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Catholic Economics, Part 6: How Much We’ve Lost

Marcin Mazur/UK Catholic

Daniel Schwindt - published on 05/07/14 - updated on 06/08/17

7) Environmental concerns are not non-economic, nor are they an afterthought. They are integral to social life and tied to a proper respect for life, which is to say all life. This is not because man, animal, and plant are all on the same ontological plane, but because:

The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa. This invites contemporary society to a serious review of its life-style, which, in many parts of the world, is prone to hedonism and consumerism, regardless of their harmful consequences…If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development. Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other. (p. 51)

8) Man is obliged to respect all life and to seek the good of his neighbor for a very simple reason, which is that he needs a relationship with his neighbor in order to realize a truly human existence. This is a bit difficult to accept, especially for introverts such as myself, but a man can deny it only to his own ruin:

One of the deepest forms of poverty is isolation…As a spiritual being, the human creature is defined through interpersonal relations. The more authentically he or she lives these relations, the more his or her own personal identity matures. It is not by isolation that man establishes his worth, but by placing himself in relation with others and with God. Hence these relations take on fundamental importance. The same holds true for peoples as well…the human community does not absorb the individual, annihilating his autonomy, as happens in the various forms of totalitarianism, but rather values him all the more because the relation between individual and community is a relation between one totality and another. (p. 53)

9) Human life is a moral affair, and there is no amount of scientific explication, no amount of demonstrated mechanism, no amount of self-interested wealth creation, that can absolve us of this fact. Man will never achieve that sought-after dream in which he can be good without having to be moral:

It is good for people to realize that purchasing is always a moral — and not simply economic — act. Hence 
the consumer has a specific social responsibility, which goes hand-in- hand with the social responsibility of the enterprise. (p. 66)

10) In summary, everything in a properly understood economy pivots around justice. But in order to understand what this means we must first see justice in its fullest sense, and not simply from one angle or in part. To say it another way, we must learn to acknowledge all kinds and degrees of justice, and not just the justice of contract or exchange:

The market is subject to the principles of so-called
commutative justice, which regulates the relations of giving and receiving between parties to a transaction. But the social doctrine of the Church has unceasingly highlighted the importance of 
distributive justice and
 social justice for the market economy, not only because it belongs within a broader social and political context, but also because of the wider network of relations within which it operates. In fact, if the market is governed solely by the principle of the equivalence in value of exchanged goods, it cannot produce the social cohesion that it requires in order to function well. (p. 35)

This final point hints at the key to our contemporary economic bewilderment. We have lost justice, or at least we’ve had our notions about justice reduced and impoverished. We seek justice, most of us, but only in part, blindly, and haphazardly.

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