Human Population and Material Prosperity
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Human Population and Material Prosperity

Following up a bit on last week’s discussions of population and prosperity, I thought this section (44) from Caritas in Veritate to be a good summary statement of the various dynamics at play:

Morally responsible openness to life represents a rich social and economic resource. Populous nations have been able to emerge from poverty thanks not least to the size of their population and the talents of their people. On the other hand, formerly prosperous nations are presently passing through a phase of uncertainty and in some cases decline, precisely because of their falling birth rates; this has become a crucial problem for highly affluent societies. The decline in births, falling at times beneath the so-called “replacement level”, also puts a strain on social welfare systems, increases their cost, eats into savings and hence the financial resources needed for investment, reduces the availability of qualified labourers, and narrows the “brain pool” upon which nations can draw for their needs. Furthermore, smaller and at times miniscule families run the risk of impoverishing social relations, and failing to ensure effective forms of solidarity. These situations are symptomatic of scant confidence in the future and moral weariness. It is thus becoming a social and even economic necessity once more to hold up to future generations the beauty of marriage and the family, and the fact that these institutions correspond to the deepest needs and dignity of the person. In view of this, States are called to enact policies promoting the centrality and the integrity of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman, the primary vital cell of society, and to assume responsibility for its economic and fiscal needs, while respecting its essentially relational character.

We might wonder a bit about what it might look like for States to “assume responsibility” for the family’s economic and fiscal needs and the wisdom of various ways of accomplishing this. I should note again the distinction between policy solutions as such (coercive or otherwise) and the moral exhortation involved in holding up “to future generations the beauty of marriage and the family.” Moral exhortation or even social “pressure” and coercion are simply not identical.

But in any case the encyclical’s perspective on the human resources at the heart of any prospering society is illuminating: “Morally responsible openness to life represents a rich social and economic resource.” It is in this sense that, as Manfred Spieker has observed, Caritas in Veritate is not simply an encyclical about globalization, but rather a work that “demonstrates the decisive battle for human society is not made in the field of economics but in the field of bioethics. It is the encyclical that integrates bioethics into the social doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church.”

The human person is at the center of a creative and dynamic economy. As Michael Novak put it thirty years ago, “Practical insights are the primary source of wealth.” In addition, “Intelligence is also the primary form of capital.” As such, he concluded, “The cause of wealth lies more in the human spirit than in matter.”

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.