Economism is a philosophical doctrine which claims (implicitly or explicitly) that the economics of the accounting bottom line determines the structure and ethos of society and should therefore be unconditionally obeyed. As such consumerism and advertising are merely tools of economism. This perspective impoverishes individuals as existential beings and cheapens them with regard to what they can become, robbing them of their spiritual heritage. From an ecological perspective, economism is based on false accounting, since the profit it shows is often illusory because some parameters and costs are hidden and omitted. Economism is based on the ethics of selfishness, of competition, of ruthless disregard for all beings, in the pursuit of immediate material profit. It is further limited because of its myopic concept of reality as reduced to an economic substratum. As such economism is an extreme form of reductionism, reducing the world and human beings to economic categories and commodities. This is a vulgarization of the world on the ontological level.
2. Many people, especially in economically advanced areas, seem, as it were, to be ruled by economics, so that almost their entire personal and social life is permeated with a certain economic way of thinking. Such is true both of nations that favour a collective economy and of others. At the very time when the development of economic life could mitigate social inequalities (provided that it be guided and coordinated in a reasonable and human way), it is often made to embitter them; or, in some places, it even results in a decline of the social status of the underprivileged and in contempt for the poor_. The fundamental finality of this production is not the mere increase of products nor profit or control but rather the service of man, and indeed of the whole man with regard for the full range of his material needs and the demands of his intellectual, moral, spiritual, and religious life; this applies to every man whatsoever and to every group of men, of every race and of every part of the world. (Second Vatican Council. Gaudium et Spes, 1965).
3. Development cannot be limited to mere economic growth. In order to be authentic, it must be complete: integral, that is, it has to promote the good of every man and of the whole man. As an eminent specialist has very rightly and emphatically declared: " We do not believe in separating the economic from the human, nor development from the civilizations in which it exists. What we hold important is man, each man and each group of men, and we even include the whole of humanity" (Papal Encyclical, Populorum Progressio, 26 Mar 1967).
4. This consistent image, in which the principle of the primacy of person over things is strictly preserved, was broken up in human thought, sometimes after a long period of incubation in practical living. The break occurred in such a way that labour was separated from capital and set in opposition to it, and capital was set in opposition to labour, as though they were two impersonal forces, two production factors juxtaposed in the same "economistic" perspective. This way of stating the issue contained a fundamental error, what we can call the error of economism, that of considering human labour solely according to its economic purpose. This fundamental error of thought can and must be called an error of materialism, in that economism directly or indirectly includes a conviction of the primacy and superiority of the material, and directly or indirectly places the spiritual and the personal (man's activity, moral values and such matters) in a position of subordination to material reality. This is still not theoretical materialism in the full sense of the term, but it is certainly practical materialism, a materialism judged capable of satisfying man's needs, not so much on the grounds of premises derived from materialist theory, as on the grounds of a particular way of evaluating things, and so on the grounds of a certain hierarchy of goods based on the greater immediate attractiveness of what is material. (Papal Encyclical, Laborem Exercens, 14 September 1981).