The Journey series
This week’s Mustard Seed considers free market principles. A free market requires freedom of ownership and of association.
People must be allowed to own the fruits of their labour, ingenuity, creativeness, and innovation. They must be free to keep, use, or trade what they own.
People must be allowed free association for purposes of trade and production.
The value of each product and service is set by agreement between those who need or want the products or services and those who provide them. If the vendor set their price too high the purchaser will select an alternate supplier, find an alternate product, or simply forego the transaction. If the price is too low the vendor’s business will fail.
When the market is in equilibrium production will match consumption and vendors will receive a fair return on their investment and efforts.
Production rates are set by competition. If supply is tight prices will rise which increases returns and encourages more competitors to enter the market. If supply is too great returns will fall and producers will leave the market.
In a true market economy the value of all commodities and services as well as production levels are set by all members of the community. A true market economy, however, is unattainable. There will always be members unable to participate due to age, injury, infirmity, or various other impediments. There will always be people who abuse the system.
Each community has a duty to regulate the activities within it, provide for those unable to manage on their own, and protect its citizens. To afford these services the community levies taxes. Production is taxed through personal and corporate income taxes; value added taxes; and, for foreign production, tariffs. Fees are levied on some services to recover some costs directly from the beneficiaries. Transaction taxes are also applied to some exchanges.
Taxes are necessary but they are determined by bureaucrats and, as such, interfere with a true market economy. Those governing our society also intrude deliberately to shape social policy. These interferences may be outright bans, quotas, licenses, surcharges, or subsidies. Examples are residential pesticide bans, egg and milk marketing boards, professional registration, carbon taxes, and subsidized daycare.
Another barrier to the free market is cost of production. While in theory all members of a community are free to compete in production few have access to the capital required to start an enterprise. As production becomes more complex this barrier increases. I started my contracting business with a few hand tools, a strong back, a little experience, and a great deal of hope. Today that would barely get me a job interview. This skews valuation to the benefit of big corporations.
Another impediment to the free market is society’s need to protect the many from the few. Most people are capable and honourable but a few are not. Laws enacted to protect the many from those few impede the efforts of the honourable. Extra paperwork, licensing, permits, certification, audits, and quality control inspections all add to production costs.
The more complex our products become and the more responsibilities we cede to government the further we stray from a true market economy. Most people who complain about the free market are actually complaining of where the free market is overridden. They propose to fix the problem by intruding even further.
We won’t fix our economy by blaming others. We can't and expect others to fix it. We must accept that our responsibilities, obligations, and limits are indeed ours. Until we accept them with as much fervor as we demand our rights, our decline will continue to accelerate. We must accept that our rights are not absolute; they are subject to the rights of others. We must learn than liberty is far different from and far superior to freedom. Autonomy without responsibility, obligation, limit, and compromise is anarchy.
Next week: Wealth.
This week’s Mustard Seed continues on family.
Several years back some friends and I started a non-profit society to develop a Divine Mercy Centre. It was very ambitious but we decided that if the Lord willed it, it would succeed. We held several fundraising and awareness events. We made annual deposits into a chancery office account.
Our bishop informed us that our project was very similar to the retreat and formation centre the diocese intended to build. He asked us to focus instead on promoting use of the as yet unbuilt facility. Our bishop took over our project with the best of intentions yet changing our mission led to our society’s demise.
Last week, as I was writing, the incident came back to mind. Are governments and charities taking over the family’s purpose with all their social service programs? We have child care and school to train our young. We have unemployment insurance, food banks, soup kitchens, shelters, half-way houses, public health care, and many other supports to attend our needy. We have seniors’ residences to care for our elderly. Has family become a social construct past its time?
In today’s economy a decent standard of living obliges, in most cases, both partners in a marriage to work. Food, clothing, shelter, and taxes claim ever increasing shares of our income. Who can afford children? Work, commutes, household chores, and sleep demand the bulk of our days. Who has time for children? Perhaps we can manage one or two, but that’s it.
Then think about the burden people place on the environment. If we have more children mother Earth won’t be able to support them. Consider, too, all the uneducated people in third world countries who must be taught how to control the number of children they have. We know better and have a responsibility to compensate by having fewer. We mustn’t be selfish.
It’s too late to avoid the elderly and infirm but should families be obliged to care for them? We have seniors’ residences, care homes, and palliative centres. We offer Medical Assistance in Dying. Aged and otherwise challenged people can be sent where workers have the time, experience, and equipment to properly care for them. At the appropriate time simply call in the MAID service.
Is this the world we’re heading to? Children will be perks for the wealthy. Immigrant will man our factories. Elderly and infirm will be dispatched with compassion. Think of the money couples will save by not having children. The countries where families are too ignorant to stop having children will benefit from the money their children send home from our factories. Better still, we’ll send the factories (and their pollution) overseas too. Even if the elderly and infirm don’t agree with the new way they won’t be here to complain.
For my part, I’d rather give up designer clothes, bigger house and car, and yearly cruises than cede either of my sons. I raise my sons to care about mother Earth and strive to better her. I believe our planet is better off with my sons than without them. If those who are aware of and concerned about our world’s problems don’t raise a next generation with the same awareness and concern who will our world will be left to? What will it become? Earth is much more a victim of our habits than of our existence.
Raise a family. Love them. Teach them to love and care for their community and environment. Help them discern between needs and wants, means and ends. Let them see the sunset, hear the birds, smell the flowers, feel the sun, and taste the ocean breeze. Show them what’s important. Gather with friends. Laugh and sing. The world will heal family by family. Governments can’t do it, conglomerates won’t. We must.
Next week: Free Market.
This week’s Mustard Seed examines Family. Just as atoms are the building blocks of matter, families are the basic units of society.
People are not just individuals; they’re a hereditary blend of their ancestors. The modern notion of autonomy is seriously flawed by ignoring we are born into family, community, and environment. Yes, we have free will, but it is immature to hold that we may exercise that will free of obligations and limits.
We did not create our selves. We must learn to live with the body, mind, heart, and soul we were given. For the most part we are average, but we each have strengths and weaknesses; interests and dislikes. We flourish when we pursue our strengths and interests. We allow others to flourish when we appreciate them for their strengths and interest. We do not fare well when we focus on our weaknesses. Others do not fare well when we chide and berate them for their weaknesses. We are made to complement each other. We do what we excel at and leave to others what they excel at. Equality is not homogeny.
Being social in nature does not mean we merely like being in the company of others; we depend on them. No one can put themselves in their mother’s womb. No one can nourish or nurture themselves for several years after birth. Most of what we learn is taught us by others. Even when we avoid restaurants none of us feed ourselves; we depend on farmers, ranchers, hunters, fishermen, grocers, truckers, and a host of others. We use pots and pans, appliances, tables, and dishes made by others. We are similarly dependent for clothing and shelter. Without excessive cunning or a bigger stick we can only claim ownership of anything through mutual consent. Our life is governed by the explicit and implicit rules of our community.
We are first introduced to community in our family. Our parents bring us into the world and guide us through our early years until we are able to function in society by ourselves. We learn cooperation, patience, compromise and forgiveness. Our parents enroll us in activities, support us as we learn new skills, observe our interests and abilities, and encourage us to pursue worthy goals. Parents act from pure beneficence.
Passing social skills on to the children is challenged when families are disrupted. When problems arise through accident or illness the broader community steps up to help. When fault lies in the self-interest of one or both parents their poor example often perpetuates into the next generation. Parents pass on habits, good or bad, as surely as they pass on genes.
Next week: More on family.
Last week we saw how property flows from liberty. We create wealth by applying our time, treasure, and talent to transport or transform things. We are free to keep, use, or trade our share of the increased value. We also saw that because we must consume to exist there is continual need. Six weeks ago we discussed how the right to life entailed access to the necessities of life.
This week’s Mustard Seed examines charity. We might imagine an ideal community where the interest, ability, and effort of each member meld with those of others to fully balance the needs and desires of the community. Such a society will never exist because desires are unbounded. On the high end there is always more. Enough is never enough. On the low end today’s desire becomes tomorrows need. For the vast majority, however much they earn, their lifestyle grows to stretch their limit. There are also those who because of age, injury, infirmity, or a variety of reasons can’t produce enough to provide their needs. Their right to life dictates that their community provide the shortfall. Contribution for the needs of others with no expectation of material return is charity.
Charity begins in the family. Parents assume responsibility to feed, clothe, shelter, and nurture their children until the children are able to provide for themselves. Children then care for their parents when they age and become dependent. Marriage as the Catholic Church understands it marks a new family. Marriage is not a contract to protect the rights and property of two people who decide to live together. Marriage is a covenant between partners who freely and willingly intend to bear and raise children. Society recognizes, respects, and protects marriage precisely because of the charity of raising new members and caring for older members of the community.
Charity extends to the broader community when family is unable or unwilling to meet the needs of certain members. Often those in need are incapable of actively pursuing their needs. People recognized that fact and organized to meet those needs proactively. The Catholic Church began opening public hospitals and orphanages in the 4th century AD. She began developing universities in the medieval ages. The Catholic Church remains the largest charitable organization today. Other religious denominations are also very active in education, medicine, and other charity. In recent times governments assume ever more social responsibility. Non-profit organizations also arise to offer all manner of assistance. No matter how it is offered the responsibility for charity resides with all who are able to give.
As much as it seems we have barely enough to meet our needs we still have a duty to charity. In Luke 3:11 John says, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who hasn’t any.” Whether time, talent or treasure we must offer as we are able. For years I delivered food donated by a local bakery to a soup kitchen. Three of the kitchen’s patrons regularly helped carry the donations in. I saw patrons step out of line to help others negotiate curbs with their buggy of belongings. More than once I saw a man bring food out and deliver it across the street to people unable to make it into the kitchen. It was common to see a group of people in the line offer consolation to someone in pain or anguish. These people receiving charity still found ways to offer charity.
How much charity is enough? Start with a little more than is comfortable. Your tolerance for charity will grow and you’ll soon come to know you receive much more than you give.
Next week: Family.
Peter T Elliott