As many people who have commented on Caritas in Veritate have said, it is what Benedict says about ‘gift’ which is most distinctive in this encyclical and adds something new to CST.
Perhaps the simplest way to understand it is in light of what we have already studied in this unit, that is, CST’s vision of a ‘solidary market economy’. How can this actually come into existence? It can do so only if people see business life, not only in terms of the financial dimension of transactions – although this is highly important – but as a place in which they are called to go further, a context for sincere gift of self for the sake of others. Clearly, this is exactly what the practice of solidarity requires.
In other words, people enter business life committed and determined actually to do something worthwhile for others through the goods they supply to markets. Of course, such commitment should be reciprocal, so that they receive the gifts of others also: Benedict speaks of “fraternal reciprocity” (#38). Obviously they have to be very hard-headed in a business sense, or they will simply not survive. But their main drive is to practise love of neighbour, and so to give more through their business than a narrow focus on the bottom line requires.
Indeed Benedict makes a critique of conventional forms of business in which this component of commitment and gift is ignored and market transactions are entirely self-oriented. It is part of his analysis of why the recent global economic crisis occurred that many people in business, especially in finance, had ceased to relate to one another as persons, but instead saw competitors and customers in purely instrumental ways.
His point about ‘gift’, then, is that solidarity and commitment to the common good require it. This is expressed in the following statement:
In the global era, economic activity cannot prescind from gratuitousness, which fosters and disseminates solidarity and responsibility for justice and the common good among the different economic players… Solidarity is first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone, and it cannot therefore be merely delegated to the State. (#38)
It is no good business people saying that it’s for them to take a completely instrumental approach, focused exclusively on financial return, and leave it to the State to pick up the pieces. Rather, in markets there has to be “economic activity carried out by subjects who freely choose to act according to principles other than those of pure profit, without sacrificing the production of economic value in the process” (#37).
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