The economic news this past week has been impossible to ignore. We are bombarded with politicians, economists, pundits, journalists, and “experts” who have, in the space of a few days, declared “capitalism is dead” and “we’re on the march to socialism.”
So this morning’s question is, “what does the Church teach about economics?” The Catechism of the Catholic Church has an entire section entitled “Economic Activity and Social Justice” where this is discussed. The Catechism begins:
The development of economic activity and growth in production are meant to provide for the needs of human beings. Economic life is not meant solely to multiply goods produced and increase profit or power; it is ordered first of all to the service of persons, of the whole man, and of the entire human community. Economic activity, conducted according to its own proper methods, is to be exercised within the limits of the moral order, in keeping with social justice so as to correspond to God’s plan for man (#2426).
Here the Catechism points out what my fifth grade catechism class knows: we are not slaves to money. The message of the Church is precisely the opposite of Michael Douglas’ famous line from the 1987 movie Wall Street, “Greed is good”.
Of course, the Church is no fan of socialism either: “The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modem times with “communism” or “socialism.” She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of “capitalism,” individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor” (Catechism, #2425).
So, where are we so far, “socialism” (aka “communism” or “Marxism”) — where the State is in the business of re-distributing wealth and eliminating the market — is “right out”, as Monty Python would have said. Likewise, a capitalistic system where the worker is exploited and the market left completely to the law of the jungle doesn’t fit in with Catholic Social Teaching either. So what’s left and what’s right (pun intended)?
The Church always prefers freedom over restraint. She favors a free market system with appropriate regulation that safeguards the dignity of the individual and the family, yet allows for the free exercise of trade. “Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended” (Catechism, #2425).
The Catechism continues,
“Economic activity, especially the activity of a market economy, cannot be conducted in an institutional, juridical, or political vacuum. On the contrary, it presupposes sure guarantees of individual freedom and private property, as well as a stable currency and efficient public services. Hence the principal task of the state is to guarantee this security, so that those who work and produce can enjoy the fruits of their labors and thus feel encouraged to work efficiently and honestly. . . . Another task of the state is that of overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector. However, primary responsibility in this area belongs not to the state but to individuals and to the various groups and associations which make up society” (#2431).
Note the last sentence…the primary responsibility…belongs not to the state but individuals… Government should do what government must, but only what it must. The individual, and by extension the family, have the first responsibility for acting in society.
Ok, so what did we learn?
Neither socialism nor unfettered capitalism are consistent with Catholic Social Teaching; and the individual and the family have the first responsibility to enact social justice and economic justice in society. The state is not to be in the business of controlling the economy by excessively removing freedom…and the economy should serve society not vice versa.
As we near the elections this November, that’s a good thought to reflect upon.