other government programs, he said, “wealth can be viewed as almost a debt that you have to pay back to the least in society to promote the common good.”

A second keynote speaker, Denys Horgan, editor of the San Diego Catholic Worker, explained the philosophical tenets of the Catholic Worker Movement, founded in 1933 by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. Horgan identified support for the poor, advocacy for social justice and opposition to all wars as the movement’s enduring contribution to the common good.

Horgan advocated the elimination of all military spending and the transfer of those funds into “projects that will nurture the components of society that promote the common good. He described such a  proposal as a “no-brainer.”

Prior to the keynote addresses, several USD faculty members were asked to define “the common good” in their own words. Several said the concept was closely aligned with upholding human rights and the dignity of all persons.

“We would all do well to respect one another’s reasonable differences … and narrow our focus of the common good to these issues of human rights, justice and providing the basic social minimums,” said Lori Watson, PhD, assistant professor of philosophy.

Other panelists included Bahar Davary, PhD, associate professor of Theology and Religious Studies; Belinda Lum, PhD, assistant professor of sociology and Necla Tschirgi, PhD, visiting professor in the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies. Gerard Mannion, PhD, director of the Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture, moderated the discussion.

— Denis C. Grasska, ‘03

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