Our choice is not between a planned or unplanned society. It is between one planned by the government—which, paradoxically, yields social disorder—and one planned by the coordinated actions of millions of individuals, families, businesses, and social institutions such as houses of worship and civil institutions.
The market economy makes this kind of planning possible in the realm of economic affairs. Adam Smith wrote that in commerce, the human person may intend his or her own gain but “is led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was not part of his intention.”
We can think of the invisible hand as the economic forces that are part of the structure of the world, the natural law, or the work of providence in the world. But these are not necessarily contradictory. The social order of freedom provides as much evidence of the hand of the Creator at work as does the beauty of nature. Indeed, the creativity of the innovative and progressing economy is one dimension of the manner in which we are made in God’s image and likeness.
Consider the price system. The farmer’s best guide to knowing what crops to plant is the price (both in current dollar terms and in the futures market). If the farmer wants to maximize profits, the decision to grow wheat because it is rising in price becomes elementary. The farmer seeks his or her own gain, and is so led to produce wheat at the lowest possible cost. So it goes among millions of producers.
All of this happens spontaneously and without governmental intervention. This is an important insight for those of us who desire our economic system to benefit all who participate in it. The free market needs to be complemented with a spiritual and ethical framework, but the market can promote the welfare of people more effectively than the centralization of economic decisions in the hands of a few. This is one of the central perspectives on economic life in the free society that the Acton Institute seeks to promote, but we could not do it without your support. Thank you.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico