State, market and ethics in social thought with faith

Social doctrine of the church


One of the teachings of the social doctrine of the church (DSI), we think, that is not as well known and denied or manipulated by ideologies, such as those of (neo-)liberalism and capitalism, is the ethical and political basis that must guide the market, economic, commercial, financial, labor activity… The authorities-governments with the states and civil society, in a very necessary and essential way, must exercise control and regulation over the market, the economy, and every social reality to serve the common good, justice, life, and dignity of the person.

Saint Paul VI in Populorum progressio (PP) already teaches that “sole individual initiative and the simple game of competition would not be sufficient to ensure the success of the development. We must not risk further increasing the wealth of the rich and the power of the strong, thus confirming the misery of the poor and adding it to the servitude of the oppressed. Programs are necessary to “animate, stimulate, coordinate, supplement and integrate” the actions of individuals and intermediate bodies. It is up to the public powers to choose and see how to impose the objectives to be proposed, the goals to be set, the means to achieve them, at the same time stimulating all the forces grouped in this common action” (PP 33).

Faced with the aforementioned ideologies, which do not want this intervention on the market and that states and public bodies be eliminated, Benedict XVI, in Caritas in Veritate (CV), teaches us that “a distributed political authority must be promoted and that it must act on various levels. Today’s single market does not eliminate the role of states, but rather forces governments into closer mutual collaboration. Wisdom and prudence advise against hastily proclaiming the disappearance of the State. In relation to the solution to the current crisis, its role seems destined to grow, recovering many powers. There are nations where the construction or reconstruction of the State continues to be a key element for their development” (CV 41).

As Saint John Paul II states in Centesimus Annus (CA), “the market demands that it be opportunely controlled by social forces and by the State, to guarantee the satisfaction of the fundamental demands of the entire society” (CA 35). . And as Pope Francis continues to show with his teaching, typical of an apostolic exhortation, such as Evangelii Gaudium (EG), “while the profits of a few grow exponentially, those of the majority remain increasingly distant from the well-being of that happy minority. This imbalance comes from ideologies that defend the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation. Hence, they deny the right of control of the States, in charge of ensuring the common good. A new invisible, sometimes virtual, tyranny is established that unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its laws and rules” (EG 56).

Civil society and the state, therefore, have this control as an essential mission, the meaning of which (also etymologically stipulated by the RAE) must be made clear: intervention on the market and the economy to regulate them; that is (again according to RAE), to adjust and order it to its natural, moral and spiritual purpose (right) in accordance with the principle of the universal destiny of goods, which has priority over capital (CA 31). Thus, accepting the freedom of the market and of business or property in the face of collectivist communism (collectivism), the DSI with the Popes show in the same way that freedom has to be controlled and regulated by ethics, by justice, public policies, social and laws (legal norms) to safeguard human dignity and rights.

As can be seen, then, the DSI articulates and inseparably unites the principle of solidarity, through the social state of rights that ensures a market guided by justice and the common good together with the universal destination of goods, with that of subsidiarity. That is, the freedom and initiative of the bases of civil society, such as families and citizens in general with their organizations or NGOs or social movements, to lead (co-managing) the activity of the market, the economy and politics at the service of this most universal good of all humanity, of human and integral development. Just as, we already pointed out, Saint John Paul II in CA or Benedict XVI in CV masterfully underlines. All of this in the face of these materialist and economist ideologies of capitalism, with its dictatorship of the market and profit as an idol that unsupportive deny justice and social equality, and of collectivism with its statist and party totalitarianism, which oppose democratic freedom and ethics.

For all this, in continuity with the tradition of the church, such as the Holy Fathers or Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint John Paul II continues to affirm “the role of the State in the sector of the economy. Economic activity, particularly the market economy, cannot develop in the midst of an institutional, legal and political vacuum…; monitoring and channeling the exercise of human rights in the economic sector… The State has the duty to support the activity of companies, creating conditions that ensure job opportunities, stimulating it where it is insufficient or supporting it in times of crisis. The State also has the right to intervene when particular monopoly situations create delays or obstacles to development. But, apart from these duties of harmonization and direction of development, the State can exercise substitute functions in exceptional situations, when social sectors or business systems, too weak or in the process of formation, are inadequate for their task” (CA 48)

“It is the duty of the State to provide for the defense and protection of collective goods, such as the natural environment and the human environment, whose safeguard cannot be assured by simple market mechanisms. Just as in times of old capitalism the State had the duty to defend the fundamental rights of labor, so now with the new capitalism the State and society have the duty to defend the collective goods that, among other things, constitute the only framework within from which it is possible for each one to legitimately achieve their individual ends” (CA 40). Hence, when necessary, the state can expropriate property along with income and property contrary to the common good, social justice and universal destiny of property, as the teaching of Saint Paul VI continues to transmit (PP 24) with Vatican II (GS 71).

The underlying issue, if you look closely, is anthropological and moral, as Popes like Saint John Paul II continue to teach us, since liberalism and capitalism manipulate true freedom with their possessive and unsupportive individualism. In opposition to liberalism and capitalism, authentic freedom is “framed in a solid legal context, which places it at the service of integral human freedom and considers it as a particular dimension of it, whose center is ethical and religious” (CA 42). Everything seen up to this point, in continuity with his predecessors as we have already pointed out, Pope Francis teaches clearly in Fratelli tutti (TF), denouncing all this false god of the “neoliberal” and capitalist dogma, with its lying individualistic freedom and mercantilist dictatorship without ethical-political control or legal regulation, which does not recognize the life and dignity of people, towns and the poor. Together with the previous teachings of the church, Francis communicates the importance of global (international) authorities and institutions, which establish decent work with a fair salary, peace, solidarity and integral ecology. These authorities, with their institutions of planetary reach, will make another world possible: controlling, regulating and transforming this unsustainable globalization of capital and war; so that, from that inescapable political charity that we must all exercise, it reverts to the civilization of brotherly love (FT 168-179).