visser_logo_small.gif (1783 bytes)Work in a Sustainable Society:
Values for New Economic Relationships
Miller, page 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6

Section headings:

dot.gif (101 bytes) I. Values underlying current economic relationships dot.gif (101 bytes)

III.a   Mondragon's Society of Cooperatives

dot.gif (101 bytes) II. Values for new economic relationships in a sustainable society dot.gif (101 bytes)

III.b   Korten's People-Centered Economy

dot.gif (101 bytes) II.a Basic Moral Presumptions dot.gif (101 bytes)

III.c   Daly and Cobb's Wholistic Community of Communities

dot.gif (101 bytes) II.b Moral Priorities dot.gif (101 bytes)

III.d   Theobald's Economic Security Plan

dot.gif (101 bytes) II.c Applying the Moral Presumptions and Priorities dot.gif (101 bytes) IV. Actions for transformation
dot.gif (101 bytes) III. Some visions of what could be


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II. Values for new economic relationships in a sustainable society

As a way of moving from the reflection on the value-assumptions that shape current economic relationships that affect work and human well-being to the identification of value-assumptions needed in a sustainable society, it may be helpful to articulate some of the specific questions which the author has had in mind in developing this section of the paper.

  • If the necessary retreat from overconsumption in the richer nations takes place, will there be enough work to enable people to live in dignity?
  • Or, in other words: Can a sustainable focus on improvements in quality of life rather than economic growth measured in current GDP terms generate enough employment to provide for human welfare?
  • Is the current linkage between work and income sustainable? Are there alternatives?
  • How much inequality is necessary to maintain people's incentive to produce and take constructive risks?
  • Do we have to restrict technological change in order to provide enough work?
  • How can transnational employers be held accountable to environmental and employment goals of nations?
  • How should trade be organized to maximize employment opportunities and safeguard labor standards?
  • How will the physically difficult, "menial" tasks get done in the future?
  • Would it be possible for everyone to have personally rewarding work in a sustainable society?

It is out of reflection on these interrelated questions (the content of which I presume will be dealt with by others) that the author presumes to propose for discussion by the Consultation participants suggestions for values/moral presumptions to be given priority in shaping the new economic relationships and making the new choices for life and work in a sustainable society.

The questions before us call for lifting up neglected portions of our moral tradition to give them more attention and more force in our individual lives and in our societies.

II.a  Basic Moral Presumptions

This section relies on the work of ethicist J. Philip Wogamon who states that the problem of making moral judgments is basically one of translating one's faith commitment into intelligent decisions. He recommends that this can best be done by clarifying moral presumptions.

If we understand what are the normal implications of Christian faith, then we know to place the burden of proof against deviations from those norms. Thus, our presumption is for peace, so we place the burden of proof against war. Our presumption is for equality, so we place the burden of proof against inequality. That is better than the simpler intuitions of situation ethics or an ethic of character because it provides us with intellectual tools for ethical analysis.  [J. Philip Wogamon, Christian Ethics: A Historical Introduction (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993), 279. See also his Christian Moral Judgment (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989).]

Wogamon argues that this "principled flexibility" will be increasingly important as we face ever more complex issues in a world with many different ethical perspectives being brought into the dialogue.

Wogamon proposes four basic positive moral presumptions of Christian faith all of which have specific relevance to the questions before the Consultation  [J. Philip Wogamon, Christian Moral Judgment (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989), 79, 80-85, 89, 91, 95.]

II.a.1. The Goodness of Created ExistenceIt is not possible for a Christian to base a judgment on the proposition that God's created physical world really does not, after all matter very much. It matters very much indeed. It is the material basis of God's covenant with human beings and may have further, deeper purposes we cannot fathom.

II.a.2. The Value of Individual Life : Christian faith understands human value as being established by our relationship with God--a relationship created and given by God....Christian judgment must insist that no life can be disregarded as unimportant.... Regard for the value of personal life also entails a strong presumption for personal freedom....Our presumption must be for the worth of all people, even those to whom we are vigorously opposed.

II.a.3. The Unity of the Human Family in God : If Christian faith entails a strong presumption for individual worth, it also implies that life cannot be lived in isolation. The two presumptions cannot really be separated. That relationship with God which establishes our value as individuals is at the same time the basis for our unity, our fellow humanity....To be truly human is to be a 'fellowman,' not a rugged, selfish individualist. The effect of such an understanding of Christian love is indeed to make every question of moral judgment a family question.

II.a.4. The Equality of Persons in God : Equality is implied in the value individual persons have through their relationship to value we are beyond earthly limitations because our value is based on the valuing of God, who is infinite....The Christian claim is that wherever there are people there is that essential humanity, and therefore equality....If all persons are ultimately equal, a strong presumption exists for equality of treatment in the concrete relationships and structures of the world....Equality has an immediate presumption of rightness....If inequalities can be justified morally by the Christian, they should generally be of the relative rather than the absolute kind...[R]elative incentives should be required to bear the burden of proof: Are they really necessary for the sake of some greater social good? Will they not create such great disparities as to erect formidable barriers to human mutuality?

These basic presumptions are also at the core of the tradition of Roman Catholic social teachings. The value-assumptions/moral presumptions of this tradition rooted in the Jewish and Christian scriptures and articulated in papal social encyclicals since Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum in 1891 can be summarized as follows below. [ For summaries of the principles of the tradition see: Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, "Guidelines for the Study and Teaching of the Church's Social Doctrine in the Formation of Priests," Origins, XIX (August 3, 1989), 169-192; National Conference of Catholic Bishops, "Rerum Novarum's Centenary," Origins, XX (November 24, 1990),394-96; Shaping A New World: The Catholic Social Justice Tradition, 1891-1991 (Washington, D.C.:NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, 1991).]

  • Dignity of the Human Person - This is the primary principle from which all the others flow; from this derive the basic human rights, among which is the right to employment.
  • Social Nature of the Human Person - The human person is social by nature, not self-sufficient, needs others and society.
  • Common Good Inseparable from the Good of Persons - Defined as the sum of the social conditions essential for individuals and groups to fulfill their purposes, the common good is thus inseparable from the individual good; the purpose of public authority is the realization of the common good; in an interdependent world people and nations must also attend to the universal common good.
  • Solidarity in the Human Family - Solidarity is the moral response to the reality of interdependence; it calls for a firm and persevering commitment to the common good, since we are all really responsible for all.
  • Subsidiarity the Rule of Social Organization - The organic concept of social life calls for protection of legitimate authority of intermediate structures between the individual and the state, between the family and larger organizations; social functions should be carried out at the level closest to the people affected by them.
  • Participation as a Basic Right and Responsibility - To be human is to be in community; just, proportionate and responsible participation of all members and sectors of society in development of socio-economic, political and cultural life should be the norm; being free and co-responsible in society is God's intent for us.
  • Universal Purpose of Material Things - The right of private property, valid and necessary in itself is subordinate to the right of common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone; no one has a right to abundance when others are in need; the preservation of the earth for future generations is a responsibility of all.
  • Dignity of Work - All persons have the right to decent and productive work at a wage which provides support for the worker and dependents, but work is more than a way to make a living; it is an expression of human dignity and a form of continuing participation in God's creation; the economy exists for people, not the other way around.
  • Special Claim of the Poor and Vulnerable - The basic moral test of a society is how its most vulnerable members are faring; those with greatest needs require the greatest response from Christians; the basic requirements for life with dignity must be accessible to all; meeting the needs of the poor has the greatest moral urgency now.

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