1. The Importance of State Intervention in Society
In the social encyclical Centesimus Annus (One Hundred Years), Pope John Paul II acknowledges the paramount importance of the state in protecting the common good of society, especially the welfare of the poor. Individual or group efforts to fight poverty and promote public welfare would not be sufficient without the assistance of the state. The industrialization and prosperity of advanced countries can be attributed to the active role of the state in national development. However, the Pope cautions us to protect the freedom of intermediary groups in society from excessive intervention of the state. But people must help to enhance the power of the state when it is weak in order to promote the common good.
2. The Extent of State Intervention
For the Pope, state intervention in the affairs of society should neither be lacking nor excessive. It must be moderate. If it is too much such as those in communist or welfare states, the freedom of various groups in society or the so-called civil society would be stifled, and thus weakens the common good. A direct state intervention that is excessive can end up depriving citizens of responsibility and creates excessive growth in public agencies guided more by bureaucratic logic than by the goal of satisfying the needs of the person (CSDC # 354). The duties of the citizens and their social groups which are rightfully theirs would then be usurped by the state: “Civil society, organized into its intermediate groups, is capable of contributing to the attainment of the common good by placing itself in a relationship of collaboration and effective complementarities with respects to the State and the market” (CSDC #356).
3. The Effect of Excessive State Intervention
In welfare state countries like Canada or Sweden, for instance, the government shoulders almost all the material needs of their citizens from “birth to cradle,” from education to hospitalization. This leaves the citizens and civil society groups passive recipients of state assistance. In Sweden, for instance, people entering into marriage is declining since the state takes care of almost all of the citizens’ familial needs. Thus, couples do not appreciate the challenge of family life and see the urgency to enter into marriage. Thus, cohabitation without the sacrament of matrimony is rising in most welfare states. In communist countries too, the state controls its citizens and deprives the freedom of social groups and civil society to exercise their social functions, and thus stifles people’s freedom and creativity leading to jeopardy of the common good.
4. The Effect of Absence or Lack of State Intervention
Meanwhile, if state intervention is absent or lacking, the common good is also jeopardized. The political elite and interested groups can take control of society’s economic and political resources at the expense of the poor. Monopolies and cartels would arise and thus destroy the country’s democracy and equitable distribution of wealth. To protect public welfare, the State has to intervene according to society’s real needs bearing in mind the needs of the poor. In the economic realm, for instance, the State has the duty to intervene directly in order to sustain business activities by creating conditions which will ensure job opportunities, by stimulating those activities where they are lacking or by supporting them in moments of crisis. The State too has the moral duty to combat monopolies which create delays or obstacles to development (CSDC # 351).
5. The Major Limitations of State Intervention Today?
The powers of the State to assert political will to attain the common good today is not as strong as it was before the World War II. The advent of multilateralism, particularly in recent years, has reduced the powers of the State to intervene in economic affairs as it is more and more governed by multilateral institutions like the World Bank (WB), International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organizations (WTO). One author would even called these three as the Unholy Trinity to stress their powerful influence to developing countries in the world. Because most multilateral agreements contain conditions attached to access of foreign loans, this Unholy Trinity, particularly the World Bank and IMF, dictates developing countries what economic laws are to be legislated in their jurisdictions. Lawmaking bodies of developing countries only actualize into local laws what has been agreed upon by member countries in multilateral agreement.
The Optical Media Law of 2003, for instance, was passed by the Philippine Congress in compliance of the country’s commitment to the implementation of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPs), one major component of the multilateral agreement called GATT (General Agreement of Tariff and Trade) in which the Philippines is a member. Furthermore, local legislation which affects the country’s economy are sometimes imposed by the WB or IMF as part of the conditions in obtaining foreign loans. The so-called Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) of the WB and IMF which forces developing countries to restructure their economy, squeeze their national budget and forego development to pay their loans is imposed to debtor-countries is a great burden to many poor people.
Furthermore, to ensure that the country can pay the interest or principal of the loan, the WB or IMF would pressure the government to adopt policies or enact laws which have disastrous effects according to this SAP. The Value Added Tax (VAT) and Expanded Value Added Tax, an indirect tax to be shouldered by the consumer regardless of his social status, for instance, are said to have been passed in Philippine Congress upon the instruction of the World Bank and IMF.
The nature and extent of state intervention in society has changed tremendously through time. but for the Catholic Church, one thing is certain: The state intervention must not be too excessive nor absent to protect the common good and the social welfare of people, especially the poor, in society.
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