Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Morality and the Economy

THERE HAS BEEN A MODERN TENDENCY to put a rift between economics and morality. This was not always the case, as moral sentiments had traditionally been seen as a foundational part of the economic science and an increase in the wealth of nations. Economics was viewed as a moral science.

Beginning with the 19th century, starting with such thinkers as David Ricardo (1772-1823) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) and in earnest in William Stanley Jevons (1835-1882)and Alfred Marshall (1842-1924), however, the science of economics was progressively divided from morality and came to be viewed as a stand-alone natural or physical science that was empirically based, so as to be something akin to physics or chemistry with their natural laws which have no regard for morality. There is no right or wrong in the laws of thermodynamics. Nor was there right or wrong in the laws of economics. The market was governed by rational self-interest, and not morals. Political economy became economics. Some have called this process the "scientification" of economics.*

In her social doctrine, the Church insists that this separation of economics and morals is wrong and unwise. She insists on the classical and traditional link between morals and economics not be forgotten. "The Church's social doctrine insists on the moral connotations of the economy." (Compendium, No. 330). While the Church recognizes that economics has "its own principles in its own sphere" which is separate from moral science, she also insists that it is "an error to say that the economic and moral orders are so distinct from and alien to each other that the former depends in no way on the latter." (Compendium, No. 330) (quoting Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, 23). "The necessary distinction between morality and the economy does not entail the separation of these two spheres, but, on the contrary, an important reciprocity." (Compendium, No. 331)

As the Compendium puts it: "Just as in the area of morality one must take the reasons and requirements of economy into account, so too in the area of the economy one must be open to the demands of morality." (Compendium, No. 331) Economics must obtain values elsewhere than from economics. "[T]he purpose of the economy is not found in the economy itself, but rather in its being destined to humanity and society" since "man is the source, the center, and the purpose of all economic and social life." (Compendium, No. 331) (quoting Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, 63)

The Church insists that there is something greater than economics. A "meta-economic order" exists. Man does not live by bread alone. (Matt. 4:4, Luke 4:4) This seems to be just plain common sense. It is remarkable how this common sense eludes so many modernly.

"The relation between morality an economics is necessary, indeed intrinsic," continues the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, "economic activity and moral behavior are intimately joined one to the other." (Compendium, No. 331)

The fact that morality and the economy are intertwined does not mean that economic efficiency is not important. "The moral dimension of the economy shows that economy efficiency and the promotion of human development in solidarity are not two separate or alternative aims but one indivisible goal." (Compendium, No. 332). The term "economic efficiency" means a situation where it is impossible to increase general welfare from the available resources. In other words, any effort to make others better off will make others worse-off to the extent that the gains of one are offset by the losses of the other.

In fact, the Church recognizes that there is a moral duty to assuring "economic efficiency," as the "production of goods is a duty to be undertaken in an efficient manner, otherwise resources are wasted." The words "economic efficiency" quite clearly are a reference to the market economy or free economy. And yet "economic efficiency" has its limits. Economic efficiency cannot be sought in an immoral manner, "at the expense of human beings, entire populations or social groups, condemning them to indigence." (Compendium, No. 332) There is a moral limit to the cost/benefit analysis beyond which efficiency must not go.

So the Church gives its guarded approval of a market economy or free economy and even "capitalism" properly understood. Capitalism is a vague term, and so before approving of "capitalism," the Church defines what it understands as "capitalism."** "In the perspective of an integral and solidary development, it is possible to arrive at a proper appreciation of the moral evaluation that the Church's social doctrine offers in regard to the market economy or, more simply, of the free economy." "If by 'capitalism' is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property, and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector," then Church approves of capitalism. This form of capitalism the Church calls a "business economy," a "market economy," or simply a "free economy." (Compendium, No. 335)

While the Church does not begrudge self-interest insofar as it promotes the common good and is undertaken with justice and solidarity in mind, it does seek to distinguish that act from selfishness which seeks private benefit unjustly or in disregard of others. "The growth of wealth, seen in the availability of goods and services, and the moral demands of an equitable distribution of these must inspire man and society as a whole to practice the essential virtue of solidarity, in order to combat, in a spirit of justice and charity, those 'structures of sin' wherever they may be found and which generate and perpetuate poverty, underdevelopment, and degradation." (Compendium, No. 333) Simply put, we may not get rich at another person's expense.

"The economy has as its object the development of wealth and its progressive increase," and so the Church is not adverse--rather she encourages--economic activity. However, she rightly points out that wealth and its increase is something that is measured "not only in quantity, but also in quality." Wealth and progress are not reducible to "a mere process of accumulating goods and services." To be rich and vicious is not qualitatively wealthier or more conducive to happiness than to be poor and virtuous. There is wealth measurable in the specie of virtue.

To suggest that the measure of wealth is quantitative only, and not qualitative also, is an error, in fact is a "treachery" that can enslave us. It leads to a "civilization of consumption" or a "civilization of consumerism." We thus become "slaves of possession" and "slaves of immediate gratification." (Compendium, No. 334) (quoting John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis, 28) This is a life of vice, not virtue. It is a life of fools, as we should remember that possessions and gratification of the world's goods does not protect us from the fact that there will be one night where our soul shall be required of us. (Cf. Luke 12:20)

*A short synopsis may be found in James E. Alvey, "A Short History of Economics as a Moral Science," Journal of Markets & Morality 2, no. 1 (Spring 1999), 53-73.
**The Church does not approve of capitalism if it is understood to be "a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious." (Compendium, No. 335)

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