How does one work for the common good? In a recent column in the Catholic Times, a seminary sociology professor gives us some thoughts on our economic slump and reflections on the social gospel of the Church. We know there is little sympathy with "trickle-down economic" theory.
We are in a long economic slump, and many have difficulties, especially the poor and the young. The government is making all kinds of efforts to pull us out of the recession: offering subsidies to big industry, tax benefits to help sell cars and apartments, removal of restrictions on industry, and making it easier to fire workers. Hope is that my taking these steps, the economy gets a boost and all benefit. For this to happen, we need a number of pre-conditions to be in place.
Utilitarianism is a theory of efforts to promote the happiness of the majority of the citizens: a correct understanding of morality. Supposedly, everyone working for his own individual good will eventually benefit all. This is a premise for trust in the free market. When each works for his own good to increase wealth, this will feed into the consumption and distribution of the market, the unseen hand will regulate the market. Each person can approach the market and makes free competition possible.
That is not what is happening; this vague belief is not realized. Not everyone can freely partake in the market and enjoy free competition. We know how the big stores quickly shut down the small enterprises.
Unseen hand is not operating and this vague belief in the efficiency of the market is not realized, rather we have a jungle where the weak become the food of the strong. Not only does the individual when he uses all his ability benefit himself but can also harm the market, this goes contrary to the principle of the common good: the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals to reach their fulfillment more fully and easily" (Social Compendium #164).
"The Catholic Church, in its social teaching, explicitly rejects a belief in the automatic beneficence of market forces. It insists that the result of market forces must be scrutinized and if necessary corrected in the name of natural law, social justice, human rights, and the common good. Left to themselves, market forces are just as likely to lead to evil results as to good ones" Catholic Bishops' (Conference of England and Wales #77).
When the economics: the Gross Domestic Product increases and the citizens' income increases not everything turns out well. Korea shows that the gap between the rich and poor continues to increase. "We can no longer trust the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programs, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality. I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism, but the economy can no longer turn to remedies that are a new poison, such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the excluded" (Joy of the Gospel #204).