Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The Just Third Way

Today’s blog posting is adapted from the book, Economic Personalism, which you can get free from the CESJ website, or from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

The fortieth anniversary of the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice is coming up.  We’ll tell a little bit more about that as the anniversary itself, April 7, approaches, but today we’re looking at a major program developed by CESJ: the Just Third Way of Economic Personalism.


Nearly five years before the Soviet Union officially dissolved, an historic meeting took place that escaped the world’s notice and barely survived a last-minute cancellation. At the time even the participants in the meeting missed its full significance.

On February 9, 1987, representatives of President Ronald Reagan’s Presidential Task Force on Project Economic Justice (PEJ), including founders of the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice who conceived the Task Force, had assembled at the Vatican with members of the Polish Solidarity Movement (Solidarność). They had been granted a private audience with His Holiness Pope John Paul II.


Headed by Norman G. Kurland, Deputy Chairman of the Task Force and President of CESJ, the delegation had traveled from the U.S. and Poland to present to His Holiness the bipartisan Task Force’s report, High Road to Economic Justice. (This unanimous report was later delivered to President Reagan in a White House ceremony on August 3, 1987.)

The PEJ report offered a peaceful, justice-based strategy to counter the spread of Marxist-Leninism throughout Central America and the Caribbean region by promoting worker ownership through Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs). Solidarność members had translated into Polish the Project Economic Justice orientation book, Every Worker an Owner, and had distributed 40,000 copies throughout the country.

Earlier, when the delegation’s U.S. contingent had arrived at the airport in Rome, they were told that their meeting with the pope had been canceled. The delegation had been “bumped” at the last minute by a head of state requesting a papal audience. 


Upon receiving this disappointing news, Rabbi Herzel Kranz, head of an orthodox Jewish congregation in Silver Spring, Maryland, and a key figure in the formation of the Presidential Task Force, sprang into action. He convinced the organizer of the papal audience, the Very Reverend Cassian Yuhaus, C.P. (former head of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate), to appeal to His Excellency then-Archbishop Achille Silvestrini to intercede.

Archbishop Silvestrini, the Vatican’s Secretary of State for Public Affairs and a close friend of Fr. Cassian’s, agreed to do what he could. The delegation was squeezed into the pope’s busy schedule.

His Holiness warmly received the members of the delegation outside his private library and encouraged them in their work. He also recommended that they collaborate with His Eminence Roger Cardinal Etchegaray, President of the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace, to educate Vatican scholars on the ideas contained in the Task Force report.


Over the next several years, with now-Cardinal Silvestrini’s support and Fr. Cassian’s counsel, CESJ continued to build connections within the Vatican with officials including Paul Cardinal Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council on Culture. In 1991, CESJ organized a conference in Rome for Vatican scholars on a socio-economic paradigm later called the “Just Third Way.” Speakers focused on social teachings of the Catholic Church, particularly the encyclicals of Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI, which emphasized the importance of widespread capital ownership.

Highlighted in the conference presentations were the definition and principles of “Social Justice” as articulated by Pius XI, a sociologist who analyzed the moral relationship between the human person, social institutions and the Common Good. (Pius XI’s concepts of Social Justice had been at the heart of CESJ’s founding in 1984, when they were introduced by Reverend William Ferree, SM, Ph.D., a world-recognized scholar in the social philosophy of Pius XI.)

Louis O. Kelso


The conference also focused on the three principles of “Economic Justice” as defined by corporate finance lawyer and expanded ownership economist Louis O. Kelso and his co-author, Aristotelian-Thomist philosopher Mortimer J. Adler. Their systematized understanding of Economic Justice, also adopted by CESJ, addressed the moral omissions in both Capitalism and Socialism. Incorporated within Kelso’s theory of “binary economics,” these principles informed the financial technologies and institutional reforms Kelso invented (and CESJ later refined). These enable every citizen, even those lacking savings to invest, to purchase a personal stake of capital assets.

Following the Rome conference, CESJ’s delegation was granted a second audience with Pope John Paul II in which His Holiness was presented with a special edition of Every Worker an Owner. The papal audience and conference led to further progress. CESJ published several books on the principles and applications for creating a Culture of Life, Liberty, and Justice, with economic independence for every person.

Mortimer Adler


CESJ’s “pro-life economic agenda” provides the reasons and reforms for extending to every member of society full access to the Common Good, including the monetary system. With access through the commercial and central banking system to newly created asset-backed money and insured capital credit, every person every year, from birth to death, would gain the means to purchase shares of new and transferred capital.

The two audiences with Pope John Paul II symbolized a confluence of revolutionary ideas developed over the centuries. Principles and theories of social and economic justice, universal human rights, non-violent social change, and free market economics could be practically applied. This was now possible thanks to a new understanding of money and credit as tools for financing sustainable and broadly owned economic growth in a globalized and technology-driven world.

This synthesis of social, economic, and political thought would coalesce as a “Just Third Way” transcending systems of individualism and collectivism that concentrate power in a private élite or in the State. Not fully appreciated by CESJ until recently was Pope John Paul II’s own profound contributions to the philosophical orientation known as “Personalism.”

Pope Francis


Today His Holiness Pope Francis faces deep divisions within the Church, while external threats are driving apart people, nations and the world. The global community faces a deadly pandemic with no end in sight, impending economic collapse, rising trade wars and military tensions, dissolution of alliances, devastating climate change, and a growing gap in wealth, power and opportunity between the richest 1% and 99% of the world’s citizens.

The poorest of the poor, now facing sheer starvation, have been virtually forgotten by politicians, academia, the media and the general public. Ultra-nationalist, anti-immigrant, and racist sentiments are winning over, with alarming rapidity, the hearts and minds of ordinary citizens. At the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, self-styled “progressives” and “democratic socialists” are calling upon the State to redistribute income and wealth.

This book, Economic Personalism: Property, Power and Justice for Every Person, explores a new path for the future. By understanding the moral basis of John Paul II’s “Personalism” and the ideas of other “personalist” and “post-scarcity” thinkers, we can identify the elements of a new paradigm for overcoming humanity’s greatest challenges. With new assumptions, we can conceive a new economy based on the dignity, development, and empowerment of every human person, within a just social order and life-enhancing environment.


As explained in Economic Personalism, every member of society — including the poorest of the poor, the unemployed, and those unable to engage in economic work — can become a fully empowered producer and consumer in the economy. Our basic institutions can be restructured to provide truly equal economic opportunity through equal access to the means to become an owner of future productive capital, without having to redistribute anyone’s existing wealth.

This new possibility starts with a re-examination of justice, property, and the role of money and credit as “social tools.” As Pope Francis has stated, we must say “No” to the worship of money and the material goods of this world. Only when such things as the State, corporations and money are returned to their proper role as humanity’s servants — not its masters — can we dismantle the systemic barriers that divide people instead of uniting them.

With the proper functioning of money within a more just economic system, advanced technologies of all kinds could free every person from dehumanizing toil. Unfettered by the daily struggle for subsistence and survival, each of us would be free to develop our highest human potential and pursue our highest spiritual needs. Each of us could own and not be owned.

Economic Personalism posits that there are universal moral values and principled yet effective means for reforming human institutions to liberate and empower every human person. It affirms John Paul II’s observation that the economic system and society as a whole benefit when the rights, values, and dignity of each person are respected.

When we have conquered systemic poverty, we can all become, as global design scientist R. Buckminster Fuller put it: “Architects of the future, not its victims.” We will have the means to become better stewards of Nature, prospering in harmony with the natural world rather than destroying it. The Personalist approach to building a just global economy will also eliminate the economic causes of war, bringing global unity in support of eliminating weapons of mass destruction.

Ultimately, Economic Personalism is a tribute to the vision of John Paul II and other pioneering thinkers who have advanced the dignity and empowerment of every person as the basis for an effective democratic order, a good society, and the beloved community.

As a guide for Pope Francis and other world leaders, the idea of Economic Personalism as a “Just Third Way” above and beyond Capitalism and Socialism has the potential to bring about a new era of justice, ownership, freedom, and peace for all people throughout the world.