Thursday, October 14, 2010

What are we going to do?

Our loyal reader who goes by the handle lovethegirls asks:
How do you take usury out of a market grounded on usury? How do you take materialism out a market grounded in materialism?

That's the $64M question, now, isn't it?

The good news is, we're free to establish a market grounded on another foundation than usury, say, a foundation of justice or of the common good. Nobody's going to stop us. America is indeed a free country.

The bad news is, at this point in history, in twenty-first century America, it will require a great deal of sacrifice to do so.

But the sacrifice is not life and limb; the sacrifice is comfort, and "standard of living."

There are some products we just won't be able to get without patronizing those who exploit their workers for profit, or without partnering with usurious banks or other institutions. We'll have to do without them.

There are some services that will be closed to us. For example, I'm not sure it's possible to find internet access that isn't dependent on usury or some other form of injustice. (I'm at a public library right now; even this is a mixed blessing.)

In terms of contributing to society, we'll face an uphill battle: government regulations are written assuming the current inhumane standards for economics; massive corporations founded on this materialistic economic theory control most of the resources available for producing goods and getting them to market.

And yet, I'm convinced that God never asks the impossible of us. lovethegirls continues to say:
In other words, I don't think there are any solutions which can be imposed, but that the solution is to wait for a "A Catholic approach" to evolve organically"

I hope he doesn't mean to suggest we just wait on our duffs for something new to miraculously appear. It seems to me that we can and must look for whatever good changes we can make to our own economic habits, and look for ways to spread the gospel of human dignity, in whatever way we can. If we offer our best efforts, if we make real sacrifices and offer them to our Lord, we can trust his Holy Spirit to guide us in seeking a solution. The solution will probably bear little resemblance to whatever systems or notions we have in mind now; but so long as we are seeking God, we will eventually arrive at the solution he provides.


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  2. Micro-credit at the local level is one way to begin. The creation of small groups or even families pooling funds in order to provide interest free loans has precedent, particularly with the E.F.Schumacher Society SHARE program. This project, started in Great Barrington, MA, was so successful that community banks began offering low-interest micro-credit lending all over Berkshire county.

    Richard Aleman

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  4. BTW: Distributists are offering a grassroots way to re-harmonize social justice with orthodoxy. Although our movement is still young, it offers a faithful incarnation of the social vision of Holy Mother Church, and is a
    genuine social and economic model that also works.

    On our new site we have begun a conversation with Catholics about what Distributism offers, and we work with our readers to produce the material and activism needed to build a popular movement and genuine Catholic social order.

  5. Robert writes : "I hope he doesn't mean to suggest we just wait on our duffs for something new to miraculously appear."

    Mostly, that is all that can be done. What can be done as mentioned above is at the micro level. A level easily overwhelmed at the macro level except where it can take root such as in the green movement which is gaining ground and which in turn can lead people by nature back to a holistic, thus Catholic understanding of man.

    It can also turn them into even more pagans as Mothering Magazine exemplifies with their ever increasing joining of the natural with silliness.

  6. I don't believe the free market is necessarily grounded in usury or materialism. In turn the Church does not condemn the free market as per se immoral and only condemns excessive interest as usury.

    In Charity in Truth, Benedict XVI endorses both the state and free market as means to achieve the good though he also encourages a "third way." This third way (which may be distributism) is not instead of the state and free market, but in addition to.

    Just as distributsim can be a way to achieve CST in the world, so can Catholics, informed by the totality of CST, seek to sanctify the role of the state and free market.

  7. CST also doesn't condemn profits per se.

  8. @love the girls - taking action, or even starting conversation, at the local or "micro" level is a far stretch from sitting on one's duff and waiting for something better to come along.

    I think we've gotten far too used to thinking of the federal government as the only government that matters. I'm not saying it's unimportant; rather, it's no more important than local government, and local government has (or should have) a much more direct effect on the actual problems we're trying to solve in life.

  9. @Phillip - the free market, insofar as it really is free, is not grounded in usury. It is a forum for the trade of goods.

    But much of our economic system, as far as I can tell, does not really fit the name "free market." The "freedom" of the market is heavily weighted in favor of massive corporations that lobby to make sure the law continues to favor them. You and I are not free to trade goods in the way that multinationals and investment banks are.

    And while CST doesn't condemn profits - indeed, notes that profit is a real good - it does condemn the idea that monetary profit is the primary or sole purpose of economic activity. Production and trade are, first and foremost, to serve the human good of society. If someone seeks personal profit to the detriment of the common good, then that person has strayed from justice.

  10. Robert,

    Agree with some of what you say. However, I would argue that those corporations do indeed benefit individuals. Those that are employed by them, those that benefit from investment in them and those that benefit from the goods produced. For example, I doubt that a distributist system can effectively meet the worldwide demand for certain goods. If corporations defend their interests, to the degree that it protects their workers and the goods they produce, I am not opposed.

    My point being that profits and interest, even interest in promoting the good of a corporation, are not intrinsically evil. Thus the tone of the post takes on a more ideological rather than a Catholic perspective.

  11. Phillip,

    A distributist system may or may not be the solution.

    On the other hand, I don't take it as a requirement that "the worldwide demand for certain goods" be met. If the only way to meet that worldwide demand is through injustice, then I would say we have no obligation to meet that demand.

    I agree that some corporations do a great deal of good. So do some governments. This is no argument against reforming governments that fail to do good - or even reforming governments that could do better. By the same logic, the benefits arising from some corporations, even many corporations, do not remove the need to reform our approach to economics and politics.

    I'm not following any particular ideology, except what I can glean from the Catechism, the social encyclicals, and Thomas Aquinas. I'm not claiming my ideas are the only Catholic way to think; but they are a Catholic way to think, and they are my best attempt to think in a Catholic way. I'd be obliged if you'd point out to me what in the tone of my post strikes you as "ideological".

  12. What is an ideological statement? The blanket claim that the market is grounded in usury. It is equivalent to claiming that all govt. is corrupt or self-serving or directed to power grabs. That would be an equivalent ideological statement.

    I do not disagree with you that some corporations need major reforming or some need many minor reforms. The same can be said about govt. Neither invites a blanket condemnation of corporations or govt. as the abuse of sexuality in marriage does not deny the goodness of marriage.

    Whether needs for certain goods like immunizations, which are likely better met by large corporations than multiple local cooperatives or other economic systems, is necessarily based on injustice is not yet proven by you. If there is some injustice, then the question of what the injustice is, the degree that it is the direct effort of a board directed at injustice etc. would need to be decided on a case by case basis. Not a mere assertion.

    This is, by my understanding, thinking in a Catholic way.

  13. Here is a good article explaining what usury is and what it is not.

  14. When speaking of a "free market" we should do our best to define our terms. If we mean an unregulated marketplace, that is, an laissez-faire economy, then I am afraid Pope Pius XI called it "dangerous" and an "error". If we mean by a "free market" that government, while principly concerned with the common good, sees trade as valuable and beneficial to the common good, and does not overly restrain economic transactions - particularly subsidiary business, then one has to wonder whether the word "free market" is even useful, particularly when "free marketeers" would only agree with the former definition.

  15. I think the Church offers two definitions of the free market in Centesimus Annus. One of which it condemns (which is similar to the first you offer) and one which it approves. The latter seems not to be based per se on govt. approval or disapproval. The proper definition of the free market is:

    "If by "capitalism" is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a "business economy", "market economy" or simply "free economy". But if by "capitalism" is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative."

    The free market is defined by the Church apart from the role of govt. (which is also important) but not in terms of the govt.