We come to the final installment of our series explaining the Core Values of the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ). If you read the list of CESJ’s Core Values in order you will notice that they go more or less in a logical order, a progression from the Source of it all, to the main goal of CESJ . . . of life itself, as a matter of fact.
|"I'm back again, dudes."|
This, of course, is within the Aristotelian-Thomist framework that assumes the meaning and purpose of life is to pursue happiness and become more fully human by acquiring and developing virtue, i.e., “human-ness.” Human beings being (as Aristotle put it) “political animals” — normally carrying out the business of existence within a consciously structured and maintained social order — it necessarily follows that each person as a sovereign being under the highest sovereignty of God is directly responsible, both individually and socially, to promote virtue both individually and socially. As the ninth Core Value on the list has it,
The highest responsibility of each person is to pursue absolute values and to promote economic and social justice in his or her personal life and all associations with others.
The question here, of course, is . . . How? That is where the work of CESJ comes in. We can’t do much directly about people becoming virtuous, but we can do a lot about reforming the social order through acts of social justice. And that means —?
Most people assume as a matter of course that “social justice” means providing for people’s needs when ordinary means fail or the system is unjust. No, meeting people’s needs comes under individual virtue, not social virtue. Social virtue is directed to the common good, that vast network of institutions within which human beings as political animals go about the business of existence, the “politikos bios,” the “life of the citizen in the state.”
|Fulton J. Sheen|
Social justice relates to making it possible for the individual virtues to function properly, not to replacing or supplementing them. Thinking that social justice is a way of turning charity into justice is a common mistake, but that doesn’t make it right. As the late Fulton J. Sheen was fond of saying, “Right is still right if nobody does it. Wrong is still wrong if everybody does it.” If everybody says that 2 + 2 = 5, it is still 4, regardless.
CESJ’s work, therefore, involves resolving a two-part “problem” of social justice. One, a means of direct access by each person to the common good and all institutions of the social order. Two, a viable means of empowering each human person economically through direct ownership of productive assets (“capital”) to make that full social access effective.
Social virtue solves the first part of the problem of social justice. Through acts of social virtue, human persons can effect necessary changes directly in the social environment — “the system.” This conforms the institutions of the common good more closely to human nature, and establishes and maintains the proper environment for the acquisition and development of virtue. People can more easily become more fully human, because the system encourages them to become virtuous.
|Mortimer J. Adler|
And how to acquire and possess the capital ordinarily required to empower people to act virtuously both individually and socially? That’s where economic justice comes in. The goal of economic justice is not to provide economically for people directly, but (like social virtue) to make it possible for people to take care of themselves economically.
At which point the question becomes how to do it.
In The Capitalist Manifesto (1958) and The New Capitalists (1961), Louis Kelso and Mortimer Adler presented a viable and personalist means of bringing about widespread capital ownership. The subtitle of the second volume is significant: “A Proposal to Free Economic Growth from the Slavery of Savings.”
Kelso — Adler gave him full credit for the idea — did not mean that capital can be formed without the use of savings. The fact is that savings can be generated either by reducing consumption (past savings) or by increasing production (future savings). What Kelso meant was, instead of people working to accumulate savings, savings could work for people to accumulate capital.
|Louis O. Kelso|
Considered as a breakthrough in applying moral philosophy (which is what primarily interested Adler) Kelso’s achievement was to explain how techniques of modern corporate finance could be used to provide money and credit to make every person an owner of capital without redistribution or harming private property in any way. Expansion of commercial bank credit backed up by a central bank and collateralized with capital credit insurance could be used to provide full access to capital ownership by every member of society.
Nor was that all. Kelso’s breakthrough was not merely to develop a new application of the science of finance. His innovative financing techniques were, instead, a logical development of the principles of economic justice presented in Chapter 5 of The Capitalist Manifesto. Kelso developed three principles of economic justice:
· The Principle of Participation. “[E]veryone has a right to earn a living by participating in the production of wealth.”( CESJ has refined and developed the principle of participation into “participative justice,” recognizing it as a particular virtue.)
· The Principle of Distribution. “[E]ach should receive a share that is proportionate to the value of the contribution each has made to the production of that wealth.” (CESJ recognizes the principle of distribution as classical “distributive justice.” Distributive justice guides not only transactions among individuals, but also the structuring and operation of institutions.)
· The Principle of Limitation. “[T]he ownership of productive property by an individual or household must not be allowed to increase beyond the point where it injures others by excluding them from the opportunity to earn a viable income.” (CESJ has expanded Kelso and Adler’s principle of limitation to the much broader particular virtue of social justice. This relates not only to the balance and harmony of participative and distributive justice, but also to the act of organizing to correct unjust or defective institutions.)