Economic Justice and Welfare
The goal of economic activity is to supply us with all the material things that we need in order to live. Resources such as raw materials, machines, land and soil, and human labour are limited and we must create economic arrangements so that these resources are used as efficiently and reasonably as possible. At the centre of this must always be the dignity of the human person and the development of the common good.
Christians are, first and foremost, called to be rich towards God. To become rich in material things is not a particularly Christian goal in life. We do not strive for luxurious possessions but for the goods required for a happy life in moderate prosperity, the support of a family, works of charity, and participation in culture and education, as well as further development.
Poverty, if it means involuntary need and doing without vitally necessary means, is unacceptable. The fact that one part of humanity goes hungry and another throws excess food away is a scandal and a sin crying out to heaven.
Relative poverty “not living in excess” is not necessarily a negative thing as it can lead people to recognise their true needs in God’s sight and to approach God in an attitude of petition and trust.
As Christians we must recognise Christ in all people, including the poorest of the poor. We should, therefore, be deeply motivated to do everything possible to alleviate the suffering of others. This can be done indirectly through donations, however, more important is the assistance that enables the poor person to free himself from his poverty, for example, by finding him a job or by giving him a better education. In providing for the poor no one should feel overburdened but similarly no one should feel exempt.
We may well ask whether capitalism is compatible with human dignity. John Paul II wrote in Centesimus Annus: “If by ‘capitalism’ is meant an economic system which recognises 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 the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a ‘business economy’, ‘market economy’, or simply ‘free economy’. But if by ‘capitalism’ is meant 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, then the reply is certainly negative.”
The most important thing for the Church in relation to economics is that the economy serves man and the common good.
Money: good or bad?
Some may question whether money is actually a bad thing. However, money is a good human invention as it is a means of exchange, a measure of value, a reserve for the future, and a means of which to support what is good. Sadly, however, it is often abused becoming an idol and addictive. Money must never become an end in itself. And we must always heed the words of Christ when he said: “You cannot serve both God and mammon” (a disparaging term for ‘money’).
People are also free to make a profit but any pursuit of such must be done in full consideration of the dignity of the human person; so profit gained on the basis of the exploitation or the violation of social justice and workers’ rights is injustice.
The Role of Business
Business is important for the economy and the creation of a new business often demands innovation and a heightened sense of responsibility. A well managed business should “actively enhance the dignity of employees and the development of virtues, such as solidarity, practical wisdom, justice, discipline, and many others. While the family is the first school of society, businesses, like many other social institutions, continue to educate people in virtue.” (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, ‘The Vocation of the Business Leader’)
A business should be considered successful when it persistently creates something that is good for other people and for society. It is not enough for a business to make donations from its profits; the important thing is to act justly, humanely, and in a socially and environmentally conscious way. To act justly in business one must give the other his due; this includes the faithful fulfilment of contracts, the honouring of agreements, the punctual and proper delivery of goods, and payment within the agreed time. There can also be no fear, deceit or deception in business, especially when entering into contracts. Business persons must also guard against greed, corruption, fraud and exploitation.
The Church also encourages business to structure work in such a way as to promote the family, especially mothers, in the fulfilment of their duties.
Speculative Financial Markets
Speculative financial markets are not, per se, sinful structures. If they are oriented toward the common good, the financial markets and banks can perform an important service: they make available the capital required for enterprises and business.