THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

On Usury and Other Dishonest Profit, Part XXIV

From a more realistic understanding of the demands of human dignity, of money and credit, and the three principles of economic justice, we can derive the necessary characteristics of a sound — and, above all, human — financial and economic system. We have distilled these necessary characteristics into four basic "pillars" of an economically and politically just society. These are:
1. A limited economic role for the State,

2. Free and open markets as the best means for determining just prices, just wages, and just profits,

3. Restoration of the rights of private property, particularly in corporate equity, and (the "fatal omission" in virtually all economic systems today),

4. Widespread direct ownership of the means of production, individually or in free association with others.
In understanding these four pillars, we must always keep in mind the principles from which they are derived: 1) respect for human dignity, 2) a more realistic understanding of money and credit, and 3) the principles of economic justice. In this context, the principles of economic justice in particular must be kept explicitly before us at all times: a) Participation (or Participative Justice), b) Distribution (or Distributive Justice), and c) Harmony (Social Justice).

A Limited Economic Role for the State

The State is a necessary institution, the need for which is embedded in human nature by our Creator. Any particular State, however, is a human creation, whether spontaneous by chance human interaction and the accidents of history, or by conscious design. That being the case, the State is subordinate to the human person; the State was made for man, not man for the State. Citizens are bound to the State by a natural law "social contract," consisting of the State's implicit agreement to abide by those rights that are inherent in the human person by virtue of humanity itself, among which are life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness, and the citizens' duty to obey the State in all things that do not violate the natural law.

The primary responsibility of the State is care of the common good. The common good is that complex network of institutions within which the human person normally acquires and develops virtue, that is, becomes more fully human and fits him- or herself for his or her final end. Thus, in what at first glance may seem like a paradox, each human person realizes his or her individuality best within a social context.

The State therefore has the task of maintaining a stable and orderly society that respects individual rights as well as the demands of the common good. This requires maintaining and protecting those rights and other institutions of the common good. This extends to demanding, in extreme cases, the sacrifice of individual members of society (as in a just war) in order to maintain the integrity of the common good. Otherwise the whole of society would be flawed to such an extent that the acquisition and development of virtue by each member of society would be rendered unnecessarily difficult or impossible.

A stable and orderly society is so great a good that we must, on occasion, tolerate even unjust laws and situations if correcting the flawed institution would result in the serious disruption or destruction of the social order. As long as a law, however unjust, does not force any individual to commit an act that violates his or her individual conscience, it can and must be tolerated until such time as individuals organize and carry out acts of social justice to restructure and reform the affected institution(s), putting an end to the injustice.

The State's proper role is thus not to ensure equality or even equitability of results. That is, the State is not supposed to care for individual goods, singly or in aggregate, except in a dire emergency as an expedient, but to ensure equality or equitability of opportunity. The State carries out this function by passing and enforcing just laws in conformity with the natural moral law. The State thereby provides a "level playing field," and protects our natural rights to life, liberty (free association), access to the means of acquiring and possessing private property in the means of production, and acquiring and developing virtue ("pursuit of happiness").

As a human creation, the State only gets its authority from those who come together to form the State. As explained by Aquinas, clarified by Bellarmine, and corrected by Pope Pius XI, consistent with the demands of human dignity, God grants sovereignty to each individual human being. When human persons organize in a group, a portion of this sovereignty is delegated by revocable grant to the group, which becomes a "person" itself by means of that grant.

Depending on the role that the group is intended and designed to play in the common good, this revocable grant of sovereignty may be extremely limited and temporary, or very great in scope and of long duration. Because the State's role is care of the common good itself, the grant typically constitutes the full amount of all that can legitimately be granted, subject in all cases, of course, to the demands of individual human dignity within the common good.

The State may consist of a number of different levels of sovereignty, and even divide different aspects of sovereignty internally, but all, ultimately, derive from the human persons who make up the State. Individuals, as an organized expression of their values and goals, form such institutions as means of assisting each individual's acquisition and development of virtue, and thus enhance the quality of each person's individual and social life.

When the State abuses its authority, and the abuse has a material effect on the common good, the citizens have the duty to change rulers, even the form of government in order to correct the problem. Similarly, when citizens, individually or in free association with others, become able to carry out a task that is traditionally carried out by the State, the State is obligated to devolve its authority and responsibility for that task back to the citizens, or it is guilty of abusing its authority.

Thus, when the citizens are able to take care of their material needs without undue interference by the State, the State is obliged by the terms of the natural law "social contract" that binds citizens to the State to permit the citizens to meet their own needs through their own efforts. Further, when the citizens organize and come together in solidarity with the goal of meeting their material needs, the State is obliged to pass and enforce any laws necessary to make it possible for the organized groups of citizens to meet their material needs in the most efficient and cost effective manner possible.

Finally, the State is obliged to assist all citizens to the fullest extent possible in gaining power over their own lives so as to meet their material needs adequately through their own efforts. Except as an expedient to address an emergency situation, the State may never maintain citizens in a dependent condition (effective infants) on itself or others through failure to assist the citizens in becoming independent adults, or by failing or refusing to pass any necessary enabling legislation that would allow all citizens equal access to the economic and political institutions of the common good.

Thus, the first pillar of an economically just society, a limited economic role for the State, is a necessary foundation for the other three pillars, the second of which — free and open markets — we will examine in the next posting in this series.