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Economic Justice

By the beginning of the twenty-first century, the failures of socialism have clearly demonstrated that a market economy is the most effective economic base. On the other hand, there are some economic thinkers that think that this type of economy is self-regulating and that governments should never interfere with it. A number of economic depressions and recessions have also proved this to be wrong. As with other aspects of civil society, a well functioning economy needs the cooperation of government agencies, intermediate organizations and individual initiatives. Adam Smith (1723-1790), another participant in the Scottish enlightenment as a professor of moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow, is generally credited with the formalization of the principles of market economics through his book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. He is often cited in arguments against governmental interference in the Economy. Although he advocates minimizing these actions, as a moralist, he is also concerned about economic justice:

No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed and lodged.[1]

The complexities of a modern economy are beyond the scope of this website, but we can illustrate a few factors or steps that can contribute to improving the conditions of those at the bottom of the economic scale.


The advantages of small businesses have been well stablished. They encourage creativity and innovation due to their flexibility and streamlined decision making. They provide increased opportunity: "Small business is the portal through which many people enter the economic mainstream. Business ownership allows individuals, including women and minorities, to achieve financial success, as well as pride in their accomplishments."[2] And most importantly, they increase competition. The direction toward larger companies inevitably leads to fewer choices and eventual monopolies. For these reasons, many nations have programs to encourage and support small businesses. A key factor in promoting small businesses is the availability of appropriate financing.

Grameen Bank is a microfinance organization and community development bank founded in Bangladesh. The term Grameen Bank is Bengali for "Rural" or "Village" Bank. The bank small loans target the poorest of the poor, with a particular emphasis on women, who receive upwards of 95 percent of the bank's loans. Example of the types of loans that Grameen makes are for hand-powered wells, housing, wireless phone services, and seasonal agricultural loans and equipment and livestock to help the poor improve their agriculture. The loans are generally on a low interest, long term payment basis. The bank requires borrowers to participate in organized savings plans. Grameen is primarily a private business initiative, but is backed by Central Bank and the government of Bangladesh. Many other world organizations have been founded following the principles and practices of this bank.

Village Group, Bangladesh, Photo ©  Wikimedia
Author: Brett Matthews, Mathwood Consulting Co,

Fraternizing Economics

On May of 2019, Pope Francis wrote a letter to young economists calling for a more just economy:

I am writing to invite you to take part in an initiative very close to my heart.  An event that will allow me to encounter young men and women studying economics and interested in a different kind of economy: one that brings life not death, one that is inclusive and not exclusive, humane and not dehumanizing, one that cares for the environment and does not despoil it... That is why I would like to meet you in Assisi: so that we can promote together, through a common “covenant”, a process of global change. One in which not only believers but all men and women of good will, beyond differences of creed and nationality, can participate, inspired by an ideal of fraternity attentive above all to the poor and excluded.[3]

We have dedicated another website to this initiative, but we will concentrate here on one aspect of this initiative, which has been highlighted by two of these inspired young economists, Pope Francis is calling for "a selection of fraternity as the model of social life. We are called to a reciprocal care and a relational link among all."[4] We can oversimplify this by saying that Pope Francis is seeking to "fraternize" economics.

Photo Source: Vatican News

One good example of an economic project based on fraternity is the support grid organized by the  Jesuit Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean (CPAL). This grid, that has the Spanish name of Red Comparte, (Sharing Grid) consists of 19 centers in 11 countries throughout the area that provides support in the organization and training of small producers. Some examples of resulting successful businesses are the Yomol A’tel coffee producer and the APPROCAP cacao producer.

Yomol A’tel is a phrase which means "working together." It is a non-profit organization based in Chiapas, Mexico as a group of cooperatives. It tries to add value to the basic products of indigenous communities by integrating cultivation, processing and merchandizing rather that selling the raw agricultural produce. The cooperatives function as communities that encourage wide participation, and women are given full access to leadership functions. Many of the small producers that are part of the project also grow many of their own consumption items.

Photo Source: Red Comparte

APPROCAP is an association of cacao producers in northern Peru. It consists of 200+ farmers that are dedicated to the growing of fine flavor cacao varietals native to the region. Their farmers’ land plots average just 1 hectare, and as a community, they’ve committed themselves to caring for their land under the principles of agroforestry. This means that in addition to the primary crop there is tree cover and a mixture of secondary crops that help insure better soil conservation and help protect against weather and plague problems.

[1] Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776), Book 1, (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1953), 118.

[2] Exploring Business, 5.2.

[3] Letter of Pope Francis

[4] Luis Fernando Ramírez, Leidy Diana Vargas, A Pact for the Future, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana