In an attempt to add some clarity to blogosphere conversations involving economics and the Catholic Church here’s a brief comment on “common good” and Doug Douma’s post “Don’t be duped by this dope, errr, Pope” at Libertarian Christians (LC) .
In the post LC quotes a Reuters article that quotes Pope Benedict XVI. The Reuters quote comes from a response the Pope gave during a Q&A session with reporters on his way to Spain last week.
In addition to being taken out of context (by Reuters, not LC), the Reuters quote does not accurately reflect the transcript of the Q&A session provided by Zenit.
Reuters’ version reads:
The economy cannot be measured by the maximum profit but by the common good,
The Zenit version reads:
Man must be at the center of the economy and the economy must not be measured according to greatest profit, but according to the good of all.
LC comments on the Reuters version that “one cannot “measure the economy” at all; neither by the common good nor by maximum profit.”
First let’s recognize that the Pope and LC are in agreement that the economy can not be measured by profit.
LC also states that the economy can not be measured at all, whether by profit or “common good” [emphasis mine] and welcomes an explanation of how one would measure the economy by the common good.
I doubt whether the Pope would make a case that the economy could quantitatively be measured by the common good. I think instead he would discuss the implications of what it means for man to be at the center of the economy. (The economy being for man, not the other way around, man for the economy.)
From this response of the Pope and from what I’ve read of Catholic social teaching (Rerum Novarum, Quadragesimo Anno, Centesimus Annus, Caritas in Veritate), I think the point the pope was trying to make is that man, acting man, must be the focus of how we evaluate the economy, not the mere P&L of corporations or the growth rate of the GDP. The “good of all” or the “common good” is what’s good for all of us (universally) in the context of justice and charity; equal application of the law (GM and Chrysler comes to mind), lack of favoritism for certain classes (TARP and Cash for Clunkers comes to mind) and so on.
Being the head pastor of the universal Church, the Pope would not offer specific economic prescriptions to be enacted in this or that local or national economy. What he will do though is work to guide the discussion and reflection to the moral and spiritual framework which supersedes the economic framework. I think in this case he was gently saying that the economy should not be evaluated by aggregate, materialistic statistics so prevalent in our Keynesian world but rather it should be evaluated in the context of “…a [moral] framework that honors the dignity of man and allows man to pursue not only material gain but also his higher calling.“
*Word cloud of Caritas in Veritate by Wordle