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

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.b  Moral Priorities

Moral teachers have recently begun to develop guidelines for judgment in cases of claims conflicting positive moral claims. When it is a question of conflicting rights moral judgment calls for recognizing which takes priority. Pope John Paul II put these priorities starkly in a statement in Canada in 1984:

The needs of the poor take priority over the desires of the rich; the rights of workers over the maximization of profits; the preservation of the environment over uncontrolled industrial expansion; and production to meet social needs over production for military purposes. [Cited in National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Catholic Conference, 1986), Art. 94, p. 48.]

A theme of John Paul's l981 encyclical on labor was the priority of labor over capital in an economy based on justice. [John Paul II, Laborem Exercens, Art. 12. For text see David Byers (ed.),   Justice in the Marketplace: Collected Statements of the Vatican and the U.S. Catholic Bishops on Economic Policy, 1891-1984 (Washington, DC: U.S. Catholic Conference, 1985).]

There is an ethical order in which human labor, the subject of production, takes precedence over capital and technology. This is the priority of labor principle.....As long as technology and capital are not harnessed by society to serve basic human needs, they are likely to become an enemy rather than an ally in the development of peoples. [Social Affairs Commission, Canadian Catholic Conference, "Alternatives to Present Economic Structures," Origins, XII (January 27, 1983), 524.

Social ethicist, David Hollenbach, S.J. examined the development and content of the human rights tradition in his 1979 book, Claims in Conflict. He compares and contrasts the liberal and Marxist theories of human rights and points out that the UN Declaration on Human Rights includes both the negative immunities from coercion specified by liberal democratic theory and the positive entitlements to social and economic rights called for by Marxist theory, but does not yet express a more integral theory of human rights. He argues that the Catholic human rights tradition as summarized in Pope John XXIII's l963 encyclical, Pacem in Terris, (which was widely embraced by human rights advocates outside the church) has sought to take seriously both the liberal and Marxist perspectives and has addressed the question of "trade-offs" between rights in a serious way.

Applying his rigorous analysis in the policy arena leads him to the conclusion that adequate human rights policies have to give priority to protection the full set of social rights for all persons. This calls for limiting personal privilege and structuring society so that all political, economic and cultural institutions are open to the participation of everyone.

The full set of social rights includes the following: the rights to good, clothing, shelter, rest and medical care, the right to political participation, the rights to nationality and to migrate, the rights of assembly and association, the rights of adequate working conditions and a just wage, the right to found a family or live singly, the right to procreate, the right to profess religion privately and publicly, the rights to freedom of expression and to education. These concern three basic forms of social human interaction and interdependence.

  • All persons have personal rights to the basic necessities when society is capable of meeting those needs.
  • All persons have personal rights to exercise their human freedom.
  • All persons have personal rights to form interpersonal and group relationships.

All of these rights have to be met in community; insofar as patterns of marginalization and privilege that benefit some in the society obstruct these rights, these patterns must be counteracted. The moral presumption is for the basic rights of all in the areas of need, freedom and relationship and against the exercise of privilege and marginalization.

Three normative ethical standards for societal efforts to implement human rights emerge from this analysis:

  • The needs of the poor take priority over the wants of the rich.
  • The freedom of the dominated takes priority over the liberty of the powerful.
  • The participation of marginalized groups takes priority over the preservation of an order which excludes them. [David Hollenbach, SJ, Claims in Conflict (Mawah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1979), 203-207.]

These strategic priorities recognize that in the real world the policy trade-offs are most often between protecting the privileges certain elites enjoy because of the functioning of the socio-economic-political order and seeking to increase the participation in the order by those currently marginalized by it.

II.c  Applying the Moral Presumptions and Priorities

These moral presumptions and priorities provide the overall framework within which ethical values for new socio-economic relationships in a sustainable society have to be developed. These values and priorities will apply in various ways in the different categories of economic relationships impinging on the questions regarding work in a sustainable society. What is called for is broad-based social transformation.

II.c.1. Refocused Economies: Putting People First - The first chapter of any introductory textbook will give as the purpose of the economy the allocation of scarce resources so as to meet human needs and wants. In practice, however, the goal of the economy has shifted away from meeting people's needs to making money, away from enabling people to work together constructively toward fostering accumulation of capital, and away from sustaining the household economy to following the shifting patterns of the global economy.

In order to move toward sustainable economies which provide work and livelihood for people now and in the future, the primary purpose of any economy will have to be brought back into focus. The US Catholic Bishops put this clearly in the opening sentence of their l986 pastoral letter on the economy:

Every perspective on economic life that is human, moral and Christian must be shaped by three questions: What does the economy do for people? What does it do to people? and how do people participate in it? [National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Economic Justice For All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy (Washington, DC: U.S. Catholic Conference, 1986), Art. 1, p.1].  The Canadian Bishops developed this theme in their 1983 pastoral letter titled "Alternatives to Present Economic Structures."

Secondly, given the realities of maldistribution, massive poverty, and marginalization of millions of the world's people, the moral urgency of the needs of the poorest will have to be given the priority attention our basic moral presumptions demand. Simply reflecting on the degree of unmet human needs for basic necessities around the world makes the question of whether there would be enough work to do in a sustainable society seem almost ridiculous.

As Barbara Ehrenreich observes wittily:

Probably the most bizarre of our artificial scarcities is the scarcity of jobs. How can there be so few jobs, when there is so much to do? If profit were not the principle guiding human endeavor, we could easily employ a couple of generations just cleaning up the mess: salvaging the environment, curing disease, educating the ignorant, housing the homeless. Once that is done, we might throw ourselves en masse into the great adventures of scientific inquiry, artistic expression, and space exploration. [Ehrenreich, 7.]

It is clearly not that there is not enough work to do, but simply that we need to have a different set of priorities in the organization of economic life now. As a first step purchasing power must be redistributed so that room will be made in the markets for the needs of those presently shut out of them -- so that their demands will generate the need for work by themselves and others.

Thirdly, the priority of the right of persons to work has to be given force in public policy. "Full employment" goals are economically sound; anything less it wasteful and inefficient as long as there are unmet human needs. It is distorted political priorities which prevent full employment in industrialized nations. The moral challenge is to build the consensus for the right to employment and then to mobilize the political will at all levels to make full employment a reality.  [Ibid., Art. 153, p. 77.

II.c. 2. New Definitions of Happiness: Quality Instead of Quantity - Attainment of sustainability requires that citizens of richer nations adopt less resource-using and environmentally responsible life styles. Our moral presumption for equality, for recognizing the universal purpose of material things, and for the priority of the claims of the poor call consumers in the richer nations to recognize the prior claims of the basic needs of those without the necessities of life. Inexorably this calls for a redistribution of the fruits of production of goods and services.

The moral presumption for the integrity of creation, for the preservation of the earth for future generations calls for a mindset of "enoughness" rather than of frivolous buying, for sharing use rather than private ownership of multiple appliances. It calls for weaning away from devotion to materialist social symbols of status such as size of house and vehicle. It demands conversion from definitions of happiness based on having always more things, more money.

This necessary redefinition of what is desirable among the world's haves will impact the world of work in several ways. It will make way for the sharing of existing work among more people as overtime is reduced and as some working full-time for pay in order to buy things that will no longer be necessary drop to part-time work or move to volunteer work or to unpaid creative work. As people demand environmentally responsible products and services, businesses will shift resources into ecologically sound activities. This will generate the need for new types of support activities which will generate new jobs in recycling and other activities.

For example, as people have become aware of the harmful effects of pesticides on food, organic agriculture and natural foods retailing have grown. Businesses have been formed to link Central and Latin American producers of organic sesame, soy, coffee and honey with wholesalers and retailers in Canada, Europe and the United States. [ Earth Trade, a California based company, has experienced phenomenal growth in the few years of its existence. It works with cooperative farmers and worker-owners in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Mexico to foster sustainable organic agriculture and local self-reliance by linking them into the larger market economy in a business relationship that returns to them a higher price than they could otherwise have received.]  Consumers are willing to pay premium prices for safer food, and this is passed on to the farmers enabling them toward sustainability.

This movement away from a consumerist mentality will also enable people to choose work as a personally rewarding activity. As the US post-World War II baby-boom generation reaches middle age many are making this kind of move -- creating new opportunities for themselves and others in the process.

The shift to quality- rather than quantity-oriented definitions of happiness among the people of the richer nations will be transmitted through the media throughout the world, replacing the current consumerist messages. This will halt the environmentally and culturally destructive effects of the "rising expectations" syndrome and make possible focus on making local work patterns and life styles sustainable among the world's poorest.

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