Part IIB:Problems with Capitalism
"We learn from our gardens to deal with the most urgent question of the time: How much is enough?" Wendell Berry
"A small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself" (Rerum novarum, n. 3).
St. Thomas distinguishes between two kinds of wealth: natural and artifical.(II-IQ.2.1) Those goods described as natural wealth, such as food and shelter, satisfy the needs of nature while artificial wealth refers to money, only valuable as a medium of exchange for acquiring natural wealth. According to St. Thomas, the danger of greed is inherent to artificial wealth. He says: "The desire for natural riches is not infinite: because they suffice for nature in a certain measure. But the desire for artificial wealth is infinite, for it is the servant of disordered concupiscence, which is not curbed, as the Philosopher makes clear (Polit. i, 3). "(ibid., ad.3)
Aristotle also distinguishes between the natural art of wealth-getting, which is a part of household management, and the unnatural art of wealth-getting, or retail trade. The former aims at providing for the comfortable maintenance of the family, or household. Again, it is limited by the finite needs of the home. Retail trade, on the other hand, aims at profit. According to Aristotle: "Of everything which we possess there are two uses: both belong to the thing as such, but not in the same manner, for one is the proper, and the other the improper or secondary use of it. For example, a shoe is used for wear, and is used for exchange; both are uses of the shoe. He who gives a shoe in exchange for money or food to him who wants one, does indeed use the shoe as a shoe, but this is not its proper or primary purpose, for a shoe is not made to be an object of barter. The same may be said of all possessions, for the art of exchange extends to all of them, and it arises at first from what is natural, from the circumstance that some have too little, others too much. Hence we may infer that retail trade is not a natural part of the art of getting wealth; had it been so, men would have ceased to exchange when they had enough."(PoliticsIX) Retail trade is problematic because it obscures the primary purpose of goods using them for the end of profit, which is understood as the acquisition of coin. In an economy based on retail trade, people come to confuse artificial wealth with real riches, and direct their household toward the accumulation of coin rather than those goods which satisfy a natural need.
With their distinctions, Aristotle and St. Thomas anticipated the rampant consumerism of our present system. Free market capitalism depends heavily upon artificial wealth and retail trade. Our previous Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, said: "It would now be helpful to direct our attention to the specific problems and threats emerging within the more advanced economies and which are related to their particular characteristics. In earlier stages of development, man always lived under the weight of necessity. His needs were few and were determined, to a degree, by the objective structures of his physical make-up. Economic activity was directed towards satisfying these needs."(Centesimus Annus, 36) Now, we are assaulted from every direction by advertisements stirring up excessive desires and fabricating false needs. In this environment, spiritual goods quickly recede from cultural consciousness, replaced by the all-engrossing pursuit of material possessions.
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