All things, as Aristotle said in the beginning of the Nichomachean Ethics, seek the good. If someone seeks evil, it is because he either has the wrong idea of what is good, or is trying to avoid a greater evil. The former is called a badly formed conscience and must be corrected through education and example.
The latter is “the principle of double effect” and follows a number of stringent rules. Chief among these rules are that you cannot use the excuse that you are avoiding a greater evil in order to justify a lesser evil (or vice versa!), nor can the unintended evil you do be “objectively evil,” that is, evil in and of itself.
This is relevant because a number of the solutions proposed by various individuals and groups for today’s global crisis are clearly well-intentioned, at least from the perspective and orientation of those doing the proposing. Elements of these solutions, however, may be contrary to what is good for everyone, and the goals may not be consistent with the demands of human dignity or with sound economic or financial principles.
Notable among the recent solutions proposed are, the Great Reset or Stakeholder Capitalism, and the Universal Basic Income.
Admittedly, many of the specific measures proposed may be essential, if short-term expedients if people are to be maintained in a manner consistent with the demands of human dignity. They cannot, however, be considered solutions.
This is because these and other proposed solutions are in general not financially or economically sound, They also shift sovereignty away from the actuality of the human person and vest it in some abstraction, such as the capitalist élite or socialist collective. They thereby impose a condition of permanent dependency on human persons.
A condition of permanent dependency — infancy, incompetence or slavery — is inconsistent with the demands of human dignity. It can only be imposed for just cause after due process has been observed and on a case-by-case basis. At no time does the end justify the means.
Dependent status may be necessary at times, e.g., for children and convicted criminals during the period of rearing and rehabilitation, respectively, or for those deemed temporarily or permanently incompetent. The whole meaning and purpose of life, however, is to become more fully human (virtuous) to fit one’s self for one’s proper end, however that is understood in a particular faith or philosophy.
Ordinarily, human beings become virtuous by exercising their natural rights of life, liberty and private property. Natural rights are inherent in each human being and are, in fact, what define human beings as human persons.
Denying persons their rights, or permitting their exercise only as a grant from other persons or from some form of the collective, prevents or inhibits people from becoming virtuous. This interferes with the meaning and purpose of life itself — which is to become more fully human.
The question then becomes how and to what degree the proposed solutions and others inhibit or prevent people from reaching their full potential as human persons. Again, we stress the fact that these and other solutions — or at least elements of them — may be essential as expedients in the short-term. The problems arise when they are imposed as permanent, long-term solutions.
The Great Reset/Stakeholder Capitalism. As Klaus Schwab stated in his book, Stakeholder Capitalism (2021), the guiding principle at the heart of the Great Reset is “each stakeholder contributes what it can in stakeholder capitalism and receives what it needs.” (Klaus Schwab, Stakeholder Capitalism: A Global Economy that Works for Progress, People and Planet. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2021, 193.)
Thus, the principle of the Great Reset/Stakeholder Capitalism appears to be a restatement of the fundamental principle of the scientific socialism (communism) of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. That is, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” (Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program. Peking, China: Foreign Languages Press, 1972, 17.)
This principle is a good one for charity and as an expedient in an emergency situation. It acknowledges that all persons are in the same “family” and are morally obligated to help one another in times of need.
Ordinarily, such redistribution comes under charity and because it is a moral obligation must be strictly voluntary. When the situation is dire, however, duly constituted authority can justify a limited redistribution of wealth belonging to others.
In private property as understood in traditional natural law theory, the only people who have a right to the fruits of ownership are the owners, whether of labor or of capital. Thus, by natural law, income generated by labor goes to the owners of labor, and income generated by capital goes to the owners of capital. In a corporation, the term stakeholder was traditionally reserved for the owners of the corporation, i.e., the shareholders.
In stakeholder capitalism, the term stakeholder is expanded to include customers, suppliers, employees and local communities as well as shareholders. This is intended to ensure that a corporation or other form of business organization takes factors other than the immediate and short-term interests of the shareholders into account.
While this may, in fact, happen, it is only at the expense of redefining private property, and thus natural law. Production (supply) and consumption (demand) are separated from each other, rendering Say’s of Markets a nullity.
Since natural law is based on human nature, it effectively redefines what it means to be human. The meaning and purpose of life shifts from becoming more fully human, to ensuring an acceptable quality of life.
Becoming more fully human and enhancing quality of life can be related and are sometimes indistinguishable, More often, however, focusing on quality of life instead of the meaning of life leads to those with power determining for others what constitutes an acceptable quality of life. This can and does lead to abortion, euthanasia, sterilization and other measures for those deemed “unworthy of life” or whose quality of life does not meet certain standards. (See, e.g. Karl Binding and Alfre Hoche, Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens (1920) — “Permitting the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life,” the pamphlet the Nazis used to justify their T-4 Euthanasia Program.)
Democratic socialism and inclusive capitalism do not appear to be distinguished in any material way from stakeholder capitalism.
Strictly speaking, the Universal Basic Income (UBI) is not itself a complete proposal, nor does it pretend to be. It appears instead to be one of the elements often proposed within stakeholder capitalism.
Objectively, UBI is straight redistribution. As such, it increases demand for some without a corresponding increase in production. Whether funded out of direct taxation, charitable contributions or increases in debt, the UBI effectively “punishes” productive activity and rewards unproductive activity. This inhibits or prevents people from becoming more fully human.