A Preferential Option for Quality

April 14, 2014

A fancy meal

[L]et us look at the goal of production. We produce to fill a need. While this can be done by simply supplying the minimum necessary to fill a physical necessity, it will not necessarily satisfy certain human desires that vary from person to person, or address spiritual appetites for beauty, excellence, or refinement. Such desires correspond to man’s constant desire to discover ways to better his situation.

Dining area in the Sala Terrana at the Austrian Petronell Castle.

Area in the Sala Terrana at the Austrian Petronell Castle.

We need to eat, for example, yet any food can fill our stomachs. However, we experience a special joy when we are given delicious or well-presented food that suits our tastes. We need clothes to protect our bodies. We experience a special delight in wearing tasteful clothes that fit us well instead of ill-fitting or ugly garments. This delight corresponds to the higher spiritual element of production, which gives to the product those intangible things that please the soul and aid in the practice of virtue.

Men's clothing

That is to say, generally speaking there is a physical and spiritual dimension to any need that varies in intensity from person to person. To the degree that both dimensions are satisfied, production accomplishes its purpose.

We note that modern mass production places most of its emphasis on the physical dimension to the detriment of the spiritual. We do not affirm that it completely ignores the spiritual since it will often add elements of taste and beauty to products.

Photo of grocery store in Hong Kong by Shmingkamsle.

Photo of grocery store in Hong Kong by Shmingkamsle.

Nevertheless, the spiritual aspect tends to diminish as standardization increases. Art, beauty, or quality are all elements that are most likely to be sacrificed on the altar of efficiency. The principal goals of mass production are maximum efficiency, broadest appeal, and economy of scale. The machine becomes the choice means of production since it can endlessly replicate the production process. The result is mass standardization where, writes Tibor Scitovsky, “the monotony of mass-production work is fully matched by the monotony of its product.”*


* Tibor Scitovsky, The Joyless Economy: An Inquiry into Human Satisfaction and Consumer Dissatisfaction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 249.


John Horvat, Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society—Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need to Go (York, Penn.: York Press, 2013), 289-90.



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