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?
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?
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
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
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?
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
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?
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
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?