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The True Goal for the Free Market

Sometimes we advocates of the free and virtuous society become so wrapped up in defending its technical merits that we neglect to deliberate on the broader, more fundamental reason for promoting a free economy as part of this society. To avoid (or correct) this tendency, we should pause to wipe clean whatever particular lens we have been looking through and ponder what the true goal for the market should be.

That goal should be solidarity. Solidarity includes accepting that we have a social nature and affirming the bonds we share with all other human beings, rightly thought of as our brothers and sisters. Thus, solidarity is a social virtue that bears many fruits and blessings. It creates an environment in which mutual service is encouraged and the social conditions for human rights are respected and nurtured. The ability to recognize and accept the whole range of corresponding duties and obligations that are embedded in our social nature can only occur in an atmosphere enlivened by solidarity. Underscoring the point, solidarity yields the “pay-off” of a healthy society, a thriving economy, care of the needy and marginalized, and structures that protect the family. The natural unity of the human family cannot be fully realized when people suffer the ills of poverty, discrimination, oppression, and social alienation from the larger community. In a special way, solidarity encourages striving for relationships that tend toward equality on the local, national, and international levels. All members of the human community must be brought as fully as possible into the circle of productive and creative relationships. The subtle yet profound truth is that the degree to which we achieve solidarity will also be the degree to which we achieve genuine human development on all levels, including the economic.

Thus, we speak well of the market economy not because we embrace a soulless ideology about, or practice an idolatry of, the market. It is, instead, because of our respect for human liberty and our desire for social structures that affirm the dignity of all. This implies finding an economic system which, while providing outlets for human freedom in the marketplace, can also help alleviate poverty, increase general standards of living, respect private property, and minimize coercion. We seek economic growth, but not for its own sake. Our true goal is genuine human development through solidarity, a component of which is economic growth. Genuine human development through solidarity implies growth that is aimed at human betterment and the furthering of the common good of all people. Growth must be for the increased welfare of the community and the individual, and not for the isolated improvement of a select few. This means that all must have the opportunity to choose and live in accord with their vocation. All must have access to the physical capital needed to earn a living, whether producing for their own consumption on a farm or producing for exchange in an enterprise where they earn a just wage. Such a system is, nearly by definition, a just economic order. The dignity of the human person leads us to conclude that a society in which we are free (in the sense explained above) is a just social order. The free market economy then is one aspect of this just social order through which we can achieve solidarity.