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Expand Your Business, Increase Your Income!

This article is part of my posts on the economic system of distributism.  This is from practicaldistributism.blogspot.com which you can find here:

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A slogan such as the title of this article seems simply common sense to probably most Americans. If sales are up, then certainly expanding your business is the natural thing to do, or at least to think of doing. If you own one restaurant and it is doing well, consider opening a second – and a third, and a fourth. Except that this logic is totally contrary to real common sense, to the purpose of economic activity, and to our hopes for eternal life.

Contrary to common sense? To the purpose of economic activity? How so? Because the reason why the human race engages in economic activity is to satisfy our need for external goods and services. It is contrary to reason to make the acquisition of such goods and services ends in themselves. So if someone is providing sufficiently for himself and his family with his present business, if he is able to satisfy his own and his family’s need for external goods, what need does he have to expand that business and try to increase his income? Why would he even wish to do so? Has he never reflected on what is the purpose of income and wealth? That they are merely so that we can obtain the goods and services we need for life on this earth? And that if we have enough of them, it is irrational to want more.

But can we say that this is even contrary to our hope for attaining eternal life? How? Holy Scripture is full of instruction and warnings about earthly goods and riches. For example,

…if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall in temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs. (I Tim. 6:8-10)

St. Paul is here connecting a desire to become rich with a “love of money” that he terms “the root of all evils.” The desire to become rich, that is, to have more earthly goods than one reasonably needs, indicates a disordered attitude toward one’s possessions. But it does more than that. It places the person who desires to become rich into a near occasion of sin. For it is the rare rich person who does not succumb to an inordinate attachment to his riches, and to an even more inordinate attachment to acquiring more and more of them. It is true that someone born into riches, through no fault of his own, may licitly retain that wealth – provided he remembers his duties of justice and charity toward the other members of the human race, which Pope Leo XIII expressed in Rerum Novarum in the following words:

Therefore, those whom fortune favors are warned that freedom from sorrow and abundance of earthly riches, are no guarantee of that beatitude that shall never end, but rather of the contrary; that the rich should tremble at the threatenings of Jesus Christ – threatenings so strange in the mouth of our Lord; and that a most strict account must be given to the Supreme Judge for all that we possess. (no. 22)

But those who are not rich, yet who are sufficiently providing for themselves and their families, they are those whom St. Paul warns, “who desire to be rich” and therefore “fall in temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.” If Catholics are serious about their faith, if we really believe that we will be judged after our death and our eternal destiny will be heaven or hell – then who could in good conscience seek to acquire more than is reasonably necessary in this life? Why would anyone risk eternal damnation not merely for transient earthly goods, but for transient earthly goods which are not even needed?

I am not of course denying the uncertainties of this life, of the need for reasonable savings or the high cost of such things as our children’s education. But at some point we surely can say, enough. Beyond that point there is no rational reason for increasing our income. Beyond that point riches are nothing more than a temptation and a snare.

Only if we recover the traditional Catholic understanding that the goods of this life have purposes, and thus are limited by those purposes, only then can we begin to live rightly. In fact, we can hardly understand what the Church teaches and why unless we come to see that the things of this life exist in a hierarchy, that economic activity and the acquisition of wealth do not stand alone but are subordinate to the overall ends of life. If we can do that, then, as Pius XI wrote in Quadragesimo Anno:

If [the moral law] be faithfully obeyed, the result will be that particular economic aims, whether of society as a body or of individuals, will be intimately linked with the universal teleological order, and as a consequence we shall be led by progressive stages to the final end of all, God Himself, our highest and lasting good. (no. 43)

You can learn more about this issue here.

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