From The Publisher: The Common Destination of Created Goods

One of the principles basic to Catholic social thought and clearly enunciated by Pope John Paul II is “the common destination of created goods.” The idea is this: God made the world for the common good of every human being on the planet. Creation has been given to all of us to cherish, to develop, and to protect for the benefit of all, not just for a few. We are all in this together.

Still, not all the implications of this simple truth have yet been grasped. Many cities on the planet do not now have clean and safe drinking water for their citizens. Many lack systems of sanitation. Immense resources are still being neglected and undeveloped. Legal systems in most parts of the world strangle the God-given right of personal economic initiative, through which human beings would imitate the creativity of God. Creation should be brought to its fruition for the good of hundreds of millions. But the way to that fruition is often blocked.

To the unreflective, for example, it may seem puzzling how the people of Japan have made their tiny and densely populated islands so productive. By contrast, other peoples in lands far more richly endowed by the Creator in natural resources create so little with what they have.

Similarly, the 28 million blacks in the United States have created for themselves an annual income of approximately $200 billion, at least half the entire income generated by the 500 million blacks of Africa.

Assuming that people around the world work equally hard, one must observe — the facts rise up to smack one in the face — that the cause of wealth is not mere labor alone. The legal system within which one lives makes an enormous difference to the productivity of one’s labor.

From the beginning, Americans have thanked God for “the blessings of liberty.” Why? Because many of them have experienced other systems elsewhere. They had once worked equally hard, or even harder, in other lands. But here tangible increase was added to their labors. System makes an enormous difference. For this reason, Americans call their system a “blessing.”

In brief, the major reason for the pronounced difference between the developed countries and the less developed countries (LDCs) is the difference in their systems. Persons in the developed countries do not work harder, sweat more, or engage in more onerous labor, in order to make the fruit of their labor so abundant. On the contrary, the developed nations have put in place systems that multiply their own efforts many times over.

This is why the tiny proportion (2 percent) of the world’s population represented by the 122 million citizens of Japan produce a full ten percent of the world’s domestic product. Indeed, tiny Japan produces more than all the citizens of Latin America put together. And Latin America is loaded with natural resources, whereas the tiny islands of Japan are gifted with painfully few. Clearly, system makes an enormous difference.

In his new encyclical, Solicitude for Social Reality, Pope John Paul II speaks tentatively — groping for the exact word — of the growing “gap” between the developed countries and the LDCs. More basic than the “gap” in the incomes produced in the developed countries and the LDCs is the profound gap between their internal systems.

The internal organization of Japanese society, for example, promotes education, brainpower, innovation, initiative, savings, capital formation, wise investment and a keen sense of competition. The Japanese system is designed for survival in an interdependent world market. Excellent educational systems, serious acculturation to the demands of the common good of the nation, and a brilliantly conceived set of laws and institutions make Japan an immensely dynamic example for the nations.

It is not just a freak of nature, then, that the small population of Japan produces so much for the benefit of its own people and, second, for the benefit of humankind. Nor is it just a freak of nature that so many other peoples, although immensely gifted with natural resources by the Creator, are so much less creative and produce so little for the benefit of all their own people and for the world.

Those who wish to contribute to the common good of humankind must look with fresh eyes at everything that makes their own internal organization so unproductive. Charity instructs them to look first at themselves, before blaming others. Have they done all they can to organize themselves internally for creativity and for productivity? Or do their domestic millions labor onerously, with too little to show for it?

The secret lies in internal systems.

Only when every country in the world is organized internally to unleash the creativity inherent in the personal initiative of each of its citizens will all the world’s nations be in a position to contribute to the common good of all.

Organizing the world system for the common good of all, therefore, will entail an immense reorganization of most of the domestic systems on earth. Luckily, models based on liberty display remarkable variety, and nothing prevents new varieties from being invented. The common good of all is enhanced by variety. The peoples of the world are plural. So should creative systems be.

The key lies in organizing every nation around the creativity endowed by the same Creator in every human breast, in different modalities in different cultures. But always with the same purpose: to unleash the creativity of every citizen.


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