The 7th Commandment: Prescriptions for Business - A Scholarly Reflection by Dr. Jim Wishloff

2008 Summer-Fall -A peer-reviewed article from an Issue of the Academic Journal "Fedelitas" of The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars

The Seventh Commandment: Prescriptions for Business
Jim Wishloff

Dr Wishloff is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Management at the University of Lethbridge (Edmonton Campus), with a research focus in business ethics.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is plumbed for its insight into business ethics. The prescriptions for right conduct in business offered by this compendium of Catholic doctrine are found to be concentrated in the instruction given for the Seventh Commandment: “You shall not steal.” As expected, theft, the usurping of another’s property against the reasonable will of the owner, is prohibited. Beyond this, however, and perhaps unexpectedly, the Commandment insists on nothing less than a right ordering of the world’s goods based on the dignity of the human person.


When the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) was published in English in 1992 it was the first such compendium of all Catholic doctrine regarding faith and morals to appear in 450 years. In his introduction, Pope John Paul II declared it (CCC) to be a sure norm for the teaching of the faith, a sure and authentic text for teaching Catholic doctrine. Clearly then it is meant to be and ought to be a most influential document for those of the Catholic faith. In matters of right conduct it should also be acceptable to all


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people of good will since the rich moral theology it advances is formulated out of careful reflection on the complex realities of human existence.

What does the Catechism say about how one ought to act in the affairs of enterprise? This guidance is concentrated in the exegesis given on the Seventh Commandment: You Shall Not Steal (CCC, 2401-2463). What is this instruction? What are its implications for the proper conduct of business? This paper undertakes a detailed examination of the text provoking these questions.

First, the acknowledged meaning of theft as the unjust taking or keeping the goods of another is presented. The instances of this including fraud, unjust wages, forcing up prices by taking advantage of the ignorance or hardship of others, speculation, corruption, work poorly done, tax evasion, forgery, excessive expenses and waste, and willfully damaging property are taken up. The essence of the Commandment lies beyond this extensive list of morally illicit behaviour, however. The responsible use of one’s freedom in the economic sector, the issue the Commandment addresses, is finally a matter of the right ordering of the world’s goods. The discussion necessarily involves and turns to this elemental issue.

Forms of Unjustly Taking and Keeping the Property of Others

 Fraud: The definition of fraud is to use deceit or trickery to gain an unfair or dishonest advantage. Such dishonesty has always been abhorrent to God:


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“You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, large and small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, large and small. You shall have only a full and honest weight; you shall have only a full and honest measure, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deut. 25:13-15).

The 7-Eleven corporation’s actions of providing only 79.6 ml of soda in its Big Gulp drink advertised at 1 litre is a direct example of failing to provide a full and honest measure. The Xerox Corp. was recently fined $10 million dollars for using“accounting tricks” to conceal its true operating performance. Financial fraud of this sort misleads investors depriving them of what is their right or due, a fair and full disclosure of the financial performance of the firm.

 Unjust Wages: Injustice to the wage earner is a sin that cries to heaven (CCC 1867).

“Come now you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter (Jas. 5: 1-5).

Hundreds of millions of tons of hazardous toxic wastes are shipped from North America to the Third World every year


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even though it is known that the recipient countries lack the money, the technology and the environmental safeguards to dispose of the waste properly. Workers are paid a few dollars a day to do this dangerous work. This is not an isolated phenomenon. When maximizing capital accumulation is taken to be the ultimate aim, labour is viewed as a cost to be avoided. This can be achieved by paying people as little as possible or by eliminating the need for them altogether (downsizing). The injustice of such pay provisions is made even more apparent by the fact that in many instances the companies are achieving record profits. People should be paid fairly for their work. “Remuneration for work shouldguarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural, and spiritual level, taking into account the role and productivity of each, the state of business, and the commongood”(CCC 2434). To withhold the means of living in conditions of dignity proper to human personhood from another person when it is in your power and is your duty to provide those means is to steal the basic necessities of life from another person.

 Forcing up Prices by Taking Advantage of the Ignorance or Hardship of Others: In the Holy Scriptures of the Christian faith God speaks through his prophets to condemn iniquity.

“Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “when will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the Sabbath so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with fake balances, buying the poor for


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silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” (Amos 8: 4-6).

Price manipulation of just this sort is still with us. It has been revealed that North American energy companies have withheld power generation to create artificial shortages thereby increasing prices. God condemns this behaviour because it is not reflective of his infinite love and justice. The actions violate the Golden Rule. We would not want our own vulnerability exploited to our detriment so we should not exploit the ignorance or hardship of others.

 Speculation: This is the act of contriving to manipulate the price of goods artificially in order to gain an advantage to the detriment of others (CCC 2409). So prevalent is speculation in the stock market that some commentators refer to this stage of our political/economic system as “casino capitalism”. Just like a real gambling house there are winners and losers and those who orchestrate the game. What’s lacking however is transparency and trust. Merrill Lynch paid $100 million dollars to settle charges that the firm misled clients by issuing overly positive research reports in hopes of attracting investment banking business. The CEO’s of these companies, standing to cash in on lucrative stock options, did nothing to temper investor expectations. The predictable result: trillions of dollars of shareholder wealth wiped out in only a few months. Many small investors have had their retirement monies stolen from them in the process. Speculation in currency markets is similar and has similar effects. Citizens are robbed of their rightful purchasing power of their currency.


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 Corruption: This is influencing the judgment of those who must make decisions according to law (CCC 2409). In Quebec, Canada, communications firms who were large donors to the ruling party were paid for reports that were not generated and advertising campaigns that were not done. Governments are entitled to receive the actual goods they are paying for. Society also has a right to an open and fair process for tendering contracts. When businesses “buy the ear of government” to the point that they do not even work for the government money they receive, the political culture is corrupted. An even greater risk is the creation of a national culture of corruption, when everyone looks to government to enrich themselves at the expense of others.

 Work Poorly Done: To not do your work well as an employee is to steal from your employer. In not meeting the demands of commutative justice (CCC 2411), in not giving to your employer the performance he or she has a right to expect, you are not filling the time he or she has paid for as you ought. In effect you are stealing your employer’s time. There are often broad social consequences to this particularly when the professions – engineering, accounting, legal, and medical – are involved. For example, Arthur Anderson’s dismal work in performing public audits allowed Enron to get away with inflating profits and hiding debt in a series of complex partnerships. Enron’s eventual collapse negatively impacted a wide range of stakeholders.

 Tax Evasion: Citizens have a duty to obey the just laws of their nation. This obligation includes the payment of one’staxes. Citizenship is not dissolved for any individual upon entering a commercial enterprise. Personal taxes and those that apply to the operation of the business must still be paid.


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To deliberately set transfer prices to evade taxes is to steal from the whole society by denying the government the revenue that is rightfully theirs. Operating in the underground economy – accepting payment in cash and not reporting the revenue as income – does this as well.

 Forgery: To forge is to imitate fraudulently. The Catechism cites the forging of checks and invoices as examples (CCC 2409). Today, designer label clothes, movies, musical recordings, software programs and all manner of other products are subject to forgery.

 Excessive Expenses and Waste: Temperance is one of the four cardinal virtues (CCC 1809). It moderates or regulates the use of created goods. Temperance applies within the firm as well as outside it – i.e. the temperate person’s characterdoes not change with the roles the person is in. Desires are kept within the limits of what is honorable. Appetites are restrained. In the organizational world this translates into an environment characterized by its austerity. The extremely successful company Lincoln Electric is an exemplar in this regard.

 Willfully Damaging Property: It is a truism that damaging public or private property is to fail to take proper care of it. Shell Canada, the Canadian arm of the petrochemical giant, sold gasoline that contained an additive that gummed up the fuel pumps and fuel sensors of vehicles. Shell continued to sell the fuel even though they knew the damage it was causing. They furthered the damage by trying to keep the issue quiet. Taking away the effective functioning of a product or destroying a product’s value is to rob the owner of its use or its worth. It is to steal from him.


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 Failure to Honor Contracts Freely Entered Into: A contract is really a promise or a pledging of oneself. Such promises form the basis of economic and social life. This is why failing to honor them is such a serious matter. Both personal integrity and social stability are at stake. Dishonoring our promises cuts us off from ourselves, from others, and from the future. What is stolen is the trust others have a right to expect from us. Commutative justice is the virtue that ensures the strict fulfillment of obligations freely contracted (CCC 2411). It also ensures that where exchanges between persons have been unjust restitution will be made (CCC 2412).

 Gambling that Enslaves or Addicts: Games of chance and wagers are not in themselves a violation of the commandment. Such gaming can provide harmless enjoyment. We are long since past this point, however. Many jurisdictions in North America are positively addicted to gambling revenues and corporations have been only too willing to collaborate with governments in cannibalizing their own citizens. The billions of dollars counted as revenue must come from someone and this takes a terrible, even deadly toll. Gambling is not morally acceptable when it “deprives someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others.” (CCC 2413).

 Deliberate Retention of Goods Lent or of Objects Lost: When something is lent a person other than the owner of the item is allowed to use it. Ownership has not changed, however. The good must still be returned. This applies to lost objects as well. They must be turned in because they belong to someone else.


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 Appropriation and Use for Private Purposes of the Common Goods of an Enterprise: The examples here are myriad: taking supplies home to use on projects unrelated to work, making personal long distance phone calls, repairing one’s personal goods using company materials and so on. The basic consideration is again that the goods in question belong to someone else, in this case the enterprise. Unless permission has been granted, appropriating and using the firm’s resources in this way constitutes stealing.

 Theft: To take a person’s property against his or her will is obviously theft. The complexity of the modern economy affords extremely subtle means by which to do this however. For example, stock options can be used as a sophisticated ploy to conceal the transfer of shareholder capital to corporate executives. Incredibly, the high profile cases like Waste Management Inc., Sunbeam, Enron, and WorldCom may only be the tip of the iceberg. Theft has been institutionalized.

The Right Ordering of the World’s Goods

 Right to Private Property and What Provides this Legitimacy: The right to possess things privately as one’s own is a natural right – i.e. it is a right human beings have by virtue of what they are as human beings, by virtue of “what makesman man” (RN, 11). Three reasons are given to legitimate private ownership (CCC 2402):

i)  It guarantees the freedom and dignity of persons
ii)  It helps each of us meet our basic needs and the needs of those in our charge

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iii) It allows for a natural solidarity to develop between men.

In other words, it fits with what we are as human beings. The right to private property respects the transcendent dignity of the human person (CA, 13). It honors our nature as i) spiritual beings in possession of the faculties of intellect and will and thereby capable of initiating thoughtful action and assuming responsibility, ii) material beings in need of physical sustenance on a recurring basis, iii) social beings whose lives are made by loving relationships with others.

Any political/economic system worthy of human beings must allow for the exercise of human freedom. Everyone has theright of economic initiative (CCC 2429), of using one’s intelligence especially in conjunction with others to win from the world what is necessary for a becoming existence. Indeed, Pope John Paul II gives this as “the origin of individualproperty” (CA, 31).

“It is through work that we, using our intelligence and exercising our freedom, succeed in dominating the earth and making it a fitting home. In this way, one makes part of the earth one’s own, precisely the part which one has acquired through work.”

Responsible free enterprise, an economic system that i) gives individuals and groups the freedom to initiate, own and manage business undertakings while ii) insisting, by government enforcement if necessary, that such undertakings be accompanied by a sense of social and moral responsibility, is worth striving for since it respects human beings as rational animals and social beings and it has the potential to provide the goods and services needed by the people of a society. In


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such a system, productive effort must be planned, organized, and completed. The risks associated with this must be assumed. The freedom this system gives to the individual is thus accompanied by the obligation to use one’s talents tocontribute to the benefit of all (CCC 2429). In fact, the virtues called on in such a system are considerable: “diligence,industriousness, prudence in undertaking reasonable risks, reliability and fidelity in interpersonal relationships, as well as courage in carrying out decisions which are difficult and painful but necessary.” (CA, 32).

Socialism or communism is explicitly rejected (CCC 2425). Private property is a natural need and a natural right so socialism in its opposition to such personal ownership is considered unnatural – i.e. it is based on an inadequate conception of the nature of ultimate reality including human nature. The fundamental anthropological error of socialism, the first cause of which is atheism (CA, 13), is a denial of the dignity and responsibility of the human person. Individuals are reduced to a non-autonomous element of the broader social whole. Such reductionism erodes the social bonds of intermediary groups (e.g. family, community) even the possibility of moral advancement. The path to totalitarianism is cleared of obstacles.

Capitalism, by which is meant something different than responsible free enterprise, is also repudiated. The term refers to an “individualism ... [an] absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labour” (CCC 2425). Capitalism so defined – as the society or civilization that arises when money or capital is taken to be the ultimate end of the dominant institution(s) of that society – is an ideology. It is rejected for this reason, as all ideologies are, since all ideologies are based,


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not on objective reality, but on human ideas and desires. Catholicism must reject capitalism’s ultimate aim. “A theory that makes profit the exclusive norm and ultimate end of economic activity is morally unacceptable” (CCC 2424). In the Catholic worldview material goods are a means that need to be ordered to God and fraternal charity (CCC 2401). Desiring money as an end in itself is to desire amiss. It is to lose touch with reality, something that “cannot but produce perverse effects” (CCC 2424). Catholicism must reject the egoism that is implied in capitalism. Acting as atomistic individuals guided only by utilitarian considerations leads to the development of “structures of sin” (CCC 1869) in society that lead others to do evil.

Using money to make money, the essence of capitalism, needs to be seen for what it is, namely, avarice, one of the seven capital or deadly sins (CCC 1866). Avarice originates in idolatry (CCC 2534). Jesus was not engaging in hyperbole when he said, “you cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt. 6: 24). It is another of his deep insights into our condition. What we give our hearts to does direct our lives (Mt. 6: 21).

 Universal Destination of Goods and Its Primordial Nature: God’s original gift of the earth was to the whole of mankind (CCC 2403). Private property rights are therefore not absolute but are subordinate to this reality, to this prior and more basic claim. Taking the goods of another to meet immediate, essential needs when this is the only option (e.g. Jean Valjean’s stealing of a loaf of bread in Victor Hugo’s classic Les Miserables) is not theft because the universal destination of goods is primordial (CCC 2408). The right to life and subsistence is more fundamental than the claim of


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ownership. This provokes reflection on what it means to own or hold property as a Christian.

First of all, there is an acknowledgement that everything we have is given to us by God. God is the source and sustainer of our lives and it is to God that our hope should be placed.

“... He himself gives all men life and breath and everything else ... in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17: 25, 28; see also I Chron.29:14, I Tim. 6:17)

Thus, the Christian must begin in making economic choices with the knowledge that his life and everything in it is a gift from God and that he is totally dependent on God at every moment for his existence. In the Christian worldview then, God is the only owner. No human convention can give us clear title or ownership of something because even our very lives are bought at a price (1 Cor. 6: 20). The non-Christian notion of ownership must be replaced in a Catholic conception of business ethics by the Christian concept of stewardship. Stewardship will be comprehensive of everythingin our lives since Jesus’ Lordship is entire. Jesus asks each person for his or her unreserved surrender to his sovereignty. He demands all that a person has and he accepts nothing less. To become a Christian means quite literally handing one’swhole self over to Jesus.

It is a great privilege to have been entrusted by God with material resources. It makes one a steward of Providence (CCC 2404). The awesome responsibility entailed by ownership is to emulate God’s goodness in making the property fruitful and communicating its benefits to others. It is clearly evident that this responsibility is not being met in the global economy. Millions of people, immortal beings made in


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the image of God, lack the basic necessities of life. This reality subverts human dignity and is a moral affront since the resources already exist to ameliorate the desperate conditions people live under. In Canada alone the net worth of the 50 richest people exceeds $100 billion. Saint Augustine was pointing out that the gifts of creation are God’s gifts when hesaid that he who possesses a surplus possesses the goods of others. Clarence Jordan, the spiritual founder of Habitat for Humanity, said that this was a polite way of saying that anybody who has too much is a thief. In today’s economic world practical and artistic skills can grant the person possessing them an opulence that is hard to even comprehend. Those receiving such compensation are obliged to use the monies to benefit others as well as themselves (CCC 2405) since private property is “based upon and justified precisely by the principle of the universal destination of goods” (SRS, 42). The profound unity of the human race demands such attention to others. In sum, “private property is under a social mortgage ... it has an intrinsically social function” (SRS, 42).

The staggering maldistribution of resources in the world surely calls into question the moral legitimacy of an economic system whose concept of justice is unrelated to both human need and the contribution one’s efforts make to the well being of others. Remedying this deplorable situation will require a return to the first principle of the whole ethical and social order, the principle of the common use [or universal destination] of goods (LE, 19).

 Role and Responsibilities (Tasks) of Government: The Catholic perspective explicitly opposes the doctrine of economic laissez faire [Literally, “leave alone”]. “Political


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authority has the right and duty to regulate the legitimate exercise of the right of ownership for the common good” (CCC 2406). “Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and view to the common good is to be commended” (CCC 2425). Implicit in this position, however, is a quite severe curtailment of state intervention in the economic activities of its citizens. The Social Assistance or Welfare State is also opposed. Understanding the role government is to play in economic life requires a discussion of authority in the Christian worldview and of the concept of the common good. Authority: God-given human nature is such that the politicalcommunity is necessary and “every human community needs an authority to govern it” (CCC 1893). Therefore, authorityis established by God in human affairs – i.e. it belongs to the order God has established (CCC 1901). It can be said thenthat all authority comes from God. “There is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have beeninstituted by God” (CCC 1913). Human authority must be exercised in accordance with the natural moral law. “Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself” (CCC 1902) but must “seek the common good ... and employ morally licit means to attain it” (CCC 1903). Authority exercised in this manner warrants obedience and respect from all (CCC 1900).

Common Good: This is understood to be, “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.” (CCC 1906). Again, it derives from the fact that we are social beings by nature that we are unable to achieve a truly human life entirely isolated from others. The individual and society, private property and the common good are seen


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to be complementary – i.e. they exist for each other. The individual develops in society or by contributing to society and society exists for the development of individuals. A condition of the common good is a respect for private property and private property is designed for the common good, for creating the conditions that lead to the fulfillment of individuals.

The telos or end of political bodies is identifiable. “The political community, then, exists for the common good: this is its full justification and meaning and the source of its specific and basic right to exist” (GS, 74). “It is the role of the state to defend and promote the common good of civil society, its citizens and intermediate bodies” (CCC 1910). Thus, political authority is constrained in its actions to those interventions that contribute to the common good. What are these? What does the Catechism put forward as the legitimate role of government?

i)  Setting up the institutional, juridical, political order necessary in a responsible free enterprise system – i.e. guaranteeing people the security needed for the exercise of freedom in the economic field: This would include the protection of private property, the maintenance of a stable currency, and the provision of efficient public services (CCC 2431).
ii)  Overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector (CCC 2431): Business enterprises have a responsibility to society for the effects of their operations (CCC 2432). Individuals have a responsibility to govern themselves and to observe the just procurement of the common good by authorities (CCC 2429). Consequently, the primary

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responsibility for directing the exercise of human freedom lies with individuals and the groups and associations which make up society (CCC 2431). When people fail to act responsibly political authority must step in. At a minimum government must “restrain the heartless.”

iii)  Harmonizing and guiding development (CA, 48): The state can become involved in business systems, for example when a sector is just beginning to develop and would be aided in its development by government assistance. This must be done judiciously, however. The ever-present danger is that state intervention becomes excessive and diminishes human freedom and initiative. The guiding principle to be respected is that of subsidiarity, according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good” (CCC, 1883). In sum, government can assist in economic development but must avoid taking over functions properly belonging to business.
iv)  Breaking up monopolies (CA, 48): Not all corporate concentration of economic resources is bad but political authorities must act when monopolies delay or obstruct development.
v)  Ensuring employment: “Unemployment almost always wounds its victim’s dignity and threatens the equilibrium of his life. Besides the harm done to him

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personally, it entails many risks for his family” (CCC 2436). For this reason the State has a duty to rationally coordinate a full employment policy (LE, 18).

The ultimate assessment of the exercise of political authority is an evaluation of whether its holder has governed as God governs. What is this? It calls for a radical devolution of responsibilities downward.

“God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence” (CCC 1884).

It means that power is used to serve others.

“Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20: 26-28).

It attends to the plight of the deprived and the down trodden.

“The more that individuals are defenseless within a given society, the more they require the care and concern of others, and in particular the intervention of


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governmental authority” (CA, 10).

 Limitations of Market Mechanisms: Capitalism is rejected as idolatrous in Catholic thought. Communism has proven tobe inhuman. A “society of free work, of enterprise and of participation” (CA, 35), what is here being called a system of responsible free enterprise, is proposed as a better moral alternative. The market mechanisms that such a system creates and utilizes have much to commend them. Resources are better utilized, the exchange of products is promoted and the desires of contracting parties can be jointly met (CA, 40). For all this, markets are ultimately inadequate. “Regulating the economy solely by the marketplace fails social justice for there are many human needs which cannot be satisfied by themarket” (CCC 2425). The anthropological error here is to assume that economic freedom is all of human freedom and not just one aspect of it. Homo sapiens is reduced to homo economicus with the result that only those needs and resources that can be assigned a price are given significance, or worse, that goods which by their very nature cannot and must not besold are treated as mere commodities. “Any system in which social relationships are determined entirely by economic factors is contrary to the nature of the human person and his acts” (CCC 2423).

 Remuneration or the payment of wages is one aspect of enterprise that escapes the logic of the market. Under market idolatry the lowest wages possible globally are sought out. If labour can be acquired for $0.25 an hour in China when Mexican workers are being paid $1.00 per hour, then production will be moved. But to pay someone as little as you can is the antithesis of liberality, and therefore the antithesis of the generosity of Jesus (CCC 2407), who “though he was


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rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). The basic dignity ofpeople is over the marketplace.

“Even prior to the logic of a fair exchange of goods and the forms of justice appropriate to it, there exists something which is due to the person because he is a person, by reason of his lofty dignity. Inseparable from that required “something” is the possibility to survive and at the same time, to make an active contribution to the common good of humanity” (CA, 34).

A living wage must be paid: “Everyone should be able to draw from work the means of providing for his life and that of his family, and of serving the human community” (CCC 2428). The Market made me do it is insufficient rationale:“Agreement between parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages” (CCC 2434).

 Ultimate and Basic Purpose of Economic Production: The fundamental question here is what justifies an institution’s existence? Catholicism’s answer is that “the human person ... is and ought to be the principle, the subject and the end of all social institutions” (CCC 1892). Economic enterprises are not excluded. In Catholic economics the ruling purpose of the economy is not power or profit but human well-being in its totality. “Economic life ... is ordered first of all to theservice of persons, of the whole man, and of the entire human community” (CCC 2426) because of the grandeur of thehuman person. In the Catholic worldview human beings are a high and holy mystery, God’s own children. As such they are infinitely more worthy than any material goods that might be produced or the organizational entities created to generate that production. Catholicism’s belief that human beings are

endowed with a spiritual and immortal soul is the safeguard


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against totalitarianism including the totalitarian tendencies of expansive commercial enterprise. Long after organizations and nations have died the soul of each human being will still exist.

The ultimate institutional purpose of the good of persons must be fulfilled by morally consistent means. Human actions taken in the service of enterprise must conform to the moral order. The right to hold property is accompanied by responsibilities in its use. Profitability is still important. It is a necessary condition for the viability of the firm but not sufficient to legitimate the institution. We need oxygen to stay alive but no one would contend that breathing is the ultimate reason for our existence. The justification of enterprise is the contribution the enterprise makes to human flourishing, the correspondence of the economic activity with God’s plan for man. Capital’s Role in Relation to Labour: Economic production is accomplished by human beings using material means. The question is which takes precedence? Is capital to serve labour or is labour to serve capital? The Catechism affirms the “primordial value of labour” (CCC 2428), once again on the basis of human dignity.

“A system that “subordinates the basic rights of individuals and of groups to the collective organization of production” is contrary to human dignity. Every practice that reduces persons to nothing more than a means of profit enslaves man, leads to idolizing money, and contributes to the spread of atheism” (CCC 2424).

Choosing dead capital over living persons is the age old

practise of idolatry. Building a society on such worship is to

build on sand, an act characterized as foolish (Mt. 7:26). An


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idol leaves its worshippers empty (CCC 2112). The result is a disintegration into nothingness: “without a Creator the creature vanishes” (CCC 308). Labour unions find their justification in the struggle for the just rights of working people. Most elementally this is the struggle to reestablish a right ordering of priorities, to treat capital and not people instrumentally.

 Firm as a Community of Persons: In Catholicism all life is considered to be the gift of a personal God and is therefore sacred. Human beings are seen to be the special and supreme creation of this loving God. Made in God’s own image, thehuman reality is a personal one as well. Each person is viewed as having infinite value because of the immortal being that he or she is. Relationships to others are personal in character. The other person is not an insignificant cog in a machine oran anonymous element of the collective but “someone” who can be known personally and is deserving of respect (CCC 2212). When people come together to attain objectives that exceed individual capacities, as they naturally do, they form acommunity of persons. The firm exists “as a community of persons who in various ways are endeavoring to satisfy their basic needs and who form a particular group at the service of the whole of society” (CA, 35). These assemblies or societies (organizations) are at once visible and spiritual since they are made up of persons united body and soul in a single nature. The physical dimensions of this reality ought to be subordinated to the spiritual ones lest persons be viewed as a mere means. This is to say that social institutions ought to rest on our concern for others and not just on contractual exchange.


Journal of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (Canada) Summer-Fall 2008

“Governing them [human communities] well is not limited to guaranteeing rights and fulfilling duties such as honouring contracts. Right relations between employers and employees ... presuppose a natural good will in keeping with the dignity of human persons concerned for justice and fraternity” (CCC 2213).

The model for this fraternity is the fellowship that operates in the Trinity. The ideal in the Christian worldview is to be in partnership with other persons out of love.

In charity one sees in the other person “another self” (CCC 1944) and wills the good of the other (CCC 1766). In charityone pours out one’s life for another and in doing so realizes one’s own self.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15: 12, 13). “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 7:33).

Charity would strive for greater respect, participation (voice), and ownership for all persons in the firm. For example, people would be assigned responsibilities and would be asked to accept challenges so that they might come to a higher development of their distinctly human faculties. In seeing others as another self, one could never countenance a working environment harmful to the physical health or moral integrity of the firm’s members. Enslavement of human beings so disregards personal dignity (CCC 2414) that it would be met with revulsion. Even so, the global economy has given slavery a new lease on life. Many of the consumer products we enjoy-


Journal of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (Canada) Summer-Fall 2008

sugared drinks, charcoal and clothes- are produced by bonded and indentured workers and children around the world.

 Dignity of Work: Work is clearly a central reality of human existence and has great meaning in the lives of human beings. Where does work come from? What gives work its dignity? What is the end of work? What should work be for human beings? The Catechism addresses all of these questions summarily (CCC 2427, 2428). Work was ordained by Godfrom the beginning. Thus, work is a duty. It is God’s will that we are to work to the best of our capacities. We are not to be a burden to others because we are idle busybodies (2 Thess. 3:6-12). Our responsibility is to work (1 Thess. 4:11), very hard if necessary (2 Thess. 3:8). We are equipped for our God-given mandate by virtue of our humanity. Made in the“image of God” (Gen 1:27) a human being is a person, a “subjective being capable of acting in a planned and rationalway, capable of deciding about himself, with a tendency to self- realization” (LE 6). Thus, work has a profound two fold dignity. First, it is a calling of God, an extraordinary gift from God. God has given human beings the task of completing the work of creation, of perfecting its own harmony for their good and the good of their neighbours. Secondly, work has dignity because of the dignity of the human person doing the work – i.e. it is human work. Work helps us to attain our innate potential.

“Work is a good thing for man – a good thing for his humanity – because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being’” (LE 9).


Journal of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (Canada) Summer-Fall 2008

The Christian unites his work with Jesus when he carries his cross daily. In enduring the hardship of work for Jesus, adisciple collaborates with his Lord’s redemptive work. The significance of this is that work can never be looked on as just an economic issue even though there are obvious economic consequences. Beyond what is accomplished objectively work is by man and for man. The human person in his or her dignity is the author of work and as the subject of work is itsbeneficiary. Man is the “true purpose of the whole of production” (LE 7).

The non-negotiable moral vision of Catholic economics is that there should be “suitable employment for all who are capable of it” (LE 18). Everyone ought to be elevated by work. This stands in stark contrast to the corporate vision of work being just another commodity to be sold and bought. Reducing human effort to a category of merchandise empties work of its dignity.

 Respect for the Integrity of Creation: Man has been given dominion over the inanimate world and over plants and animals (Gen 1:28-31). That is, they are destined for the good of humanity. This dominion is not absolute, however, having been granted by God. Man’s mastery and possession of nature is not unlimited. It is not to be an “arbitrary and destructive domination” (CCC 373). Things are not to be used in a “disordered” way (CCC 329). The natural world is God’s masterpiece. To scar or deface the Artist’s work is to disrespect the Artist. Destroying the creation shows contempt for God with disastrous consequences to the environment and to human beings who must make their home there. At the root of our irresponsible exploitation of the earth is a refusal to accept the inherent limitations of our creatureliness.


Journal of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (Canada) Summer-Fall 2008

“Man who discovers his capacity to transform and in a certain sense create the world through his own work, forgets that this is always based on God’s prior and original gift of the things that are. Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have it own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray. Instead of carrying out his role as a cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in the place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature, which is more tyrannized than governed by him” (CA 37).

What are the limits to our sovereignty? How ought our vocation of “subduing” the earth be understood? The world has been entrusted to us by God. We are to act as good caretakers or stewards of it to God’s glory. The exacting standard of stewardship is God’s own providence. We are “to love everything that exists” (CCC 272).

i)  The integrity of creation is to be respected. This entails respect for the laws written into the order of the creation (CCC 346), for the particular goodness and perfection of each creature (CCC 339), for the harmony resulting from the diversity of beings and the relationships which exist among them (CCC 341).
ii)  Animals are to be treated with kindness (CCC 2416). The gentleness to animals exhibited by saints like Francis of Assisi is to be emulated. It is an indignity to cause animals to suffer or die

Journal of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (Canada) Summer-Fall 2008

needlessly (CCC 2418). Animals can be used, even killed, to advance human living provided reasonable limits are observed (CCC 2417). Animals should not be accorded the same affection (respect) as human beings. For example, monetary resources that ought to go to human beings should not be spent on animals (CCC 2418). The point is that creation is for the sake of persons, for the sake of a better human life on earth. The mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms are precious but they are not an end in themselves. The creation is not to be worshipped. Its beauty points beyond itself to the infinite beauty of God (CC 341). Nature is to be contemplated since it is God’s invention and is therefore greater than anything humans have invented or might invent. A spirit of humility and respect are needed (CCC 299).

iii)  Good use is to be made of created things (CCC 226). The particular assessment of this is whether the item in question helps or hinders the believer on his or her journey home to God. Detachment from all things that lead one away from God is called for.
iv)  The goods of creation are to be generously shared. The better part of what one has should be reserved for others (CCC 2405). Those in need should be helped readily and eagerly (CCC 952).

Journal of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (Canada) Summer-Fall 2008

v) Future generations are to be considered (CCC 2415). Immoderate consumption steals from people yet to come.

Christians are called to be good stewards of God’s material world, caring for it, maintaining it in its integrity and perfecting it by opening it up to God through their own divinization. Even this does not capture the radical nature of the stewardship call in the Christian worldview. It is not just about being a trustee or manager of God’s resources by making good moral choices. The rich young man had done this (Mt. 19: 18-20) and it wasn’t enough. Jesus wants his followers to do more by risking more. He wants his disciples to seek intimacy and restored relationships with each other and the whole creation. In sum, stewardship is the process of recreating community by establishing relationships that are life-giving, transforming and healing risking all and trusting God in doing it. Life is lived in thanksgiving (CCC 224) without fear (CCC 227) because of God’s providence.

Corporations in their search for more have left an astounding legacy of environmental problems – global warming, air pollution, species extinction, deforestation, soil erosion, water contamination and resource depletion. God has made the planet to be a garden (Gen. 2:15) and he has asked us to keep it.

 Love of the Poor: The Catholic doctrine of original sin is empirically confirmed by human misery in all its forms (CCC 2448). The Christian story does not end with the fall, however. God did not abandon man to his rebellion (CCC 410) but came to redeem him. “God’s saving plan was accomplished once and for all by the redemptive death of his


Journal of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (Canada) Summer-Fall 2008

Son Jesus Christ “ (CCC 571). The Church is instituted by God to bring human beings into supernatural communion with the Trinity and with one another. “The Church is the Body of which Christ is the head: she lives from him, in him, and for him; he lives with her and in her” (CCC 807). As the continuation of Jesus’ incarnation in the world, it can be expected of the visible Church that it reflect the words (teachings), the actions, and the character of Jesus. Jesus met poverty – material, social (cultural), spiritual – with love. The disciples of Jesus, if they are to remain true to their Lord, must do the same.

“How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” (1 John 3: 17).

To emphasize that a right ordering of the world’s goods demands an active love for the poor the Catechism employs rhetorical questioning to summarize, one of only two places in its 2865 items that this technique is utilized.

“How can we not recognize Lazarus, the hungry beggar in the parable (cf. Lk 17:19-31), in the multitude of human beings without bread, a roof or a place to stay? How can we fail to hear Jesus: “As you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me” (Mt 25:45)? (CCC 2463).

 Consumerism vis a vis Authentic Human Development: “Those responsible for business enterprises are responsible tosociety for the economic and ecological effects of their operations. They have an obligation to consider the good ofpersons...” (CCC 2432). What is this? What is the true good


Journal of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (Canada) Summer-Fall 2008

of the human person? Catholic understanding is that human nature is characterized by its capacity for transcendence.

“The human person receives from God his essential dignity and with it the capacity to transcend every social order so as to move towards truth and goodness” (CA 38).

Since God is infinite truth and infinite goodness, the ultimate good for human persons is to know and love God. “Man ... is called to share in the truth and the good which is God himself” (SRS 33). In the Catholic worldview to develop as a human person is to be more, specifically to be a saint. Created things and the products of human industry will be enjoyed since they are a gift from God (Eccl. 5:19) but their possession and use will always be subordinated to this “vocation to immortality” (SRS 29).

Consumerism rests on an understanding of human nature that is directly antithetical to this. Here the idea is that human fulfillment is to be found in having more. The anthropological basis for this orientation is a denial of a unique spiritual aspect, of any interior dimension, to the human personality. But does the cult of having result in human happiness? There are a number of reasons to question whether it ever can.

 Accumulation as an end in itself is an utterly futile endeavor. Death is an appointment that all must keep and despite behaviour by some people that would seem to indicate that they assume they can either take their possessions with them or not have to go at all, everything that a person has will be left to others at the moment of his or her death. Funeral processions do not have U-Haul trailers in them.


Journal of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (Canada) Summer-Fall 2008

“Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand” (Eccl. 5:15).“For all men can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others ... Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendor will not descend with him’ (Ps 49:10, 16-17 [see also Ps. 39:6]).

“For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” (1 Tim. 6:7).

 Limitless material acquisition cannot lead to happiness because it is insatiable. By definition, with greed we never have enough.

“... you eat, but never have enough. You drink but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it” (Haggai 1:6).

“Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income” (Eccl. 5:10).“The more one possesses the more one wants, while deeper aspirations remain unsatisfied and perhaps even stifled” (SRS 28).

Instead of bringing fulfillment, trusting in and desiring ever more riches results in anxiety (Eccl. 5:12) overindulgence (Jas. 5:5), trouble (Prov. 15:27), harm (Eccl. 5:13), overweening pride (Ezek. 28), apostasy (Deut. 32:15) and all other manner of evil.


Journal of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (Canada) Summer-Fall 2008

 Infinite consumption does not fit into a finite world. Our gluttonous search for more is running into the reality that there isn’t any more. The result is a senseless destruction of the natural environment. “In their desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and to grow, people consume the resources of the earth and their own lives in an excessive and disordered way” (CA 37).

It is becoming increasingly evident, to the secular mind-set as well, that the misplaced ultimate commitments of our civilization are leading us to an untenable position.

“We live, then, in a ‘wealthy’ country – what nowadays has been called an ‘affluent society’. This means not only that we have much material wealth, but that we want this wealth more than we want anything else. This ordering of priorities has brought our civilization to the brink of ruin. We know we must find a way out, a way back to values and priorities that represent the real, whole nature of man” (Needleman, 1991, pp. 22, 23).

The phenomenon of consumerism does not just pop into existence, however. It arises out of and is sustained by the actions of commercial enterprises, actions for which the decision makers of those enterprises are morally accountable. It is immoral to ensnare people “in a web of false and superficial gratifications” (CA 41).

Authentic human development must be sought for all people. This is a daunting challenge given the ‘gap’ that exists between nations on the international level (CCC 2437). Interdependence is a reality, however. The virtue of solidarity, “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to


Journal of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (Canada) Summer-Fall 2008

the common good” (SRS 38), is required on a global basis. “We are all really responsible for all” (SRS 38). Perverse mechanisms (CCC 2438), international economic and financial institutions (CCC 2440) that impede development must be dismantled. Immediate direct aid must be given (CCC 2440). This is a matter of justice as much as charity. “When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice” (CCC 2446).


As human beings we are material (and spiritual) beings and we live, by divine design, in a material world. Because of this reality, how we ought to live in that world, how we should care for the goods of the earth and the fruits of our labor is a central moral consideration for all peoples. In Catholic moral theology the required moral guidance for disposing ofproperty is provided by the seventh commandment, “you shall not steal.” The commandment forbids theft, “usurping another’s property against the reasonable will of the owner” (CCC 2408). More categorically, wronging anyone in any way with respect to his or her goods is prohibited (2401). Justice and charity are commanded. The essence of the commandment then is nothing less than a right ordering of the world’s goods. The catechism provides instruction on what actions are consonant with and contrary to the moral law in the care and use of material goods. Would that we would heed this wisdom.


Catechism of the Catholic Church. (1994). New York. Image Doubleday.


Journal of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (Canada) Summer-Fall 2008

John Paul II (1981). Laborem Exercens (On Human Work). Boston: St. Paul Books & Media. [LE].

John Paul II. (1987). Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (On Social Concern). Boston: St. Paul Books & Media. [SRS].

John Paul II (1991). Centesimus Annus (100th Year of Rerum Novarum). Boston: St. Paul Books & Media. [CA].

Leo XIII (1891). Rerum novarum. Boston. Daughter of St. Paul. [RN]

Needleman, Jacob. (1991). Money and the Meaning of Life. New York. Doubleday Currency.

Vatican Council II The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents. (1975). Gaudium et spes, 903-1014. Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company. [GS]