Market Economy, Human Dignity, and Catholicism
Oftentimes the root of all political strife is the question of the role of the individual or community and that of the state in economic matters.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
2431 The responsibility of the state. “Economic activity, especially the activity of a market economy, cannot be conducted in an institutional, juridical, or political vacuum. On the contrary, it presupposes sure guarantees of individual freedom and private property, as well as a stable currency and efficient public services. Hence the principal task of the state is to guarantee this security, so that those who work and produce can enjoy the fruits of their labors and thus feel encouraged to work efficiently and honestly. . . . Another task of the state is that of overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector. However, primary responsibility in this area belongs not to the state but to individuals and to the various groups and associations which make up society.”
Of particular interest to me is the admission of the fact that the state is not entirely necessary to a market economy, but is seen as only to serve as a guarantor of security. Any attempt to understand economics should always begin with the understanding of human nature.
The axiom of human action, that action, exhibited by all humans, is “purposeful behavior”, presupposes the existence of volition. That human beings have free will is at the very heart of the debate. Some question free will intentionally overlooking the fact that their inquiry into that notion is, itself, purposeful behavior.
My point here is not to argue the reality of free will. Rather it is an attempt to better understand the praxeology of man, his economy, his means, and his purpose.
King David marveled at God’s creation:
I look at your heavens,
which you made with your fingers.
I see the moon and stars,
which you created.
But why are people even important to you?
Why do you take care of human beings?
You made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You put them in charge of everything you made.
You put all things under their control:
all the sheep, the cattle,
and the wild animals,
the birds in the sky,
the fish in the sea,
and everything that lives under water.
– Psalm 8:3-8, NCV.
In brief, the Catechism summarizes the nature of man in this way:
1710 “Christ . . . makes man fully manifest to man himself and brings to light his exalted vocation” (GS 22 § 1).
1711 Endowed with a spiritual soul, with intellect and with free will, the human person is from his very conception ordered to God and destined for eternal beatitude. He pursues his perfection in “seeking and loving what is true and good” (GS 15 § 2).
Viewed in this way, shouldn’t man, obligated to moral principles, respect private property, individual freedom, sound money (stable currency), and consequently free enterprise? Aren’t most acts of the state against the dignity of a person sinful?
Opponents of a free market tend to point to “social justice” as justification for state intervention in the economy. My question is would a Christian not voluntarily serve the betterment of others’ basic needs? Is that not our purpose? Why, then, do we entrust our moral purposes to secular authorities?
In his article, “Morality and Economic Law: Toward a Reconciliation”, Thomas E. Woods Jr. wrote:
Economics does not contain all the answers of life, nor does it claim to. It does, however, show how the morally acceptable desire for profit leads to spontaneous social cooperation that obviates the need for a bloated state apparatus to direct production. It shows us the fascinating mechanisms by which peaceful social cooperation, without the initiation of physical force, leads to overall prosperity. This means less disease, more leisure time to spend with our families, and greater opportunities to enjoy the good things of civilization.