Catholic Framework
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Office of Social Development & World Peace
National Conference of Catholic Bishops/

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A Catholic Framework for Economic Life

In November 1986, the Catholic bishops of the United States issued a landmark pastoral letter on the U.S. economy called Economic Justice for All. It challenged our nation to put concern for the poor and vulnerable and pursuit of the common good at the center of our economic life.

Ten years later, as they marked the pastoral letter's anniversary, the bishops recognized that while our economy has changed dramatically, the challenges facing us are no less compelling, and the principles they outlined ten years ago are no less important. At a time of growing national attention to such issues as globalization, income stagnation, and increasing wage disparities, the Catholic tradition of ethical reflection on economic issues has much to offer. In November 1996, the bishops issued a brief ten-point summary of Catholic teaching on the economy titled A Catholic Framework for Economic Life. They called on the Catholic community to share these ten principles as broadly as possible.

The most important place to share Catholic social teaching is in the parish, not as an optional or fringe aspect of our faith, but as a central element of what it means to be Catholic. This resource is designed to provide camera-ready bulletin items that offer thought-provoking reflections on each of the ten principles.

The 10 Principles

PRINCIPLE #1:   THE ECONOMY EXISTS FOR THE PERSON, NOT THE PERSON FOR THE ECONOMY.
All too many of us are familiar with people out of work, even if it is only indirectly through the media. Downsizing, moving plants abroad, outsourcing, more part-time positions, all have affected our work lives. The unemployment rate has hovered around 5.5% for some time, representing millions of people out of work. This number does not include those who are not even counted because they have given up on the labor market. All too many people have to make choices among necessities, such as heat or medicine, health care or food. Despite this, many see the stock market rising or economic indexes improving and say the economy is thriving. Who is the economy for?

PRINCIPLE #2:   ALL ECONOMIC LIFE SHOULD BE SHAPED BY MORAL PRINCIPLES. ECONOMIC CHOICES AND INSTITUTIONS MUST BE JUDGED BY HOW THEY PROTECT OR UNDERMINE THE LIFE AND DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN PERSON, SUPPORT THE FAMILY, AND SERVE THE COMMON GOOD.
When we study economics we are taught early on that the economy is subject to its own laws, like that of supply and demand. When the idea of a free enterprise system was first advanced it meant that economic decisions should be free of government and other interference. But while the different areas of human life, such as economy, politics, culture, have their own principles, they are still part of human life. As part of human life, shouldn't they also be subject to moral principles?

PRINCIPLE #3:   A FUNDAMENTAL MORAL MEASURE OF ANY ECONOMY IS HOW THE POOR AND VULNERABLE ARE FARING.
We know when an automobile or a tractor or even our bodies are working right. And we know when they are not. What about the economy? How do we determine whether it is working correctly? Is it morally adequate to ask: "Am I getting enough for myself and my family?" "Have I gotten the most I can out of the system?" Or do we recognize that the goods of the earth are meant for all, that God has made us stewards of the earth and not its possessors, that some of us are stronger than others and can all too easily and readily take advantage of our power to get what we can no matter what price others may pay? If we really are brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus, don't we have to ask how everyone is faring, especially those at the bottom?

PRINCIPLE #4:   ALL PEOPLE HAVE A RIGHT TO LIFE AND TO SECURE THE BASIC NECESSITIES OF LIFE (e.g. FOOD, CLOTHING, SHELTER, EDUCATION, HEALTH CARE, SAFE ENVIRONMENT, ECONOMIC SECURITY). As Christians we recognize that there is something distinctive about human beings, something that sets us apart from other living parts of the world. We express this by saying that we are created in the image and likeness of God. Whether male or female, each human being is a precious gift from God. Whether we come from Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, or indigenous American backgrounds, every human being is a member of the one family that is of God's making. How do we show respect and reverence for this unique gift at all stages of life, not only at the beginning or the end?
PRINCIPLE #5:   ALL PEOPLE HAVE THE RIGHT TO ECONOMIC INITIATIVE, TO PRODUCTIVE WORK, TO JUST WAGES AND BENEFITS, TO DECENT WORKING CONDITIONS AS WELL AS TO ORGANIZE AND JOIN UNIONS OR OTHER ASSOCIATIONS.
Most of us grow up realizing that at a certain point we will have to get a job and earn a living for ourselves and for our family. We look forward to doing something interesting and satisfying. It is frustrating to not be able to find a decent-paying job, to have to leave one's rural community to look for work in a distant city, to have a job that lacks health or retirement benefits, to hold onto a job not on the basis of one's performance but at the whim of the employer, to have endless restrictions that keep us from taking initiative. We and others know that all of these situations are frustrating. But we also have to ask: Are they morally right? Are they just?

PRINCIPLE #6:   ALL PEOPLE, TO THE EXTENT THAT THEY ARE ABLE, HAVE A CORRESPONDING DUTY TO WORK, A RESPONSIBILITY TO PROVIDE FOR THE NEEDS OF THEIR FAMILIES, AND AN OBLIGATION TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE BROADER SOCIETY.
How often have we heard: "There's no such thing as a free lunch?" Yet some of us may dream of a distant relative dying and leaving us a fortune or of our winning the lottery, freeing us from the constraints of our jobs and of whatever income we make. But aside from good fortune or good luck, is that the way life is? How do we go about providing for ourselves and for our families? Further, how do we do our fair share as stewards of God's creation? How do we bring the earth and humanity to the abundant life for all that is God's dream for us?

PRINCIPLE #7:   IN ECONOMIC LIFE, FREE MARKETS HAVE BOTH CLEAR ADVANTAGES AND LIMITS; GOVERNMENT HAS ESSENTIAL RESPONSIBILITIES AND LIMITATIONS; VOLUNTARY GROUPS HAVE IRREPLACEABLE ROLES, BUT CANNOT SUBSTITUTE FOR THE PROPER WORKING OF THE MARKET AND THE JUST POLICIES OF THE STATE.
Economic issues are often confusing and difficult for us to figure out. Most people search for someone or something to blame for the fact that there is inequality and poverty. Some blame the poor themselves for not working harder. Others blame the government for not providing for the people who cannot take care of themselves. The bishops do neither. They indicate that real economic justice will only happen when we recognize the crucial role of every person and every institution in society. This means that individuals, families, and local volunteer associations have important roles in our economy which should not be lost by the government or other national and international organizations. The bishops indicate that our free market society can and should provide jobs and economic security for most people. But sometimes the free market does not work for everyone. Then society, including government, should step in to support and/or prepare these persons for participation in the economy.

PRINCIPLE #8:   SOCIETY HAS A MORAL OBLIGATION, INCLUDING GOVERNMENTAL ACTION WHERE NECESSARY, TO ASSURE OPPORTUNITY, MEET BASIC HUMAN NEEDS, AND PURSUE JUSTICE IN ECONOMIC LIFE.

Whether our jobs are in the workplace or the home, whether we are managers, employees or self- employed, whether our jobs are in cities, rural areas or on the road, we know what we need to do a good job, we know what benefits we want to gain from our work, and we know what we need to do to get them. We also know when we are being treated fairly or unfairly. We know who is responsible for our job and our livelihood. But who is responsible for the economy as a whole? Who ensures that every human being has what he or she needs to live a decent human life?

PRINCIPLE #9:   WORKERS, OWNERS, MANAGERS, STOCKHOLDERS AND CONSUMERS ARE MORAL AGENTS IN ECONOMIC LIFE. BY OUR CHOICES, INITIATIVE, CREATIVITY AND INVESTMENT, WE ENHANCE OR DIMINISH ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY, COMMUNITY LIFE, AND SOCIAL JUSTICE.
Every day throughout the United States people make millions of economic decisions and actions; buying, selling, producing, consuming, planning, prioritizing. Individuals, companies, institutions, organizations, government are all part of the economy. We make our decisions on the basis of whether a project will work, whether a product will sell, whether we can afford to buy something, and whether we can get away with it. But we are not just workers, employers, producers or consumers. As human beings, we are created in God's image and likeness. We are called to be stewards of God's creation as a community. Aren't we called then to make our economic decisions not only on the basis of what will work, but also keeping in mind what is morally right and just.

PRINCIPLE #10:   THE GLOBAL ECONOMY HAS MORAL DIMENSIONS AND HUMAN CONSEQUENCES. DECISIONS ON INVESTMENT, TRADE, AID AND DEVELOPMENT SHOULD PROTECT HUMAN LIFE AND PROMOTE HUMAN RIGHTS, ESPECIALLY FOR THOSE MOST IN NEED WHEREVER THEY MIGHT LIVE ON THIS GLOBE.

Radio, TV, and now the Internet have connected people around the globe. Whether we live in a big city, the suburbs, or a rural area, we are neighbors with others far beyond our locale. Even without the media, we are connected: we wear blouses and shoes designed in Europe and manufactured in the Far East. In the winter our tables carry fruits and vegetables from the southern hemisphere. Our autos are designed in one place, the parts are manufactured in many different places, the cars are put together in still another, and the financing comes from banks with deposits from all over the world. We live in an economically unified world. When it comes to our own country, we believe that we should treat one another fairly and justly. Shouldn't this conviction be applied to our economic relationships with people everywhere?
 



Office of Social Development & World Peace
National Conference of Catholic Bishops/

United States Catholic Conference