Monday, March 3, 2014

Decentralization and individual initiative, the Duty to the Common Good

I'm not that far ahead in this book club- I only just now made it to chapter 2. Which means I'm about to start reading the market based encyclicals, beginning with Centesimus Annus, the hundredth anniversary of Rerum Novarum, backing up one from the last encyclical we discussed in Chapter 1, Solicitudo Rei Socialis. For the entire timeline, I'd refer you to my post History of Evangelii Gaudium, refreshed from my original history of encyclical links.

Ok, now that I've placed my thought process in the book, on to an insight I have had from my position in the lay order, Knights of Columbus.

At present time, the church, especially the last 120 years worth of Popes, have been calling us to specific actions in the economic realm. Three separate potential actions for any individual stand out, and I'm going to list them in order of what I feel is their importance:

  • The Preferential Option for the Poor- This is the chief duty that every Pope in all the encyclicals keeps repeating. It is primarily a duty for business owners- that if you use a person's labor to earn money, you owe them enough in return to not only survive, but to engage fully in a culture of life. It is also a duty for governments and banks that lend to third world countries- against usury, making the interest so high the loan can never be paid, and for debt forgiveness for past loans that have proved to be usurous. But a secondary duty exists here for every consumer- to know the businesses you are buying from, and support those businesses, particularly small businesses, in your community that pay a just or living wage. These businesses can't survive without your patronage, and it is up to each of us to, all else being equal, ignore price alone when making buying decisions and buy from businesses that pay a just wage.

  • Charity Is a Duty- Many libertarians, even good Catholics like Michael Novak and Fr. Zieba, will tell you that charity is optional; that you're free to decide whether to give or not. In fact, that's one of my main critiques against democratic capitalism that I can't seem to get past. To me, and to Knights of Columbus, Charity is a Duty- a tax imposed upon us by Heaven and the State- and those who ignore it are not good citizens of either. Charity is not just gifts of money though- Charity is about caring enough about another person to engage in the corporal works of mercy for their sake and for the sake of Christ. We are free to choose what charity we will do, but we are NOT free to refuse to do it. As Pope Benedict XVI points out in Caritas in Veritate, providing for the food, clothing, and shelter of the poor is the duty of everybody who has the means, it is not and cannot be optional.

  • Almsgiving- which leads us to Almsgiving, which in that same document Pope Benedict XVI points out are gifts, primarily of money or other goods, given in addition to that which is due, in addition to charity. This is the generosity which gladdens the heart of all who give; Almsgiving is what makes living in any given society bearable.

  • But what does this all have to do with decentralized government? And why can't welfare replace these three items (as the Western Democracies are attempting to do with adding welfare to capitalism)? The missing ingredient that makes subsidiarity necessary is that all three of these need an intimate knowledge, an intimate friendship, with the receiver of the common good. All three are dangerous- all can create a dignity-destroying sense of dependency. But when given in Truth and Love, in Charity and Truth, they create a relationship- a relationship between giver and receiver, and when that relationship becomes reciprocal, it creates a more just society, one in which it is easier to trust others- which is always more profitable in the long run. ----Edits above. One discussion on the Frontline PBS website reminded me of another "Preferential Option for the Poor" activity for governments and banks.

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