In Social Justice there is never any such thing as helplessness. No problem is ever too big or too complex, no field is ever too vast, for the methods of this Social Justice. Problems that were agonizing in the past and were simply dodged, even by serious and virtuous people, can now be solved with ease by any school child. (Rev. William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., Introduction to Social Justice, 1948)
What Social Justice demands is something specifically social: the reorganization of the system. (Ibid.)As far as most people are concerned, "the way things are" is a given. It cannot be changed. The only recourse when confronted with injustice, then, is to search for the individuals who are guilty of committing the injustice. Just or unjust, you can't do anything about the system, so you go after those whom you believe to be responsible. Somebody has to be guilty . . . don't they?
Unfortunately, the ones usually blamed for the injustice are frequently just as individually helpless to change things as those who are suffering from the injustice. Does that mean that nothing can be done? No. The response when faced with individual helplessness in the face of social injustice is to organize, and through the "people power" gained, restructure the institutions that are causing the problem.
Thus, if we want to blame the takers and givers of interest on loans of money make for consumption with wrongdoing, we must change the system to make it possible to function in society without taking or giving interest on loans of money made for consumption. In the current state of society, that means providing the means whereby people can increase their income and so be able to afford what they need to live in a manner befitting the demands of human dignity without borrowing.
The case for State borrowing is similar. The scholastic philosophers "allowed" the State to borrow when tax revenues were too low, but that was not because government usury is somehow right while individual usury is wrong. The reasoning is that the State maintains and protects the common good, the social order. The maintenance of a stable social order is such a great good that the principle of double effect may be applied. The principle of double effect states that we are permitted to do something that has evil effects in order to obtain a greater good.
Some caveats, of course, apply. First, the wrong we do may not be "objectively evil," that is, evil by its very nature. Taking a profit, for example, is not wrong in and of itself. What is wrong is taking a profit when no profit is due. Second, evil that is done must not be directly intended. Third, the intended good must be greater than the unintended evil.
Thus, an individual may accept interest on a government obligation without doing wrong, and the government does not do wrong to pay interest on what it borrows, as long as there is no other way to raise the funds for necessary State expenditures. Similarly, in the current state of society a consumer may pay interest on a loan of money made for consumption purposes, and a lender take it without wrongdoing — as long as there is no other way for the individual to obtain what is needed to pay for necessary consumption items, and the lender is not charging more in interest than would have been obtained from a borrower who used the loan proceeds for a capital investment.
There is a final caveat, however. That is, we are not permitted to let an inherently unjust condition of society remain uncorrected. A society in which people or the State cannot obtain sufficient funds to meet ordinary expenses without usury is a society that has some seriously flawed institutions. The problem then becomes how, when the helplessness of the individual is a virtual byword, and the State is supposed to keep its hands off individuals' goods, to correct the situation.
That is the subject of the next posting in this series, in which we will examine the "act of social justice."