This guest post comes from Nyokodo of And All These Things…. Catholic social teaching stresses that civil government should seek the common good. This post contains some critical commentary as to how to understand and apply the common good.
The documents of the Church and the writings of most socially minded scholars are replete with exhortations for public figures to work towards the common good in all secular affairs. In response grand public works are begun, optimistic programmes launched, and a great many resources are shifted from one sector to another to achieve this lofty goal. However, it soon becomes clear that these programmes introduce further imbalances, insecurities and evils. Entire strata of society become addicted to welfare, economic protectionism make prices soar, unjust monopolies are established, and regulations are always too little too late. Some of these problems can be explained by ordinary political corruption and the general imperfection of man, however there is an even larger problem with all these methods: it’s literally impossible for them to work.
The problem is information:
- how to collect it;
- how to interpret it once you have it;
- and the time frame in which all this is done.
Governments simply cannot aggregate enough information in a timely enough fashion, and even if they could social and economic data are largely subjective and impossible to interpret correctly when distanced from the specific situation and the particular people involved.
Readers will be familiar with government economic data only coming out after the fact, often sometime after. This is because it takes time for sectors of the economy to report how they’re doing, there is always a delay requisite with the time it takes for individuals and businesses to aggregate their own data and to government requirements. Even then the data is often manipulated to make government policies look better so the reliability of the data is questionable.
The data are also very much subjective as the needs, wants, aspirations and acceptable outcomes of economic and social activities differs per person, business, city and region. The sheer immensity of this subjective information is too vast for any government to sufficiently aggregate and essentially impossible to even attempt to collect.
Governments who attempt this central planning of our social and economic lives are simply driving blind because they cannot have the information they would need to direct us effectively. This is why government programmes always encourage the wrong behaviour, leave certain groups and issues behind, grow stale and unresponsive, and generally spring leaks from every orifice.
The only way for the Common Good to be achieved is to unleash the power of individuals, families and groups to work towards their own benefit. The Common Good emerges out of this chaos with the most efficient use of resources, the most timely actions taken and no interpretation being necessary. The only people who have the necessary information to achieve their good, and in chorus the common good, are the individuals directly involved. Governments need to get out of the way and enable this process to occur instead of their futile attempts to conjure the common good from the top down.