Ethical human agency is only possible with freedom. Freely turning to the good, which the Creator has given us, is the highest sign of human dignity. The proper exercise of freedom requires “specific conditions of an economic, social, juridic, political and cultural order”. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, n. 137) The free market is one of these institutions. The free market is the most efficient instrument to guarantee the distribution of goods and services in society. Beyond efficiency, however, markets need sound ethical and cultural foundations. Only free markets can be ethical markets, and only ethical markets can function in freedom. One of these primary and universally recognized ethical principles is charity.
Pope Benedict XVI affirms that “charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine” (Caritas in veritate, 2). This prompts several questions. What substance does charity possess as “the principle of macro-relationships?” How does it relate to justice? How can charity be defined as a social principle, if love cannot be institutionalized and social ethics are structural, not individual? How can charity be put into effect in the everyday functioning of a free economy characterized by competition and scarce resources?
Facing the challenge of these questions is of paramount interest for Christian ethics, because charity is the central commandment, the sum of all other ethical prescriptions, norms and values. Traditionally, charity has been related to the private sphere of family and friends. A desire to “return to love” in other social domains can be noted under the different names of friendship, gratuitousness, solidarity, sustainability, etc.
Solidarity and sustainability in particular seem to be two principles which convey the idea of benevolence and charity in the economy.
Solidarity is an expression of man’s social nature and his inclination to friendship. Sustainability involves responsibility for people and the environment, taking following generations into account. Of course, there is an inner tension between solidarity and freedom, between benevolence and self-interest, between sustainability and short term success. This tension must be balanced for a proper functioning of market mechanisms.
This posits questions such as the following which, among others, might be addressed at this conference:
Does “neighborly love” make sense as a social principle for economic activity?
What is the connection, if any, between ethics and the economic function of the market?
In particular, what is the place of the principle of solidarity in the free economy?
How can free markets be articulated in such a way so that they encompass/include solidarity and sustainability?
How do ideologies favor or prevent the integration of solidarity into the free market?
What can we learn from Catholic Social Teaching on the proposed theme?
What foundations can be provided for the integration of the free market with solidarity and sustainability?
How can solidarity and sustainability be integrated into Business Education?
Under what regulatory conditions is capitalism acceptable in the current historical context?
Are financial markets compatible with solidarity and sustainability?
How can free markets, integrated with solidarity, contribute to alleviating poverty?
MCE Project - Pontificia Università della Santa Croce
The Catholic University of America