Free Markets, Catholic Social Teaching, and Democracy
What does the Church teach about free markets? Catholic social teaching places economic freedom parallel to political freedom. It recognizes that free enterprise, rightly understood and implemented, is currently the best available vehicle for systemically caring for the physical needs of the poor, and true global economy is the key way to create lasting development and, thereby, peace.
Catholic Social Teaching informs us that of the social systems currently available, democracy and free market economies have the best potential for promoting human development.
Good governments and good economic systems find ways of fostering Human Dignity, Solidarity and Subsidiarity.
Democracy is “the most valid historical instrument for advancing human rights and development” and, has proven to be an effective means of “guaranteeing the future in a way worthy of man” (Pope Benedict XVI). However, “Authentic democracy is possible only in a State ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of the human person.” (Pope St. John Paul II, 48)
With regards to free markets and the economy, “It would appear that, on the level of individual nations and of international relations, the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 36)
Furthermore, Pope St. John Paul II determined that the free market economy is “the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 42)
His Holiness was quick to stipulate that the above holds true, as long as the free enterprise is “circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 42)
According to Catholic social teaching, good governments and good economic systems find ways of fostering human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity.
Good governments and economic systems foster a correct understanding of the human person – through the principle of subsidiarity, governments create “favourable conditions for the free exercise of economic activity, which will lead to abundant opportunities for employment and sources of wealth”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 15)
While at the same time, they also work “Directly and according to the principle of solidarity, by defending the weakest, by placing certain limits on the autonomy of the parties who determine working conditions, and by ensuring in every case the necessary minimum support for the unemployed worker.” (Pope St. John Paul II, 15)