War-making and money-making are “morally dangerous” engagements.
As the Christian faith developed Just War principles to guide governments and soldiers, we need Just Money principles to guide governments and financial traders – and bankers.
That’s an ambitious and much needed moral agenda from Theos, an ecumenical Christian think tank in Britain. Theos contends that the modern world cannot be understood without religion.
Theos sets out its Just Money principles in a new, provocative report: “Just Money: How Catholic Social Teaching Can Redeem Capitalism.”
The report begins by exploring what drove the 2008 economic crash.
Behind the crash was the economic theory labeled “market fundamentalism,” “neoliberalism” or “laissez-faire.” That theory held that “the freer markets were of government intervention, the better they delivered the goods.”
The report said: “The basic flaw in the system was not just about personal greed, but about the idea that free market forces need not be, and should not be, deflected by scruples about their consequences; in other words that economics has no need of morality, that ‘the business of business is business,’ and that what matters is the short-term maximization of shareholder value.”
The problem, of course, is that the theory didn’t deliver. “Light touch” regulations of the financial markets failed.
The idea of some invisible hand working through the market for human betterment through economic growth is a “naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system,” the report said, quoting Pope Francis.
Without government intervention, the global banking system would have completely collapsed, creating far more harm than the crash did create – and that was bad enough.
“Despite the catastrophe of 2008, neoliberalism remains the default orthodoxy among professional economists. That means the problems have not been cured, and until they have, another catastrophe is likely,” the report warned. “Neoliberalism is a false ideology that has to be confronted, in the name of sound economics and of humanity itself.”
This is where Catholic social teaching on the common good enters the economic conversation, not as a new economic theory but as a moral resource to challenge the idea among economists that human beings are only motivated by self-interest and to encourage business to consider actions that contribute to “human flourishing.”
Theos presents 10 principles:
First is “prioritizing the common good over profits.”
Second is “respect for human dignity and opposition to discrimination.”
Third is “sustainability, solidarity, subsidiarity and civil society.” Solidarity means “all are responsible for all” in all activities. “Subsidiarity” pushes against the dangers of “centralization and collectivism,” a needed dimension because human beings are social creatures with an innate drive toward self-determination and self-government.
Civil society refers to churches, families, charities, clubs, unions – those organizations that moderate the excesses of government and market forces.
Fourth is “defense of workers’ rights.” Employers must treat employees as human beings. Employers must be good citizens.
Fifth is “recovering a sense of vocation and virtue in pursuit of ‘excellence’ in trade or professional skills.”
Sixth is “priority for the poor and disadvantaged and resistance to unfair inequality.”
Seventh is the “importance of reciprocity and unconditional gift (gratuitousness).” That is “freely given service,” which builds trust within society.
Eighth is “private property held under stewardship.”
Ninth is “dangers of marketization and commodification.”
Tenth is “the state’s duty to protect and promote the common good.”
Each of the 10 principles receives substantive description, although some need greater clarification for them to be easily communicated and used.
Nonetheless, Theos has presented a moral document with which faith leaders and business leaders ought to engage.
The idea that “the business of business is business” is a broken one that enriches a few at the expense of the many, impoverishes society and cripples the common good. That slogan needs to be jettisoned in favor of one that incorporates moral values and advances human dignity.
We can do better. We must do better.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.