In discussing “Justice at Every Level,” Pope Paul begins with a reference to a predecessor, and the notion that what holds true for two individuals in an unequal relationship also fits the bill when we look at the disparity between two nations.
59. The teaching set forth by Our predecessor Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum is still valid today: when two parties are in very unequal positions, their mutual consent alone does not guarantee a fair contract; the rule of free consent remains subservient to the demands of the natural law. (no. 11) In Rerum Novarum this principle was set down with regard to a just wage for the individual worker; but it should be applied with equal force to contracts made between nations: trade relations can no longer be based solely on the principle of free, unchecked competition, for it very often creates an economic dictatorship. Free trade can be called just only when it conforms to the demands of social justice.
It’s a basic truth that the so-called free market is never totally left to its own devices. Adjustments are always made to ensure fairness. It’s not a reach to suggest this happen on the international scene as well.
60. As a matter of fact, the highly developed nations have already come to realize this. At times they take appropriate measures to restore balance to their own economy, a balance which is frequently upset by competition when left to itself. Thus it happens that these nations often support their agriculture at the price of sacrifices imposed on economically more favored sectors. Similarly, to maintain the commercial relations which are developing among themselves, especially within a common market, the financial, fiscal and social policy of these nations tries to restore comparable opportunities to competing industries which are not equally prospering.
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Image credit: Lady Justice at the Central Criminal Court of London.