An Economy for the Family

Author: The Pontifical Council for the Family


Pontifical Council for the Family

<The Pontifical Council for the family brought together 60 experts on economic and social questions for an international meeting on "The Family and Economy in the Future of Society". The meeting began on 6 March with a public conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University, at which the keynote speaker was the Nobel prizewinner, Professor Gary Becker of the University of Chicago. At the conclusion of their working meeting on 9 March, the participants made the following recommendations.>

The family is <the basic living cell of society>. The family is a stable and lasting union, based on marriage between a man and a woman, and open to life and the raising of children. Throughout human history, this natural institution has played an essential role in the economy at all levels.

In God's project, the only being created for his or her own sake is the human person (cf. <Gaudium et spes>, n. 24). Every person represents the creative potential which is the real wealth of nations. Modern economists call this creative potential "<human capital>" and recognize that it is the greatest resource for a healthy economy. This human capital is estimated by some to make up 80 per cent of the capital of modern nations. The creative potential of people ensures the future of the economy and of society as a whole.

However, the foundation of human capital is <strong family life>. Through the mutual commitment of marriage, by having, raising and educating children, the family is both the producer of human capital and its first invester.

Above all the family transmits <values and virtues>, thus creating human capital in the true sense—men and women who are willing to give of themselves, to make commitments, to trust others and co-operate with them. Without this <ethical social basis>, a strong economy cannot develop or be sustained.

The family is thus the key to a healthy society and its economy. If the family flourishes, society will be sound. But this is a reciprocal process: the family cannot survive without a good economy, and society cannot survive without good families. Nevertheless, <the economy must serve the family because the family does not exist to serve the economy>. The family is and will be fundamental to the economic organization of society.

According to the principle of <subsidiarity>, the natural community of the family plays a more effective economic and social role than larger institutions, notably in serving the <common good> and in building <solidarity>. The role of the family therefore reveals a growing convergence between Catholic social doctrine and modern economics.

These principles are becoming widely recognized among economists. However, <in policy and economic research the family itself is overlooked and hence treated unjustly>, and the consequences are grave.

A. A difficult situation for the family

In most societies today, the family faces <serious challenges> which have a direct bearing on its life, stability and prosperity. Mistaken economic, fiscal, political, population and social policies often undermine the family. In this way, great harm is being caused to the economic growth of nations and peoples.

We indicate some of the <main areas> of our concern.

—Today, <the absence of a true family policy>—which is different from a government's social policy—is one of the major tragedies of most societies.

—It is often <financially difficult> to establish a family and to have the number of children the parents want. Many young people have to <postpone marriage>, or even hesitate to contract marriage for economic reasons.

—<Widespread poverty> continues to plague many families, first in developing countries, but also in various developed countries. Specific problems generating poverty include: unemployment, lack of a family wage, inadequate housing, education costs or a lack of education, inadequate health and hygiene etc.

—Particularly in the developed world, these trends can be traced to the fact that the <rearing of children> is no longer an economically profitable occupation. Instead, children are perceived as a great economic burden to parents who must, in addition, often forego the earnings that a wife would normally make if she were in the paid work-force.

—In many societies, <women have no choice> but to work outside the home. Mistaken governmental policy and social considerations deprive women of the freedom to choose whether or not they work at home. This problem is intensified by the erosion of respect for motherhood, as well as the lack of paternal co-responsibility.

—The <education of children> has become a mayor economic preoccupation. The financial burden of education falls unfairly on many parents. At the same time, in some societies, poorer families are disadvantaged in lacking access to good education.

—Policies directed at <controlling population> are harming family life. In fact, as economists and other experts recognize, the anti-family attitude promoted at the United Nations Conferences of Cairo and Beijing reflects a naive malthusianism. This dangerous and destructive ideology impedes economic growth and the development of peoples.

—Unfortunately, this <anachronistic Malthusian ideology>, now combined with individualism, is promoted by several United Nations agencies, by non-governmental organizations, by governments of rich nations and their allies in the mass media. It affects the image of the family and falsely makes the child a threat to economic well-being.

—The <breakdown of the family> harms the economy. But the <welfare state> and its social welfare systems, which began with the best intentions, <accelerate this family breakdown> by weakening parental responsibilities and choices. The absence of parental responsibility is a crucial factor in abortion, illegitimacy, prostitution, drug addiction, escalating delinquency and crime etc.. All these problems place a heavy economic burden on families and society.

—<Taxation> often discriminates against families and, in some countries, encourages cohabitation rather than marriage, with negative social and economic consequences.

—<Credit policies> and advertizing which only promote consumerism discourage families from saving, and thus dissuade them from acquiring property and family housing.

—In many countries, access to <family housing> is inadequate, and discourages couples from founding a family.

Many of these problems are aggravated by <misguided governmental policies> and by <ideological assaults> on marriage and the family from special interest groups, such as gender feminists.

B. Strategies for the family

We propose the following <practical ways> of strengthening the economic vitality of the family as well as the role of the family in an economy which exists to serve it.

—<Family policies> need to be worked out that respect ,the rights and autonomy of the family, based on a serious economic, social and political analysis of family life.

—Economic policies should promote the <effective freedom necessary to enter marriage and found a family.> Legislation should remove discrimination against married couples in taxation, social conventions, employment and housing.

—Women should be offered economic conditions which allow them to <freely choose> how they want to spend their time between work and caring for their children and elderly members of the family.

—The <incalculable value of mothers as the major developers of human capital> should be recognized and favoured in law and policy by both the public and the private sector.

—The <income of women working in the home> can and should be included in national income statistics, if only to demonstrate the massive contribution made to the economy especially by mothers and housewives.

—<Working conditions and vacations> should be flexible so that couples have the time and resources to rear and educate their children.

—Educational policies cannot be framed only within an economic perspective, but must aim at the <integral development> of the person and society. This implies a constant reference to personal and social <moral values>.

—<Parents should be free to choose> a form of education for their children that is in accord with their own values.

—To achieve parental control in education, families must be freed from the <financial burden of education>. Some <practical means> are a voucher system, tax relief for parents, private scholarships and loans for tertiary students.

—Families should be <involved directly in decision making> in the education of their children in all schools. Parental participation in education can develop through investment by parents in schools, teacher-owned schools and decentralized administration.

—Families should be able to participate voluntarily as <co-owners in business enterprises>, sharing in profits and saving, so that they can build up a capital base which would ensure social security.

—Labour legislation and fiscal policy should encourage the growth of <family enterprises>, which contribute greatly to the common good of communities and nations.

—Population policies must take account of <economic realities> and the <need for human capital> in any developing economy. Well-known examples in Asia confirm the importance of the family and its human resources when natural resources are limited or even lacking.

—<Social security systems often need urgent reform>. Not only do they fail to meet real family needs, but with the decreasing numbers of young people and an ageing population, "pay-as-you-go" social security funds cannot be sustained. In some countries they are even headed for bankruptcy. This urgent reform calls for a new decentralized approach centred, not on the State, but on <the human resources and savings of the family.>

—Legislation should <support marriage> and strengthen its legal, economic and social value, partly because of the measurable contribution which married persons bring to the economy.

—<Taxation policies> should not discriminate against married couples, parents, large families, and those who care for the sick and the aged at home.

—<Banks> and credit unions should support marriage and family life through providing <loans at competitive rates> and by offering other advantages to married couples.

—<Labour legislation> needs to be reformed in some countries to give jobs to young people.

—In certain societies, young families would gain <adequate housing> if rent controls were eliminated.

C. A call for the family

The choice is clear and urgent: <either family-friendly policies or social collapse.> Family policy is the ethical and practical way to resolve the crisis of a disintegrating society and to ensure a viable future for democracy. Family policy is thus not the "cause" of an interest group or political faction.

We call on legislators, politicians, leaders of business, industry and labour, educators, and those working in international organizations and the mass media to recognize the need to create a <family-centred economy> through policies which favour the family and limit the role of government.

We call upon <leaders in society> to go beyond fine words about the family. The time has come to make <decisions> in government and industry that <really help> build an economy that serves the family, through developing its members and freeing it from dependence on the State.

We also call upon leaders to <reject population control mythology>. It is absurd when the economy and wealth are said to grow if a thousand more <head of livestock> are born and yet considered to be hampered if a thousand more <humans> are born.

D. A call to families

The family itself must be the <first protagonist> of this process. It is not helpless. First the family must discover its nature, its rights and potential. Good policies need family self-awareness and motivation. Families must associate, organize and build <family politics> which will have a decisive economic impact, especially by forming new leaders for the future.

The natural institution of the family often does better what larger institutions try to do. The family should not hand over its <inalienable rights and responsibilities> to the State. Instead, through democratic processes of participation, the family should ensure that the State recognizes its autonomy and rights, and its value as the resilient community of the future.

<Religion and morality> have direct bearing on a just and prosperous economy which serves the <common good>. Parents should cultivate in their children the personal and social values and virtues which are essential for a healthy and just society and its economy. Free from economic or governmental restraints, they can reclaim their <irreplaceable educational role>.

We thank Pope John Paul II who received us in audience and who strongly inspired and encouraged us in our work. We thank the Pontifical Council for the Family for the opportunity to come together to study in depth the family and economy in the future of society. Men and women of various faiths, we are united in the conviction that family policy will open a <new vision of solidarity and hope> for the third millennium. man capital and its first invester.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
20 March 1996

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