Monday, June 11, 2012

"The Logic of the Unconditional Gift"

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

I ran into a familiar attitude in an online conversation over the weekend. Someone asserted that a particular high-profile business owner must be dishonest: otherwise, how could he have been so successful?

Maybe the 'rich people are all crooks' attitude is rooted in:
It's obvious that some folks run businesses and don't behave ethically. But I don't think that running a business makes someone become a crook. Or that only ethically-challenged people go into business.

I think it's like wealth. Having money isn't a problem. It's loving money that gets us in trouble:
"For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains."
(1 Timothy 6:10)

"Let your life be free from love of money but be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never forsake you or abandon you.'"
(Hebrews 13:5)

"Every Economic Decision has a Moral Consequence"

"The Church's social doctrine has always maintained that justice must be applied to every phase of economic activity, because this is always concerned with man and his needs. Locating resources, financing, production, consumption and all the other phases in the economic cycle inevitably have moral implications. Thus every economic decision has a moral consequence...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 37)
Since quite a few folks seem to think that "morality" is strictly about sexual ethics, I often write "ethical" when the word "moral" could be used. (June 3, 2011) The "moral consequences" Benedict XVI writes about here aren't limited to zipper issues. Moving on.

There's more in that paragraph, about the social sciences, and an extremely quick look at wealth creation, government, and politics. The bottom line there is that today we've got an economy that's global, "while the authority of governments continues to be principally local." ("Caritas in Veritate," 37)

"Local" Governments, and a Καθολικός Church

I seriously doubt that Benedict XVI thinks we don't have government structures above the town or city level. The Catholic Church is literally universal, καθολικός: so even massive countries like the United States or China are "local" by comparison.

One point Benedict XVI makes is that, since economic activity tends to cover wider territories than governments, it's a good idea to "respect the canons [rules] of justice from the outset." That sounds like a good idea, even if we had an effective globe-spanning government.

Non-Profit Business - is Still Business

Benedict XVI also says:
"...Space also needs to be created within the market for economic activity carried out by subjects who freely choose to act according to principles other than those of pure profit, without sacrificing the production of economic value in the process. The many economic entities that draw their origin from religious and lay initiatives demonstrate that this is concretely possible...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 37)
I think that it's a very good idea to allow non-profit outfits to be in 'business.' They're not, in my opinion, merely "possible:" they can be a benefit to communities where they operate.

On the other hand, I think it's important to remember that ethics apply to non-profits: or should. Also common sense

Talking with folks who run for-profits, I learned that a significant number of their non-profit counterparts are hard to work with. Some non-profit operators seem to believe that they should be exempt from paying for goods and services. Or at least be given a substantial discount.

Asking for a discount, or accepting one when offered, is reasonable. Expecting or demanding one? That's another matter.

Justice - - -

These definitions of different sorts of justice were under the 'Economics and Justice' heading in last week's "Caritas in Veritate" post. (June 4, 2012) I figured it would be handy to re-post it: but I could be wrong about that. New content starts at the '- - - And the Spirit of Gift' heading, below.
  • Commutative justice
    • Regulates exchanges between persons and between institutions
      • In accordance with a strict respect for their rights
    • Without commutative justice, no other form of justice is possible
  • Legal justice
    • What the citizen owes in fairness to the community
  • Distributive justice
    • Regulates what the community owes its citizens
      • In proportion to their contributions and needs
    (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2411)
  • Social justice
    • Provides the conditions which allow associations and individuals to obtain their due
    • Involves respect for the human person
    • Recognizes
      • Equality
      • Differences among individuals
    (Catechism, 1928-1944)

- - - And the Spirit of Gift

I discussed "redistribution" last week. This isn't liberation theology, or a ringing endorsement of Laissez-faire economics. It is, however, very Catholic. (June 4, 2012)

I discussed the "principle of gratuitousness last week. The sort of economic logic involved in "the logic of the unconditional gift" seems to be that 'treating people right' is a good idea. Corny as that may sound, I think that idea is true.

Here's this post's last excerpt from "Caritas in Veriate:"
"...But it also needs just laws and forms of redistribution governed by politics, and what is more, it needs works redolent of the spirit of gift. The economy in the global era seems to privilege the former logic, that of contractual exchange, but directly or indirectly it also demonstrates its need for the other two: political logic, and the logic of the unconditional gift."
("Caritas in Veritate," 37)
I went over "Caritas in Veritate," 34, the introduction to this part of the encyclical, last month. You may find my take on 'uncalled-for charity' helpful. Or, not.
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