Sunday, August 23, 2009

Vatican "prime minister" on Caritas in veritate

By Cardinal Bertone addressing the Italian Senate. An excerpt

An important message that comes to us from Caritas in veritate is the invitation to supersede the now obsolete dichotomy between the financial sphere and the social sphere. Modernity has bequeathed to us the idea on the basis of which, if we are to be able to operate in the field of the economy, it is essential to achieve a profit and to be motivated chiefly by self-interest; as if to say that if we do not seek the highest profit we are not proper entrepreneurs. Should this not be the case, we must be content with belonging to the social sphere.

This conceptualization, that confuses the market economy that is the genus with its own particular species which is the capitalist system, has led to identifying the economy with the place where wealth or income is generated, and society with the place of solidarity for its fair distribution.

Caritas in veritate tells us instead that it is also possible to do business by pursuing aims that serve society and are inspired by pro-social motives. This is a practical way, if not the only one, of bridging the gap between the economic and the social spheres, given that an economic activity which did not incorporate the social dimension would not be ethically acceptable. It is likewise true that a social policy concerned only with redistribution, that failed to reckon with the available resources, would not be sustainable in the long run: in fact, production must precede distribution.

We should be particularly grateful to Benedict XVI for wishing to emphasize the fact that economic action is not separate from or alien to the cornerstones of the Church's social teaching such as: the centrality of the human person, solidarity, subsidariety, the common good.

It is necessary to supersede the current concept which expects the Church's social teaching and values to be confined to social activities, while experts in efficiency would be charged with guiding the economy. It is the merit and certainly not a secondary one of this Encyclical to contribute to remedying this gap which is both cultural and political.

Contrary to what people think, efficiency is not the fundamentum divisionis for distinguishing between what is business and what is not, for the simple reason that "efficiency" is a category that belongs to the order of means and not of ends. Indeed, efficiency is indispensable in order to achieve as well as possible the purpose one has freely chosen to give one's action. The entrepreneur who gives priority to efficiency that is an end in itself risks being caught by one of the most frequent causes of the destruction of wealth today, as the current economic and financial crisis sadly confirms.

To expand briefly on this theme, to say "market" means saying "competition", in the sense that the market cannot exist where there is no competition (even if the opposite is not true). And there is no one who can fail to see that the fruitfulness of competition lies in the fact that it implies tension, the dialectic that presupposes the presence of another and the relationship with another. Without tension there is no movement, but the movement this is the point to which tension gives rise can also be fatal; in other words it can generate death.

If the purpose of economic action is not synonymous with striving for a common goal as the Latin etymology "cum-petere" would clearly indicate but rather with Hobbes' theory, "mors tua, vita mea" [your death is my life], then the social bond is reduced to commercial relations and economic activity tends to become inhuman, hence ultimately inefficient. Therefore, even in competition, "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" [15].

Well, the advantage by no means small that Caritas in veritate offers us is to give special consideration to the concept of market, typical of the tradition of the thought of civil economics, according to which it is possible to live the experience of human sociality within a normal economic life and not outside or beside it. This concept might be defined as an alternative, both regarding the concept that sees the market as a place for the exploitation and abuse of the weak by the strong, and the concept which, in line with anarchic-liberalistic thought, sees it as a place that can provide solutions to all the problems of society.

This way of doing business is differentiated from that of the traditional Smithian economy, which sees the market as the only institution truly necessary for democracy and freedom. The Church's social doctrine, on the other hand, reminds us that a sound society is certainly the product of the market and of freedom, but there are needs that stem from the principle of brotherhood that can neither be avoided nor be referred solely to the private sphere or to philanthropy. Rather, the Church's social doctrine proposes a humanism with various dimensions, in which the market is not combated or "controlled" but is seen as an important institution in the public sphere a sphere which far exceeds State control which, if it is conceived of and lived as a place that is also open to the principles of reciprocity and of giving, can construct a healthy civil coexistence.

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