As of May 18th, 2018, God officially has an opinion on economics. That is to say, God’s earthly representatives in Rome have issued a document exploring how fair economics is integral to the flourishing of individual human beings. It’s sort of the same thing.
Entitled Oeconomicae et pecuniariae quaestiones: Considerations for an Ethical Discernment Regarding Some Aspects of the Present Economic-Financial System (try saying that when you’ve had a few too many), this document takes us on a journey through everything from economic globalisation to the management of savings. It is not something that just Catholics should read: it is a must read for every single human being who is concerned with economics. So that should be everybody.
Most profoundly, and most importantly, its authors take aim at the separation of economic behaviour and ethics. Consider, for example, this (completely unambitious) section:
progress within an economic system cannot measured [sic] only by quantitative and profit-driven standards, but also on the basis of the well-being that extends a good that is not simply material. Every economic system is legitimate if it thrives not merely through the quantitative development of exchange but rather by its capacity to promote the development of the entire person and of every person.
There is, in this section, no mention of God. There is no mention of Jesus Christ. There is no mention of transubstantiation or the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception or the Doctrine of Hell. Instead, it is a very simple statement that the core of economics should be the absolute ethical statement that human beings deserve the ability to socially and spiritually transform under whatever system is in place. It goes on to recommend that universities and business schools educate their pupils in ‘a vision of the totality of the human person and avoids a reductionism that sees only some dimensions of the person.’
In other words, it states that economics should be about human flourishing and development. It curbs the commonly held perception that profit maximisation, not social good, should drive economic forces; that we should go for the cheapest, rather than most ethical, product on sale. Not being the enemy of profit, its chief author Archbishop Ladaria writes that it is availing an inequality for your own advantage, or exploiting somebody else for your profit, that is the problem.
It is impossible to call this document’s proposals either capitalist or socialist, communist or hard libertarian. Rather, it is promoting a view of economics that sees the creation of economic product as an ethical issue, and one which we cannot afford to just ignore. Each business venture, it is written, carries with it a certain form of social responsibility.
It is this that makes this document so important, and so relevant, for everybody: Catholic or otherwise. Unusually for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, its conclusions do not rely on the existence of a Supreme Being. The word ‘God’ is mentioned eight times, and the name ‘Jesus Christ’ three times, presumably in an attempt to show how devoid of religious considerations these issues can be. This is not a statement of theological interpretation: this is a statement of market ethics.
What the Vatican has just released should not simply concern Catholics and theologians. It should concern everybody who wishes to make this planet a better place, and its economic system fairer for all.