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Guest Post: The Common Good – An Emergent Phenomenon

November 12th, 2009 by Matt

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.

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13 responses so far ↓

  • Oh no, this is not Catholic teaching, this is all me, with the help of Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard.

  • Note: to the best of my knowledge it’s eminently compatible with Catholic teaching.
    .-= My last blog-post ..The Common Good: An Emergent Phenomenon =-.

  • My bad… Matt began to put the post up but then got called away so as he left he called out to me what to write as the blurb/intro thingy but me with my pain-drug-brain forgot what he said within seconds of him saying it so I wrote what I thought he said and posted it.

    He just saw it now as we came in from dinner out and when he read what I had put he promptly changed it. Hopefully it reads better now.

    .-= My last blog-post ..Guest Post: The Common Good – An Emergent Phenomenon =-.

  • I think I can forgive you 🙂

  • Hmmm… a new Catholic blog. Seems to have come out of no-where. I’ll have to link to it later when the Friday Night Free For All time peters out.

  • […] View original here:  Guest Post: The Common Good – An Emergent Phenomenon | MandM […]

  • Hi –

    You said; “unleash the power of individuals, families and groups”. This is a wonderful idea, but I think that reality poses this dilemma: How to get around the fact that the ones who stand up to vocalise that [unleashed] power are always the ones with an axe to grind. In fact it is usually a ‘hidden’ agenda, and I seriously doubt that the ‘common good’ would prevail.
    .-= My last blog-post ..What is The Evidence of The Holy Spirit =-.

  • You might enjoy this new kiwi catholic blog too then Lucia: As Yourself Hermitage

  • Information is just one aspect, this post ignores motivation
    .-= My last blog-post ..Seven Ugly Gaunt Cows That Could Swallow South Canterbury Finance =-.

  • Rhys: taking away government powers (or the parts which cannot work for the common good no matter who is in charge) takes away the main avenue for those with hidden agendas to manipulate the populace for their own selfish gains. It doesn’t become impossible but it becomes the most difficult possible. In the example of centralised power these groups only need affect a fickle government, in the example of decentralised power they need to affect every individual, which is much harder! The common good has the most chances of withstanding the barrage and recovering after it ceases.

  • David: motivation is definitely an important problem with government power vs individual freedom, however proponents of government power always present government as saintly ever prepared warriors for the common good. My argument reveals that even assuming government were full of Saints who never waivered in their motivation that they still couldn’t do a good job because it’s impossible.
    .-= My last blog-post ..MPs and Our Money =-.

  • @Nyokodo
    Gotcha, but I would really like some practical insights [vs theoretical]. My experience[ a lifetime of committees] of people power suggests that 15% have the motivation [agenda?] and therefore the voice and the rest are don’t care, don’t know,or can’t be bothered. This sad lack of motivation of the majority is the default reason we wind up with centralised power, yes?
    I find it a real puzzle to discover the actual will of the majority, and therefore how to responsibly represent them.
    .-= My last blog-post ..What is The Evidence of The Holy Spirit =-.

  • Rhys: is it because people don’t have the motivation or because from birth we’re taught to hand away responsibility to others and not take it on ourselves? That is one of the material evils of centralising power, people don’t exercise their “caring muscles” and so they become apathetic. If suddenly you force people to take personal responsibility for their lives you’ll notice a lot more people caring and taking action.
    .-= My last blog-post ..The Birth of Science had to be Catholic =-.