Monday, June 25, 2012

"The Market of Gratuitousness"

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

"Caritas in Veritate," 39, starts off with what I think is a reasonable and achievable goal:
"Paul VI in Populorum Progressio called for the creation of a model of market economy capable of including within its range all peoples and not just the better off...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 39)
I think a "market economy capable of including within its range all peoples and not just the better off" is an achievable goal because part of it has been achieved. Not perfectly, not completely, but a remarkable range of folks can participate in America's market.

America isn't perfect. But on the whole I like living here, and this weekend I learned another reason why folks still move to this country. Before getting to that, here's a quick look at what I think about 'patriotism' and all that:

Patriotism Can be Cheesy

(from Oddly Enough / photo by Lucas Jackson, Reuters, used w/o permission)

But I'm a practicing Catholic, so I have to be a good citizen. Which isn't the same as doing whatever the nearest ruler says. I'll put some background/reference stuff at the end of this post.1

Mom and Pop Business

My guess is that if I said "American manufacturers," many folks in this country would think of General Motors, or maybe Microsoft. There's more to the American economy than making cars and computers, though.

This weekend, my son-in-law learned that boutique manufacturers, the folks who make the sort of things you might buy in a gift store, are mostly mom and pop businesses. In terms of size, these manufacturers are 'mom and pop and a few employees in the shed out back.'

These folks aren't "just the better off," unless that's defined as earning enough money to pay the bills, with a little left over. Which was better off than my household has been a few times: and that's another topic.

My son-in-law was there to show buyers for retail outfits a new kind of candle. He and my second-oldest daughter own a boutique manufacturing company, They're in the 'mom and pop and growing' category. More topics. He sent me these snapshots of his spot at the trade show:

Bright lights, and folks looking at Spiral Light Candle products in Texas. June 2012.

Aaron McWilliams and candles. Lots of candles. His kind of candles. The Spiral Light kind. June 2012.

I used these photos earlier, in another blog:
Finally, before getting back to "Caritas in Veritate," the Spiral Light Candle website includes a 'store finder,' and an online store:

Local Views, the Universal View

This part of "Caritas in Veritate" discusses State intervention in markets, and redistribution. I think it's important to remember that the document is written for everybody, not just Americans. I've opined about Laissez-faire economics, the welfare state, and getting a grip, before. (June 4, 2012)

I think it's also a mistake to assume that the Catholic Church should take a currently-popular philosophical position. We're καθολικός, universal. That's why I wasn't surprised that Benedict XVI sees problems with at least two of today's political/philosophical preferences:
"...When both the logic of the market and the logic of the State come to an agreement that each will continue to exercise a monopoly over its respective area of influence, in the long term much is lost: solidarity in relations between citizens, participation and adherence, actions of gratuitousness, all of which stand in contrast with giving in order to acquire (the logic of exchange) and giving through duty (the logic of public obligation, imposed by State law)...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 39)

"Increasing Openness"

I doubt that anybody who embraces either the liberal or conservative politico-economic philosophies is going to like this:
"...In order to defeat underdevelopment, action is required not only on improving exchange-based transactions and implanting public welfare structures, but above all on gradually increasing openness, in a world context, to forms of economic activity marked by quotas of gratuitousness and communion....
("Caritas in Veritate," 39)
I'm an American, and remember quotas and other ham-handed efforts to force a sort of ersatz 'tolerance.' A school district in northern Minnesota got in trouble with America's federal government a few decades back. They 'refused' to integrate their school.

Eventually, someone in Washington found out that there really weren't enough of the 'right' sort of students to fill the school's quota. Not within a few hundred miles, anyway. Still more topics.

Using the word "quotas" really isn't the best way to get my sympathy.

Instead of ranting about impossible demands imposed by clueless bureaucrats, I think looking at the rest of that paragraph is a good idea.

"Attitudes ... cannot be established by law"

It's a good thing I didn't start that rant. I'd have had to delete it - or decide to ignore what came next. The first would be a waste of time; the second, a bad idea on several levels.

I think this makes sense:
...The exclusively binary model of market-plus-State is corrosive of society, while economic forms based on solidarity, which find their natural home in civil society without being restricted to it, build up society. The market of gratuitousness does not exist, and attitudes of gratuitousness cannot be established by law. Yet both the market and politics need individuals who are open to reciprocal gift."
("Caritas in Veritate," 39)
"Gratuitousness" shows up fairly often in Benedict XVI's encyclical letter. It means "the state or characteristic of being gratuitous." (Wiktionary) Big help. Gratuitous means doing something without cause, accepting that something can costs nothing. (Princeton's WordNet) (June 18, 2012).

"Open to Reciprocal Gift"

After taking a look at what Benedict XVI wrote, I learned that I wasn't going to have to adjust my views all that much

Here's what I got, after prying that last excerpt apart. I've rephrased some of the text, like substituting "hurts" for "is corrosive of."
  • The exclusively binary model of market-plus-State hurts society
  • Economic forms based on solidarity
    • Find their natural home in civil society
      • Without being restricted to it
    • Build up society
  • The market of gratuitousness does not exist
    • Attitudes of gratuitousness cannot be established by law
  • Individuals who are open to reciprocal gift are needed by
    • The market
    • Politics

The Status Quo isn't Good Enough

I've said this before: I've got the teaching authority of "some guy with a blog." I think I'm on pretty safe ground with this set of assertions, though:
  • Today's economic status quo isn't acceptable
    • It's got to change
  • Systems with only the State and the market
    • Hurt
      • People
      • Society
    • Don't work
  • The "market of gratuitousness"
    • Doesn't exist
      • Yet
    • Is
      • Better than what we've got
      • Possible
    • Can't be forced by law
    • Requires people who are open to reciprocal gift in
      • The market
      • Politics
Do I think the "market of gratuitousness" will come in my lifetime? No. Benedict XVI said the "market of gratuitousness" can't be forced into existence by law. I'm convinced that he's right. It won't happen until a lot of folks change their minds, and that will take time.

The Right Thing to Do

For a "market of gratuitousness" to exist, a sizable fraction of the world's 7,000,000,000 or neighbors will have to learn a new way of thinking. We need to to see uncalled-for generosity as a good idea. We need to accept giving without coercion or immediate reward.

I think that's possible: not easy, but possible. I've seen people 'doing what's right,' just because it's right, on small scales.

When I lost my job several years back, some folks in town helped my family and me make ends meet while we worked out how to pay the bills. We hadn't asked for help. They didn't need to act as they did: but came to our aid, anyway.

A half-century ago, America was finally making long-overdue changes in how Americans treated each other. Some of that change was driven by folks around my age.

I was one of 'those crazy kids' who were less interested in getting paid, and more interested in doing what was right. Other Americans around my age were equally convinced that military service was the right thing to do: even though it was unpopular, dangerous, and didn't pay as well as civilian careers.2

The changes we got didn't go as well as I'd hoped, putting it mildly. However, I remember the 'good old days,' and am glad that attitudes like 'she's as smart as a man' and customs like 'back of the bus' for folks who didn't look WASPish enough are gone.

America is changing again - or still. This time around, I think we may do a better job. I hope and pray that this is so.

Related posts:

1 Here's the "background/reference stuff at the end of this post:"
  • Basic rules
  • Freedom
    • Support religious freedom
      (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2104-2109)
      • For everybody
        (Catechism, 2106)
  • Citizenship
    • "Citizens should take an active part in public life"
      (Catechism, 1915)
    • A citizen's duty is to
      • Contribute to the good of society in a spirit of
        • Truth
        • Justice
        • Solidarity
        • Freedom
        (Catechism, 2239)
      • Submit to legitimate authorities
        (Catechism, 2239)
        • Pay taxes
        • Exercise the right to vote
        • Defend one's country
          (Catechism, 2240)
    (Catechism, 2238-43, 2255)
  • Government
    • "Every human community needs an authority
      to govern it"
      (Catechism, 1898)
    • This authority
      • "Must not behave in a despotic manner"
      • "Must act for the common good as a"-
        • Moral force based on
          • Freedom and
          • A sense of responsibility
      (Catechism, 1902)
    • "Authority is exercised legitimately only"-
      • When it seeks the common good of the group concerned and
      • If it employs morally licit means to attain it
      (Catechism, 1903)
    • "If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience"
      • "In such a case, 'authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse.' "
      (Catechism, 1903)
Despite what you may have read, the Catholic Church doesn't tell Catholics to follow orders that are "contrary to the moral order." (Catechism, )
Here's part of what the Church says about citizens and rogue leaders:
"The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. 'Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.'48 'We must obey God rather than men':49
"When citizens are under the oppression of a public authority which oversteps its competence, they should still not refuse to give or to do what is objectively demanded of them by the common good; but it is legitimate for them to defend their own rights and those of their fellow citizens against the abuse of this authority within the limits of the natural law and the Law of the Gospel.50"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2242)
2 Yes, I know about the draft. I also know that after it ended in this country, many Americans still realized that defending their country was a good idea. Apparently some folks didn't get the memo:

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.