Capizzi: "The Free Market Can Benefit From The Expansion Of Solidarity"

14 Oct 2014

From September 24-26, the Catholic University of America School of Business hosted a conference titled “Liberty and Solidarity: Living the Vocation to Business.” STI expert Joe Capizzi (Intention & Double Effect) participated.

STI Experts

What was the goal of the Conference?

The conference gathered business leaders together to reflect upon the relationship of liberty, including free market exchange, to solidarity for the purpose of reinvigorating confidence in the market economy as the primary instrument of prosperity for more and more people. Some of that confidence has been lost as a consequence of economic stagnation and unemployment and the sense among some that the free market system is to blame. The emphasis of the conference was on uncovering practical solutions that respond to a truer sense of the relationship between liberty and solidarity.

Liberty is a concept most of us are familiar with, but what is solidarity?

Solidarity is not a new concept; indeed, it’s rather old and certainly captures an old idea concerning the nature and value of relationships among people. The idea can be traced all the way back to Greek philosophy, in particular Aristotle’s idea of the person as a social/political being, but it found clearer expression in the nineteenth century. There are two aspects to solidarity: one based on a factual claim about the commonalities shared by humans and the second making normative claims about the obligations to come to each other’s assistance when necessary. Societies flourish when they recognize mutual dependence and empower more and more people to contribute to the common good. Because we are “brothers and sisters” we have obligations towards each other from which we cannot hide or escape responsibility. These responsibilities extend horizontally, towards all those people living today, and vertically, to those generations that have come before us and those that will come after us. We thus draw upon and acknowledge the contributions of all those who preceded us and steward the planet for the good of those to come when we are gone. Solidarity is therefore not a “squishy” notion, but one with great power to help guide us spiritually and materially.

Doesn’t solidarity restrict my liberty? Aren’t I freest when I have no obligations towards others?

Most of us think intuitively that obligations are obstacles to our freedom. For instance, we might think that having to take care of a family member restricts our freedom to go to a show and in an obvious sense, that’s right. But the claim that freedom actually flourishes when related to solidarity points towards a deeper truth about our mutual dependence upon each other and how by orienting our lives around what is true and good for us we enable ourselves to grow into freer and freer beings. On the one hand, our mutual dependence shows how we need each other concretely to help us become better and better. We need teachers, and moral guides, and coaches, and doctors, and so on, and they need us. Without them we cannot flourish. On the other hand, freedom requires choices for things that are genuinely good for us; we become “enslaved” by bad choices. Though we might appear freer because we were permitted to choose them, they diminish us, much as addictions to drugs, gambling, or pornography make clear.

What does any of this have to do with the economy?

A temptation would be viewing this all as irrelevant to economic or business practices or, worse, to see connecting solidarity and liberty as threatening to business. Instead, the conference sought to show both that solidarity is present in many, many ways already in the free market economy and that the free market can flourish by identifying and expanding those ways. Solidarity is present in part in the enormous place of trust in the marketplace. Every day countless free market exchanges require significant faith placed in the good will and honesty of business partners. These exchanges embrace an aspect of solidarity. The free market can benefit from the expansion of solidarity – in part through efforts to widen the global scope of potential partners. There are many people who are currently incapable of participating fully or at all in the marketplace. Their inclusion will energize the market and expand their liberty and ours by their participation.

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