One of the first principles of liberty is the ability of the people in a free society to have the ability to have their own enterprise. In many nations the way that the government, which is for the government and not the people, keeps the people from advancing is that they take away their speech, religion and ability to make their own money. Therefore, it is important that the United States and other Western democracies were founded on the precepts of monetary as well as personal liberty. But this is not a program that is specific to these types of democracies because the Catholic Church had long fought for the rights of the people prior to the founding of these national governments. This practice has carried forward to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and it has greatly impacted the financial philosophy of both the church and its people. This paper is both an expose of the market practices espoused by the Catholic Church and a glimpse into my personal understanding of how it works for me and how it should work, in a perfect world, for everybody else.
The first thing I realized is that God's love does not come to His people in a small package, but it encompasses all aspects of a person's life. This means that when I am concerned for a test or some other event that may seem trivial to me or someone else, it is not trivial to God because He cares about everything that happens to me and how each event will impact my relationship to Him. Since finances and employment are necessarily a major part of my life, He has a great deal of interest in how I will gather and spend money. I have heard it said that Christ talked more about money than any other subject in the New Testament.
Because this is something that is so important to God, it is also important to the Catholic Church. For many years the Church has passed on statements of how people are to control themselves financially, and they have given guidelines as to how the individual is to conduct themselves financially. Two of the most important of these were the encyclicals Rerum Novarum issued by Pope Leo XIII and the Quadragesimo Anno issued by Pope Pius XI. The main focus of both of these encyclicals was social justice and how it related to personal finances. This all goes back to the teachings of personal liberty that have been a major focus of Western democracies and the Catholic Church in the past several centuries.
It seems that the main concern of the Catholic Church is to give the individual the ability to be free as it is ordained in so much of the Bible. Of course, the person is not to be free in the sense that they have complete anarchy of will, but that they are free to exercise themselves as God would intend. This means that government is a tool that should be in place to support the activities of the individual and not the other way around. As I stated earlier, one of the problems governments have had is that they oppress people to an extent that they are not able to be who God wants them to be. One of the failings of Western democracies in this case is that they become too big and they give way to a welfare state.
The idea of a welfare state could be said to be one of the principles of the Catholic Church because many early Christians lived in communes in which all was shared. However, the apostles made sure that people realized that there was no free meal within the confines of the commune. If the individual wanted to eat they must also work for the greater good of the other people. This is a principle that is prominent in such thought as distributism. This principle says that we have the "need for laws that favor and protect the ownership of the means of production by private owners" (Pelicano). This was one of the central tenets of Pope Leo XIII encyclical in 1891. He also looked at the rights of workers and said that "social and economic functions should, whenever possible, be managed by the least centralized or lowest order of society" (Pelicano). This is the principle of subsidiarity.
Basically both principles have in them the rights of the individual over the rights of the state as a whole. Of course this is supposed to be one of the guiding principles of the U.S. Constitution and all of the other Western democracies also, but many of them have become what are known as welfare states. This means that the ability of people to be self-directed financially is taken away from them and given to the state. Many also call this the nanny state where a great number of people rely on the government to take care of them rather than being able to take care of their own interests and finances. From the literature, this is a problem for the Catholic Church because it is also a problem with Biblical teaching. People were meant to be beholden to their Creator and not to any of the creation. If people give up a part of themselves to their national (or local) government, then they are less able to give themselves wholly to God. Anything that detracts from the relationship between a person and their God is supposed to be cast down. That is why the Catholic Church has been so vocal in its support of worker's rights and on the economy.
One of the most vocal people with regard to worker's rights was Dorothy Day. She was a woman who came to Catholicism in her twenties and was a life-long advocate of worker's rights (Forest). The first thing she saw was the beauty of the world and how many of the people in the world were not able to enjoy God's providence because they were so burdened with everyday life. They did not have the financial and personal freedom necessary to make them true children of God. Instead of turning away from God, she found Him in the plight of the people she saw and wrote about. She accepted a mission from a beloved mentor (Forest) to promote the teachings of the Catholic Church regarding worker's rights and the role of the government. She is an interesting figure in the world of economics because she was able to understand what people needed the most and she fought to promote the Catholic social and financial goals for every person.
One of her main beliefs was that the government was too big and they took away some of the people's freedom because of the need for excessive taxation to support government bloat (Forest). Subsidiarity, being one of the central tenets of recent pope encyclicals, had to appeal to her. Personal freedom and the protection of a small government are the main goals of this principle (Bosnich). It is also one of the driving forces behind the Catholic framework for economic life that was written by the USCCB in 1996. In short, the statement is a framework that contains the concerns and guidelines of the Catholic Church in the U.S. with regard to the economy. The principles are:
The economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy.
All economic life should be shaped by moral principles. Economic choices and institutions must be judged by how they protect or undermine the life and dignity of the human person, support the family and serve the common good.
A fundamental moral measure of any economy is how the poor and vulnerable are faring.
All people have a right to life and to secure the basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, safe environment, and economic security.
All people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefits, to decent working conditions as well as to organize and join unions or other associations.
All people, to the extent they are able, have a corresponding duty to work, a responsibility to provide for the needs of their families and an obligation to contribute to the broader society.
In economic life, free markets have both clear advantages and limits; government has essential responsibilities and limitations; voluntary groups have irreplaceable roles, but cannot substitute for the proper working of the market and the just policies of the state.
Society has a moral obligation, including governmental action where necessary, to assure opportunity, meet basic human needs, and pursue justice in economic life.
Workers, owners, managers, stockholders and consumers are moral agents in economic life. By our choices, initiative, creativity and investment, we enhance or diminish economic opportunity, community life and social justice.
The global economy has moral dimensions and human consequences. Decisions on investment, trade, aid and development should protect human life…