Being Consumed by William Cavanaugh – Part 2

Here is another snipet from this book. I mentioned a while back (HERE) that Cavanaugh states that CEO’s now earn 450 x more than a production worker. Well, he goes on to a fascinating discussion on the ‘free market.’ He argues that :

free market advocates (such as Milton Friedman) want to give individuals freedom – even freedom to make mistakes and even damn themselves. The problem with the free market view is that it assumes that the abolition of objective goods provides the conditions for the individual will to function more or less autonomously.  Cavanaugh argues from Augustines thought that the absence of objective good does not free the individual but leaves them subject to arbitrary competition of wills.

So, lets take Roza Martinez. She produces apparel for US markets on her sowing machine in El Salvador. You can hire her for 33 cents an hour. Is Roza Martinez free? Free market advocates say YES. It is her decision to take the job at that pay. Yet for Martinez, the choice is the job or starvation. For Augustine, to speak of freedom in any realistic and full sense is necessarily to engage the question of the true ends of human life. Yet such ends are precisely what free market advocates would banish from the definition of the free market. 

Cavanaugh’s point is that the freedom of each economic exchange is subject not just to whether the parties agreed to it – but it must take into account the good ends of human life. That a women would be willing to work at 33 cents an hour and a company willing to employ her on that wage is a negative freedom and not good. The postive freedom – Augustine’s thinking – is that the company must take into account the effect of that employment on the woman’s life and adjust the salary accordingly to a true living wage.


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