Catholic Social Doctrine: Morality and the Economy
be sought in an immoral manner, "at the expense of human beings, entire populations or social groups, condemning them to indigence." (Compendium, No. 332) This is rank utilitarianism. There is a moral limit to the cost/benefit analysis beyond which efficiency must not go.
So the Church gives its guarded approval of a market economy or free economy and even "capitalism" properly understood. Capitalism is a vague term, and so before approving of "capitalism," the Church defines what it understands as "capitalism."
"In the perspective of an integral and solidary development, it is possible to arrive at a proper appreciation of the moral evaluation that the Church's social doctrine offers in regard to the market economy or, more simply, of the free economy." "If by 'capitalism' is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property, and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector," then Church approves of capitalism. This form of capitalism the Church calls a "business economy," a "market economy," or simply a "free economy." (Compendium, No. 335)
The Church, however, does not approve of capitalism if it is understood to be "a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not 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." (Compendium, No. 335)
In other words, if capitalism is defined to exclude morals and religious values, it is not something the Church wants to be a part of. A dog-eat-dog capitalism is not her thing. She is not on the side of greed. She does not promote the vice the Greeks called pleonexia, defined as the desire to have more than one's share, the ruthless and boundless desire for more and more wealth. Cf. Col. 3:1-11; Luke 12:31-21.
While the Church does not begrudge self-interest insofar as it promotes the common good and is undertaken with justice and solidarity in mind, she does seek to distinguish that act from selfishness which seeks private benefit unjustly or in disregard of others.
"The growth of wealth, seen in the availability of goods and services, and the moral demands of an equitable distribution of these must inspire man and society as a whole to practice the essential virtue of solidarity, in order to combat, in a spirit of justice and charity, those 'structures of sin' wherever they may be found and which generate and perpetuate poverty, underdevelopment, and degradation." (Compendium, No. 333) Simply put, we may not get rich unjustly and at another person's expense.
"The economy has as its object the development of wealth and its progressive increase," and so the Church is not adverse--rather she encourages--economic activity. However, she rightly points out that wealth and its increase is something that is measured "not only in quantity, but also in quality." Wealth and progress are not reducible to "a mere process of accumulating goods and services." To be rich and vicious is not qualitatively wealthier or more conducive to happiness than to be poor and virtuous. There is wealth measurable in the specie, in the coin of virtue.
To suggest that the measure of wealth is quantitative only, and not qualitative also, is an error, in fact is a "treachery" that can enslave us. It leads to a "civilization of consumption" or a "civilization of consumerism." We thus become "slaves of possession" and "slaves of immediate gratification." (Compendium, No. 334) (quoting John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis, 28)
This is a life of vice, not virtue. It is a life unbecoming a man of good will, much less a Christian. Christians know that the sort of life that follows the motto "He who dies with the most toys wins" is a life of the fool. We should remember that possessions and gratification of the world's goods do not protect us from the fact that there will be one night where our soul shall be required of us, and then our toys mean nothing, absolutely nothing. (Cf. Luke 12:20)
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at email@example.com.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: economics, materialism, free market, market economy, social teaching, Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.
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