Monday, June 18, 2012

"Civilizing the Economy"

More posts about "Caritas in Veritate" (Charity in Truth)
"Caritas in Veritate"

My take on Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical letter may make me look like a raving liberal, a hidebound conservative, or someone who is so 'moderate' that he's got no values at all.

I'm 'none on the above.' I'm a practicing Catholic.

'Moderate?' Me?!

I posted about laissez-faire economics and getting a grip a couple weeks ago. (June 4, 2012) Although I get called a conservative now and then, and understand why that happens, my position isn't quite conservative. It's not liberal, either, and I'm certainly not 'moderate:'
Enough about me.

"A System With Three Subjects"

Looks like Pope John Paul II "spoke of the need for a system with three subjects: the market, the State and civil society:"
  • The market
  • The State
  • Civil society
    ("Caritas in Veritate," 38)
What's meant by "the market," (economic activity); and "the State," (government activity); seem pretty clear to me. I'm assuming that "civil society" means 'everything else' that folks do. I skimmed quickly through "Centesimus Annus," the document Benedict XVI cited, and didn't run into anything that contradicts my assumption. Moving on.
"...He [John Paul II] saw civil society as the most natural setting for an economy of gratuitousness and fraternity, but did not mean to deny it a place in the other two settings. Today we can say that economic life must be understood as a multi-layered phenomenon: in every one of these layers, to varying degrees and in ways specifically suited to each, the aspect of fraternal reciprocity must be present...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 38)
I've run into "gratuitousness" before. (June 4, 2012, January 24, 2010)

Economic Democracy in the Global Era

"...In the global era, economic activity cannot prescind from gratuitousness, which fosters and disseminates solidarity and responsibility for justice and the common good among the different economic players. It is clearly a specific and profound form of economic democracy...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 38)
"Prescind?" "Disseminates?" "Gratuitousness?" Dictionary time. "Mutualist" shows up later in this post:
  • Disseminate (verb)
    • Cause to become widely known
      (Princeton's WordNet)
  • Gratuitous (adjective)
    • Without cause
    • Costing nothing
    • Unnecessary and unwarranted
      (Princeton's WordNet)
  • Gratuitousness (noun)
    • The state or characteristic of being gratuitous
  • Mutualist (adjective)
    • Mutually dependent
      (Princeton's WordNet)
  • Prescind (verb)
    • Separate or divide in thought
    • Consider individually
    • Withdraw one's attention
I think this is a fairly good paraphrase of that last excerpt:
'...In the global era, economic activity can't be separated from gratuitousness (doing something that's not required). Gratuitousness promotes the growth of a union of interests, purposes, and sympathies among different economic players. Gratuitousness is clearly a specific and extremely effective form of economic democracy....'

The Government Ought to Do Something?'

I think it's easy to feel that problems can be solved by a government program, new regulation, or Constitutional amendment. It's also possible to feel that if governments didn't exist, we wouldn't have problems.

I've learned to be wary of 'help' from government agencies. But I'm also convinced that, like it or not, we need some sort of secular authority. (March 12, 2011)

Taken by itself, I could pretend that "cannot ... be ... delegated to the State" shows unqualified approval of a laissez-faire policy, but I'd leaving out some vital ideas:
"...Solidarity is first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone[93], and it cannot therefore be merely delegated to the State...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 38)
The idea that everyone should have a sense of responsibility with regard to everyone is not new:
A sense of personal responsibility went out of fashion about a half-century back, at least in America. That's changed, and I think the notion that individuals can and are accountable for what they (we) do is working its way back into my homeland's culture. And that's almost another topic.

First Things First

"...While in the past it was possible to argue that justice had to come first and gratuitousness could follow afterwards, as a complement, today it is clear that without gratuitousness, there can be no justice in the first place...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 38)
I'm quite willing to think "that without gratuitousness, there can be no justice." I think that without a willingness to do what's right, without immediate reward or penalty, any sort of 'justice' would rapidly become an arbitrary set of rules. I'm reminded of "zero tolerance," that was popular not long ago.

Justice, by the way, comes in at least four varieties: commutative; legal; distributive; and social. (Catechism, 1928-1944, 2411) (June 4, 2012)

What's Next?

Here's what Benedict XVI says we need:
  • A market permitting
    • Enterprises that pursue different goals
      • With free operation
      • In conditions of equal opportunity
  • Private enterprise
    • Profit-oriented
  • Commercial entities
    • Based on mutualist principles
    • Pursuing social ends
    ("Caritas in Veritate," 38)
I'm not sure what he means by 'commercial entities based on mutualist (mutually dependent) principles. My guess is that existing non-profit outfits are close to what those 'commercial entities' would be.

What Benedict XVI describes doesn't look like 19th century America, or the welfare state that came later. That's fine with me, since I sincerely do not want to go back to the 'good old days.' (March 14, 2012)

Profit is Okay: And there are Higher Goals

I think this approach to planning the 21st century - and beyond - makes sense:
"...It is from their reciprocal encounter in the marketplace that one may expect hybrid forms of commercial behaviour to emerge, and hence an attentiveness to ways of civilizing the economy. Charity in truth, in this case, requires that shape and structure be given to those types of economic initiative which, without rejecting profit, aim at a higher goal than the mere logic of the exchange of equivalents, of profit as an end in itself."
("Caritas in Veritate," 38)
The idea of building an economy "without rejecting profit," while aiming "at a higher goal" is, I think, reasonable. It doesn't fit into extremes of conservative or liberal philosophies: but I doubt very much that Benedict XVI was trying to shove Catholic teaching into one of those contemporary philosophical pigeonholes.

For two millennia, the Church has been explaining principles like 'love God, love your neighbor, everybody's your neighbor' to folks who probably were as skeptical as the fellow who wrote that "Caritas in Veritate" was "purposefully vague."

What the Church teaches was radical two thousand years ago. It's radical today. I suspect it will be 'out of step' with whatever's popular two thousand years from now.

One task at hand today is deciding how the new global economy develops. There's almost nothing I can do to alter the course of world affairs. But I can share what I'm learning, and as a private citizen I can:
  • Take an active part in public life
    (Catechism, 1915)
  • Contribute to the good of society
    • In a spirit of
      • Truth
      • Justice
      • Solidarity
      • Freedom
    (Catechism, 2239)
Related posts:


Brigid said...

You sure? Because that's the definition you use for Mutualist: "Gratuitous (adjective)

Mutually dependent"

And the block quote after this isn't formatted the way you usually have them: "I think this is a fairly good paraphrase of that last excerpt:"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...



Fixed, and adjusted.

Wow. Thanks for catching that.

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