Every once in a while a Faithful Reader gives us an idea for a blog posting or two, which tends to make our life a little easier as it saves us from having to think up something on our own. This posting on “the Three Hands of the Law” is one such, so we have to “hand” someone else the credit . . . get it? (We’re assuming the Faithful Reader will . . . and not throw anything too heavy. . . .)
Anyway, the question came up as to whether we had ever written anything on the role of regulation in a market economy. We have on a number of occasions, but it has always been part of a larger subject and never really got anything more than a passing note.
|Faithful Reader giving us an idea for a blog posting.
This is, nevertheless, a critical issue, especially since a limited role for the State is one of the pillars of a just market economy. This flies in the face of the extreme capitalists who want no role for the State on the one hand (see where we got today’s title?), and the extreme socialists on the other hand who want total State control of the economy. (We won’t look at the various digits of the two hands of capitalism and socialism, such as “anarcho-socialism,” as we’re trying to keep within the bounds of some semblance of common sense.)
And the third hand? The Just Third Way, of course. After all, whose blog is this, anyway?
To explain the proper role of regulation in a market economy, we begin by noting that we agree with Aristotle that “man is by nature a political animal.” As the Philosopher explained this, human beings are neither solely individuals, nor are they indistinguishable cogs in a social machine.
|One reason Aristotle said society needs rules.
Rather, human beings are naturally members of a social order, but they do not thereby lose their individuality. Possessing natural rights absolutely (as the principal means by which they acquire and develop virtue — “human-ness”), they can necessarily only exercise them in limited fashion against other people who also have rights.
That is, in fact, the whole basis and purpose of the social order: defining the exercise of absolute rights so that right holders gain the maximum benefit from their rights without harming themselves, other individuals, groups, or the common good as a whole. “The State” — organized human society — was made for people, all people; people were not made for the State.
Arranging matters so that people get the maximum benefit from their rights and do no harm to others does not happen naturally. Even if every individual in a community was perfectly virtuous and had only goodwill toward everyone else, conflicts would arise. This is because one individual’s wants and needs are going to be different from everyone else’s wants and needs, regardless how broadly and carefully those wants and needs are defined.
|"Hi. I'm Thomas à Kempis, bestselling Medieval author."
This is true even — or especially! — in a religious community. The “bestseller” in the Middle Ages after the Bible was Thomas à Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ, a manual of how to live in community with others. Many people at that time thought life would be perfect if only they could enter the religious life . . . and found out very quickly that religious life can be much more difficult than that in the “outside world.”
In the early nineteenth century the “democratic religion” of socialism convinced many people that life would be perfect — the “Kingdom of God on Earth,” in fact — if only private property were abolished and Church, State, and Family all merged into one ideal society. In the Victorian era the delusion was that life would automatically be perfect if one got married, while in the 1960s the idea spread that living in a commune would be the perfect life.
And so on. As Fulton Sheen once remarked, however, “This idea of a “Heaven here below” is the surest way to make a hell upon earth.” (Fulton J. Sheen, Philosophies at War. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1943, 94.)
|"I, Caiphas, say it's better to condemn this one than I suffer."
Why? Because violating anyone’s rights of life, liberty, or private property, even for the greatest good, is to establish a program or proposal on a lie: that one can do good by doing evil. The central Mystery of Christianity derives from the hideous injustice of executing an innocent Man “that the nation might be saved.”
And how did that work out for you, Caiphas?
Does that mean that good can never come out of evil? Of course not. It does mean, however, that no one can intentionally do something evil in order to bring about good. The end does not justify the means.
Obviously, then, organized human society requires some kind of regulation, or people will do as they please as long as they can get away with it. Might would make right.
|Rule of law, not the whim of the strongest.
At the same time, however, regulations cannot define every human action or control every aspect of life, or free will is negated and human dignity is offended at the most fundamental level. After all, how can you be said to have a right when you can only exercise it at someone else’s behest or will? And if you cannot exercise rights as rights, then how are people to acquire and develop virtue as an ordinary thing?
Yes, there will always be people who will acquire and develop virtue even in the worst conditions and in the face of horrifying injustice. That does not, however, prove that the worst conditions or horrifying injustice is the ideal arrangement of society. Nor does it prove that regulating a society is a bad thing just because some people in authority impose bad regulations.
It does prove, however, that regulation in society must be enforced in some manner or the regulation is meaningless, and it must be enforced equally for all, or it is unjust.
There must therefore be guidelines for regulations to prevent them from being arbitrary or whatever the strongest find most beneficial to them alone, and those regulations must also be enforced equally for everyone.
Having established that rather common sense rule for regulation, in our next exciting chapter we will look at what those rules or principles for regulation might be.#30#