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The Happy Priest: The Case for a Free Market Economy
By Fr. James Farfaglia
October 24th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
From Wall Street to the international protests that fill the news, the cacophony of slogans, anger and ideologies all need a response from the social teachings of the Catholic Church. When we look to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church we will find an objective source of answers for the present turbulent economic crisis. The social teaching of the Catholic Church does not have a problem with a free market economy.
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - From Wall Street to the international protests that fill the news, the cacophony of slogans, anger and ideologies all need a response from the social teachings of the Catholic Church. When we look to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church we will find an objective source of answers for the present turbulent economic crisis.
First, the social teaching of the Catholic Church does not have a problem with a free market economy.
"The free market is an institution of social importance because of its capacity to guarantee effective results in the production of goods and services. Historically, it has shown itself able to initiate and sustain economic development over long periods. There are good reasons to hold that, in many circumstances, the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs. The Church's social doctrine appreciates the secure advantages that the mechanisms of the free market offer, making it possible as they do to utilize resources better and facilitating the exchange of products. These mechanisms above all give central place to the person's desires and preferences, which, in a contract, meet the desires and preferences of another person" (Compendium, 347).
Secondly, the social teaching of the Church does not have a problem with people who are successful in their business endeavors. The Gospels speak clearly about the use and development of our personal talents. Wealth and success are not a problem. The problem is how we use the goods that we accumulate.
"Goods, even when legitimately owned, always have a universal destination; any type of improper accumulation is immoral, because it openly contradicts the universal destination to all goods by the Creator. Christian salvation is an integral liberation of man, which means being freed not only from need but also in respect to possessions. 'For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith' (1 Timothy 6: 10). The Fathers of the Church insist more on the need for the conversion and transformation of the consciences of believers than on the need to change the social and political structures of their day. They call on those who work in the economic sphere and who possess goods to consider themselves administrators of the goods that God has entrusted to them" (Compendium, 328).
Our contemporary society is filled with many examples of those who only think of themselves. These are the Ebenezer Scrooges of our own times. Completely self-absorbed, they are obsessed with money, power and possessions, unable to even notice the needs of others.
However, at the same time, there are many examples of successful and wealthy business people who use their wealth for the good of others. They produce jobs and they use their resources to create charitable institutions that service the needs of humanity. It is not difficult to recognize the magnificent schools and hospitals that wealthy and successful people have established for the good of humanity.
"Economic activity and material progress must be placed at the service of man and society. If people dedicate themselves to these with the faith, hope and love of Christ's disciples, even the economy and progress can be transformed into places of salvation and sanctification. In these areas too it is possible to express a love and a solidarity that are more than human, and to contribute to the growth of a new humanity that anticipates the world to come. Jesus sums up all of revelation in calling the believer to become rich before God (cf. Luke 12: 21). The economy too is useful to this end, when its function as an instrument for the overall growth of man and society, of the human quality of life, is not betrayed" (Compendium, 326.2).
The Church's social teaching affirms that there must be a relationship between the economy and morality. An economy, especially an economy driven by a free market, without morality, would become chaotic. Greed and egoism would take over rather than solidarity, justice and the concern for all peoples, especially the poor.
"The moral dimension of the economy shows that economic efficiency and the promotion of human development in solidarity are not two separate or alternative aims but one indivisible goal. Morality, which is a necessary part of economic life, is neither opposed to it nor neutral: if it is inspired by justice and solidarity, it represents a factor of social efficiency with the economy itself. The production of goods is a duty to be undertaken in an efficient manner, otherwise resources are wasted. On the other hand, it would not be acceptable to achieve economic growth at the expense of human beings, entire populations or social groups, condemning them to indigence. 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. These structures are built and strengthened by numerous concrete acts of human selfishness" (Compendium, 332).
As a final part of our consideration, the social teaching of the Catholic Church does affirm also that there is a proper relationship between the State and the economy. Any economy, especially a market driven economy, will need some kind of regulation and intervention from the State in order to guarantee individual freedom, private property, a stable currency and stable public services.
"To fulfill this task, the State must adopt suitable legislation but at the same time it must direct economic and social policies in such a way that it does not become abusively involved in the various market activities, the carrying out of which is and must remain free of authoritarian - or worse - totalitarian - superstructures and constraints" (Compendium, 352).
When it comes to the relationship between the State and the economy, there are two fundamental principles from the social teaching of the Church that always need to be in place. These two principles are the principle of subsidiarity and the principle of solidarity.
"The action of the State and of other public authorities must be consistent with the principle of subsidiarity and create situations favorable to the free exercise of economic activity. It must also be inspired by the principle of solidarity and establish limits for the autonomy of the parties in order to defend those who are weaker. Solidarity without subsidiarity, in fact, can easily degenerate into a 'Welfare State,' while subsidiarity without solidarity runs the risk of encouraging forms of self-centered localism. In order to respect both of these fundamental principles, the State's intervention in the economic environment must be neither invasive nor absent, but commensurate with society's real needs. The State has a duty to sustain business activities by creating conditions which will ensure job opportunities, by stimulating those activities where they are lacking or by supporting them in moments of crisis. The State has the further right to intervene when particular monopolies create delays or obstacles to development. In addition to the tasks of harmonizing and guiding development, in exceptional circumstances the State can also exercise a substitute function" (Compendium, 351).
Father James Farfaglia is the pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, Texas. Visit Father James on the web and purchase his new book Get Serious! A Survival Guide for Serious Catholics. Father has a hard hitting blog called Illegitimi non carborundum. You can contact Father James at email@example.com.
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