October 19th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Greta Thunberg: she's not doing it all on her own

EDITORIAL Time for Australia to rethink the neo-liberal experiment

RURAL AFFAIRS Queensland Labor punishes farmers to placate UNESCO

CANBERRA OBSERVED Morrison's 'positive' globalism has resonance

NSW ABORTION ACT Amendments annul some of the Act's worst excesses

GENDER POLITICS Doctors call for inquiry into childhood gender dysphoria

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Hong Kong's 'software' may be key to its survival

GENDER POLITICS Pornography and the transgender agenda

RIGHTS & FREEDOMS Transgenderism poses biggest threat to religious freedom

OPINION When Maggie (Sanger) met Mickie (Mann)

PHILOSOPHY The element of justice in economic practice, Part 2 of two parts

POPULATION Lifestyles and policies ensure population peril ahead

HUMOUR If atheism is the answer, what was the question?

MUSIC Good, better, Bach: The composer who consistently outdid himself

CINEMA Joker: From a heart in darkness

BOOK REVIEW Hope, more than economics, drives Trump voters

BOOK REVIEW A pushback against visceral unreason


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The element of justice in economic practice, Part 2 of two parts

by Dr Don Boland

News Weekly, October 19, 2019

A politico-economic phenomenon has risen to prominence in modern times that makes it all but impossible to believe not only in justice in the market but even in freedom in the “free market”.

Justice in exchange is not something abstruse and intellectual; it is familiar
to us all when we feel we have paid too much (or too little) for something.

That phenomenon is the relatively rapid rise of great modern oligopolies (a market in which there are only a few big sellers) and oligopsonies (a market in which there are few buyers and many small sellers) whose economic power in many cases now outstrip that of “sovereign” nations. These huge corporations can fix and manipulate prices almost at will. They dominate the economies of practically every modern nation. In such new circumstances, the notion of justice becomes even further removed from social consciousness.

The defenders of the modern theory of market price, however, still quaintly argue for the notion of pure freedom in commercial matters. They seem to imagine we are still living in the ideally fashioned liberalist world of small business risk-taking entrepreneurs, and not in the real world of huge multinational corporations whose “risk” consists largely in moving their operations overseas so as to take advantage of greatly increased profits from the employment of cheap labour.

However, my analysis above is a necessary condemnation of the liberalist view as a false practical theory, from which follows (unless one has an excuse such as invincible ignorance) the sinful iniquity of doing injustice to one’s fellows.

Education in the West in matters politico-economic is designed to allow only two alternatives, yet each is an erroneous extreme. The only choices seem then to be between socialism/communism and liberalism/capitalism. Clearly a Catholic cannot subscribe to communism; so anyone, even a pope, who does not fully commit to supporting the capitalist economic system, identified with liberalist economics, will be suspected of leaning to the left.

Sadly, that is the difficulty that one is faced with, especially with fellow Catholics well schooled in modern economic science, when one endeavours to re-insert into what is plainly a matter to do with human behaviour the necessary moral dimension; wherein lies the true resolution of the conflict between the two existing politico-economic ideologies that dominate life in the modern world.

With regard to fellow Thomist Edward Feser, who is mentioned in the review of my book. Feser has done sterling work in arguing against the analytical/liberalist philosophy to which he subscribed for years until he found St Thomas. However, in regard to social institutions claiming to be based upon liberalist principles, Feser attempts to draw a distinction between the good that such institutions have produced and the political philosophy that is plainly antithetical to morality and justice.

Feser is somewhat mixed up here, trying to adopt some sort of compromise position between a false practical philosophy and its seemingly good practical results. He forgets that we are dealing with matters of principle, of their truth or falsity, with which goes, since they are practical principles, the goodness or evil of the practice that must follow from holding them, which is to be accounted culpable, unless other factors, such as invincible ignorance or lack of free will, intervene.

There is a possibility that good practical results may come to be in an ideo­logically driven political system. No existent human society is purely evil. But the good that results has to be held to be in spite of the evil of the practical theory itself, not because of it.

I just make a couple of additional comments. I would rather say that the subject matter is made to appear as unfamiliar territory and require a specialist eye by a clever modern academic trick of engendering in the general populace (and in the media) a misplaced faith in the specialist “economists” (the matters are too complicated for ordinary folk to understand). St Augustine does not say it is within the power of only a privileged few, but “of every man”, to resist and overcome the inclination to ignore the need for justice in our economic transactions.

The idea of justice in exchange (commutative justice), that is, in the market price, is hardly unfamiliar to ordinary people. Honest folk abide by it every day, as best they can. It is only some “expert economists” who scorn its relevance. Modern commercial and financial affairs, they argue are much too complicated to be ruled by such simplistic notions.

One may wonder why liberalist economists and positivist lawyers downplay the need for justice in the market so strongly. To me it seems fairly obvious that it is because a true application of morality to politico-economic life in the West might show up some facts uncomfortable to the rich and powerful who benefit greatly from the exclusion of justice from the understanding of economic affairs. It is very much in their interests to promote (by generous “funding” of educational institutions and political parties) scientific justification of a “value-free” system that is in fact one useful for the exploitation of others.

I am not saying that there is any conspiracy here. Nor does it follow that there are not among the rich and powerful those who are destined for the kingdom of heaven, either because they have honestly gained their wealth and position or are subjectively unaware that it is because of structural injustice. Many undoubtedly operate unwittingly, more deceived than deceiving. We need to look to more “spiritual” causes for such a deep-seated and widespread social condition. That is something I go into more closely in my article, “Sins and Phobias”.*

It is not to be overlooked, moreover, that a very clever way of getting people not to see one extreme politico-economic evil, such as the liberalist/capitalist, is to encourage the full attention on its admittedly more evil opposite, socialist/communist. Of course, there is a concerted effort today on the part of socialists/communists to adopt the same tactic in reverse. However, if I may say so, independent minds need to be aware of both deceptive strategies.


Some readers may be puzzled with my use of the term “democracy” not in the common modern sense but in its original sense (from Aristotle), as belonging to the kind of political constitution that does not serve the common good but seeks to serve the interests of the majority, as oligarchy does of the few in power and tyranny of the one ruler. Aristotle then contrasts these regimes with parallel political constitutions that do seek to serve the common good, the constitutional, aristocratic and royal forms of government. Aristotle specially links oligarchy to rule in the interests of the wealthy and democracy of the poor.

It is to be well noted that in modern times the notion of the common good has disappeared from political science and the division is rather based on the opposition between democratic rule as the only good kind and the other two levels, regarded as undemocratic, as bad.

This, however, has resulted in the use of “democracy” in an equivocal sense. For, the rule of the majority for the common good, Aristotle’s constitutional government, is not able to be distinguished from that in which the common good is simply not taken into account, thereby allowing for the notion of democracy in the bad sense to be taken also as good, indeed the only kind of good political constitution.

So, some intend by “democracy” good “constitutional” (or “republican”) rule, while others, not understanding the real basis of the division into good and bad on the basis of intending the common good or not, really accommodate it to the bad sense. With the former we may include many social philosophers and moral theologians, and even the authors of official Church documents. Naturally enough, in the discussions between the two opposed sides, there is much arguing at cross-purposes, as well as the indulgence in much sophistic argumentation in the discussion by those who subscribe to false political ideologies.

This is a real problem today. And, this equivocation is not limited to this basic term in political science. It also applies to the use of the word “capitalism”. Indeed, Pope St John Paul II specially drew attention to it in his social encyclical, Centesimus annus, though even Catholics have still used the equivocation to argue in favour of capitalism in the modern sense that excludes justice.

Most unfortunately, the same sort of equivocation is present in the use of word “liberalism”. Even G.K. Chesterton used it in a good sense in so far as freedom or liberty is of itself good. But this is only so provided the end is good. There is a good and a bad use of freedom, for it is about means. And the modern
intention of the word is for freedom to be regarded as absolute.

I have, however, used the terms “democracy”, “capitalism” and “liberalism” in their more fundamental bad senses, for this use most properly corresponds to the modern understanding as it excludes any notions of the common good, justice and morality.

There will remain many, however, who will be deceived by the equivocation and think that I am attacking what are commonly understood as good political and economic ideas.

As an interesting sideline, the same “gripe” has emerged with regard to the writings of the present Pope, Francis. Regardless of any perceived problem with his lack of clarity on other issues, there is no such problem so far as his stance against the politico-economic thinking and practice belonging to modern liberalist capitalism is concerned. In that he is true to his resolve not to forget the poor.

He said in his address at Expo Fair in Bolivia, July 9, 2015: “Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labour is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation.

“For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment. It is about giving to the poor and peoples what is theirs by right. The universal destination of goods is not a figure of speech found in the Church’s social teaching. It is a reality prior to private property.”

For this, he is perceived as left leaning in his criticism of modern economic thinking and practice, despite being fully in line with previous social encyclicals. His teachings in this regard have indeed been put in such a strong manner that they irritate the patriotic sensibilities of those Catholics in the United States who have not escaped being duped by the equivocation referred to into believing that the moral notion of justice should be kept out of politics and economics as some sort of “unscientific” intrusion.

This pope has the advantage of being brought up in the society that for all its faults is not so blind to the evils of “unbridled” capitalism and the ideology of liberalism, wherein there is worship of liberty without justice, whether distributive or commutative.

The great St Augustine had already observed the tendency in fallen human nature to wish for this liberty in buying and selling, “which is wicked”; for “it is in every man’s power to acquire that justice whereby he may resist and overcome this inclination”. The liberalist/capitalist ideology as presented in modern economic science is designed to justify that desire, which, St Thomas warns, “is common to many who walk along the broad road of sin”.

It is of no small consequence, then, that we all become aware of the deceitful equivocation involved, and in our dealings in matters economic strive vigorously to acquire the sense of justice so easily lost in our modern education in economic science.

Dr Donald Boland is a founding member of the Centre for Catholic Studies Inc in Sydney. He practised for a number of years as a lawyer. He obtained a doctorate in philosophy from the University of St Thomas in Rome, and has taught philosophy and law in both Catholic and secular educational institutions.

* Any reader who would like to read Don Boland’s “Sins and Phobias”, may obtain a copy from the author by emailing him at: donaldboland926@gmail.com

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