Economics VS. Ethics

This piece was written for Ethics, a philosophy course, in which we needed to examine the relationship between economics and ethics.

The relationship between economics and ethics is often clouded. The two fields finds themselves at battling ends; ethicists find economists lacking a view of human nature and morality, while economist find ethicists lacking systematic thinking and perception for real world relevance. Economics is a form of an ethic science; it concerns how to understand, manage, and fulfill conflicting values, interests, and capacities of groups of individuals operating within the constraints of limited resources in a community. Belloc understands the necessity of the connection between economics and ethics, but he specifically articulates that economic law and moral law are very distinct. He says “The science of economics does not deal with true happiness nor even with well-being in material things. It deals with a strictly limited field of what is called ‘economic wealth,’ and if it goes outside its own boundaries it goes wrong” (Belloc, 35).

As outlined in “Economics for Helen,” Belloc discusses different forms of economics in society. He discusses the Servile State, in which the government or more powerful men than themselves own the workingmen. He discusses that the disadvantages of the servile state are many but the largest disadvantage is that is degrades men; by this form of government, they are not citizens and they cannot exercise there on wills, because they are owned by another. This form of government strips men from their human dignity and their exercise of rights and responsibilities. He discusses the Capitalist State, which is a political system in which the state has control of production and the use of capital. Belloc discusses that the idea of a capitalist state is a modern phenomena, and feels that the disadvantages stretch far greater than advantages in the long run. According to Belloc, the capitalist state is once in which all men are free, but with a loophole; although no one is compelled to work for any other man by any kind of law, they, by his definitions, cannot be considered free owners of their own means of production. He says, “Few owners of the land and capital have working for them the great mass of the people who own little or nothing and receive a wage to keep them alive” (Belloc, 96). This means that the workers only receive a small fraction of what they make, the rest goes to the government.

According to Belloc, the best choice in terms of economic formats is the Distributive form of society, as outlined in “Economics for Helen.” Distributism is a socioeconomic theory and system advocating widespread ownership of private property and the means of production, which is based on the late 19th century Catholic teachings on economic and social justice. It is Belloc’s opinion that Distributism is the best choice in terms of economic forms of society because the good seems to outweigh the bad in most cases. “The disadvantages of such a system are, first, that though in practice it is found usually unstable, yet in theory it is not necessarily stable, and in practice also there are some communities the social character of which is such that the system cannot be established permanently” (Belloc, 103).

Generally speaking, Belloc shares many of the same ideals that are taught in Catholic social thought. The main connection between Belloc and Catholic social thought is acknowledgement for the individual. Belloc explains that one of the soul advantages of Distributism is that it gives freedom. In this he discusses the importance of the family and possession of the means of production. He says, “If you will not take my surplus as against your surplus I shall be the poorer; but at least I can live” (Belloc, 102). He says that these societies are not only free, but they also have elasticity and are able to “mould themselves easily to changed conditions” (Belloc, 103). In this he discusses once again the family dynamic and discusses how the individuals, “can choose what he will do best, and can exercise his facilities, if he has sufficient knowledge, to the best advantage” (Belloc, 102).

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, subsidiarity is often regarded in terms of the dangers inherent in too much power being centralized in the hands of the state. “Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good” (Catholic Church, 460). In short, the principle of subsidiarity is the assumption that the rights of a small community should not be violated by the intervention of larger communities.

Catholic social teaching is the body of doctrine developed by the Catholic Church on matters of social justice, involving issues of poverty and wealth, economics, social organization and the role of the state. It is based on the belief that God has a plan for creation, a plan to build his kingdom of peace, love, and justice. The seven themes of Catholic social teaching are life and dignity of the human person, the call to family, community, and participation, rights and responsibilities, option for the poor and vulnerable, the dignity of work and the rights of workers, solidarity, and care for God’s creation. The Catholic Church teaches that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. According to the Catholic Church, it is the duty of the state to protect the rights and dignity of the human persons from conception to natural death. “We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person”(seven). The Catholic Church teaches that the human person is not only a sacred being, but also a social being; it says that the ways in which we organize directly affects our human dignity and our capacity to grow in community; this is put into practice through economics and politics, as well as in law and policies (seven).

According to Catholic social teaching, human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can exist only if all human rights are protected, and all human responsibilities are met. By this, every human person has a fundamental right to life and a right to a good life. Along with our inalienable rights come responsibilities to one another, our families, and society as a whole (seven). In regards to the dignity of work and the rights of workers, the economy must serve the people, not the other way around. According to Catholic social teaching, work is more than a way to make a living; rather it is a form of continuing God’s creation. “If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected—the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative” (seven).

We live in an imperfect world, and we, as humans are in-turn imperfect beings; by this logic, absolute perfection would be unattainable. However, the Catholics believe that we are called to imitate Christ and to strive for the absolute perfection that He exemplified. “What is true of man in his relationship with God is true of man in his relationship with his neighbor.” In practical terms, every policy and practice should lead to a reunion of man with the land and capital on which he depends; likewise, policies that put man more at the mercy of whose who control the land and the capital on which he depends, controlling his labor are detrimental to the fundamental practices on which society should function.

In my opinion, economists today are too focused on systematic thinking. They have a lack of perception for morality and human nature and therefore neglect the individual persons that make up society as a whole. In order to create a functioning society for all men, there needs to be a greater connection between moral thought and law. When we make the connection between ethics and economy, we are able to create a political format that allows society to grow and prosper while still upholding the fundamental laws regarding human dignity.

Works Cited

Belloc, Hilaire. Economics for Helen. New York & London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1924. Print.

Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreria Editrice

Vaticana, 2000. Print.

“Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching.” Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching. USCCB Communications, n.d. Web. 10 May 2016.

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