The Common Good
Bishops of England & Wales


Public authorities must maintain a critical distance from an ideological view that free markets can do no wrong. The concept of competition implies that there will be failures as well as successes, and under market conditions early signs of failure may cause more rapid collapse.

Therefore, where such social provisions as health and education are concerned, the common good requires a supervising authority that can step in with remedies as soon as deficiencies become apparent, rather than waiting until the logic of the market causes failing institutions to close, harming those who must still rely on them.

There are, of course, circumstances in which, after due consideration, deliberate closure and the making of alternative arrangements will serve the common good.

Furthermore social services in general need other incentives than pure profit, and the introduction of market forces in this area has sometimes demeaned or damaged the sense of vocation and dedication to others that has traditionally been a hallmark of the professions involved.

The ethos of public service, in the public sector and especially in local and national government, is an important public asset that must be safeguarded by every possible means.

The search for profit must not be allowed to override all other moral considerations. For instance the creation and stimulation of markets by advertising is in danger of producing a society where the satisfaction of real or artificial needs takes priority over all else.

It leads to an ideology of consumerism. The individual is reduced to the status of an isolated economic agent, whose life has meaning only as a consumer.

Those most likely to suffer from over-reliance on competition to the detriment of the common good are the poor, vulnerable, powerless and defenceless.

To promote the idea that the individual is primarily to be considered by society as a consumer - that is to say when an individualís greatest significance is as a possessor of wealth and purchaser of goods and services - is both contrary to the Gospel and to any rational idea of what a human being really is. It gravely disadvantages those who do not have wealth to spend. Unlimited free markets tend to produce what is in effect an "option against the poor"