Monday, June 4, 2012

"Neither Ethically Neutral, nor Inherently Inhuman"

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

Economics and Reality: 'It Looked Good on Paper'

I'd like to believe that most of the world's ills could be solved by letting folks earn a living: and then letting us decide how we want to spend our money.

Even if that meant that one of my neighbors decided to spend it on hiring more folks, and another decided that re-siding his house was a good idea. And both made more than I did.

That sort of approach has been tried.

Laissez-faire economics looked good on paper, but didn't work as advertized, several 'good old days' back.

Economics, Ideology, and Me

I don't think dropping all government control of an economy is a good idea. But I don't think the 'regulate and tax everything' approach is a good idea, either.

It's been tried: in a variety of flavors, sometimes with disastrous results. I think Russia and other parts of the Soviet Union will recover: but they've got a mess to clean up. My opinion.

'Obviously,' I'm a conservative. Other opinions and preferences of mine make it 'obvious' that I'm a liberal. Happily, nobody's accused me of being 'moderate,' and that's almost another topic.

I'm 'none of the above.' I'm a practicing Catholic. Some folks - conservative and otherwise - seem convinced that "conservative" and "Catholic" are equivalent terms. I've posted about that before:
As a Catholic who is serious about my faith I have to find out what the Church says about issues. That's more work than 'going with the flow,' and letting an attractive set of cultural assumptions determine my beliefs. But I think the effort's worth it.

Commercial Logic, the Common Good, and Redistribution

The first paragraph in section 36 of "Caritas in Veritate" starts by saying what won't solve social problems, and ends with a word I don't particularly like:
"Economic activity cannot solve all social problems through the simple application of commercial logic. This needs to be directed towards the pursuit of the common good, for which the political community in particular must also take responsibility. Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 36)
I have no trouble with the idea that all social problems can't be solved by using "commercial logic." Maybe "commercial logic" would be all it takes to solve social issues - if we didn't have original sin. That's not the way it is, so there's no practical reason for speculating what human beings would be like if what happened - hadn't.

I don't like the word "redistribution" in an economic context. Sure, there's unjust distribution of wealth. That, I think, is fairly obvious.

But solutions to that problem should not include the sort of "redistribution" that was popular for much of the 20th century. The idea of killing capitalistic oppressors until bourgeois blood flows in the streets seems a trifle lacking in love.

There I go, sounding "conservative" again.


Here's the last sentence of that paragraph, again:
"...Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 36)
Like I've said before, documents on the Holy See's website tend to be sincerely other than light reading. Let's pry that sentence apart, and see what it says.
  • Grave imbalances are produced when
    • Economic action
      • Conceived as an engine for wealth creation
        • Merely
    • Is detached from political action
      • Conceived as a means for pursuing justice
        • Through redistribution
That one sentence doesn't look like a ringing endorsement for either no-holds-barred capitalism, or down-with-the-oppressors socialism. Turns out, the Catholic Church says:
No wonder the fellow said "Caritas in Veritate" was "purposefully vague."

I don't see it that way: but I'm a practicing Catholic, and realize that there's more to the world than two contemporary political philosophies.

The Market: Permitting Encounter Between Persons

The word "market" gets used a lot in this part of "Caritas in Veritate." The term was defined in section 35:
"...the market is the economic institution that permits encounter between persons, inasmuch as they are economic subjects who make use of contracts to regulate their relations as they exchange goods and services of equivalent value between them, in order to satisfy their needs and desires...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 35)
Moving on.

Economy and Finance, Personal and Social Responsibility

I think I've got the gist of the second paragraph of "Caritas in Veritate," 36:

Economic action isn't the enemy of society.

The market, by itself, isn't a place where the strong subdue the weak: and mustn't turn into something like that.

Society doesn't have to protect itself from the market. The market doesn't involve or lead to the death of "authentically human relations."

The market can hurt folks: but the problem isn't the market, it's people. Specifically, "a certain ideology can make it so."

There's no such thing as a pure market - the market is shaped and given direction by cultural structures.

Economy and finance can be used badly when leaders are motivated by purely selfish ends.

Here's how the second paragraph ends:
"...Instruments that are good in themselves can thereby be transformed into harmful ones. But it is man's darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the instrument per se. Therefore it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 36) [emphasis mine]

Ethics Matter

Economic activity isn't bad, and it isn't an ethics-free zone:
"...The Church's social doctrine holds that authentically human social relationships of friendship, solidarity and reciprocity can also be conducted within economic activity, and not only outside it or 'after' it. The economic sphere is neither ethically neutral, nor inherently inhuman and opposed to society. It is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 36) [emphasis mine]
The idea that economic activity isn't "ethically neutral" reminds me of what the Church says about science and moral behavior. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2294) Anything a human being decides to do involves morality. (Catechism, 1749) That's "morality" meaning "ethics." As I've said before, there's more to morality than "morality."

"The Principle of Gratuitousness"

In the last paragraph of section 36, Benedict XVI says these are vital:
  • Traditional social ethics
    • Transparency
    • Honesty
    • Responsibility
  • In commercial relationships
    • The principle of gratuitousness
    • The logic of gift
      • As an expression of fraternity
I ran into "gratuitousness," the state of costing nothing or being unnecessary and unwarranted, earlier in "Caritas in Veritate." (May 21, 2012, January 24, 2010) In this case, I figure it's the "costing nothing" definition that applies.

Economic Logic and the Pope

Even if it wasn't the Pope saying that transparency, honesty, and responsibility, "cannot be ignored or attenuated," I'd agree.

Even the "principle of gratuitousness," applied to economic situations, makes sense to me. I've been in situations where, technically and legally, a merchant didn't have to 'give something away,' but did. In the short term, that's a loss for the merchant. In the long term, that sort of behavior often leads to 'repeat customers.'

Maybe this sounds corny, but 'treating folks right' pays off.

Here's how Benedict XVI wrote, after saying that we need transparency, honesty, responsibility, and the principle of gratuitousness:
"...This is a human demand at the present time, but it is also demanded by economic logic. It is a demand both of charity and of truth."
("Caritas in Veritate," 36)

Economics and Justice

I think the idea of justice is implied in ethical principles like honesty and responsibility. Last week I ran into several sorts of justice:
  • 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)
Next week, I'll be going through part of "Caritas in Veritate" that's about justice, economic activity, and moral consequences. It looks like I can't take the attitude of "politics stink," and not get involved.

And that's, naturally, yet another topic.

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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.