Those who refer so happily to [capitalism's] creative destruction are never themselves among the creatively destroyed. It’s the ideological free-marketer’s version of "Let’s you and him fight." It speaks of the end in a way that makes invisible those who suffer from the means.
[The poor] are not collateral, forgettable damage in the process of creating wealth, as the language of "creative destruction" makes them. Even if over time [certain] kinds of economic activities...produce the greatest good for the greatest number, we should not forget the losses and the "losers" in the way we speak about economics. Their ends and interests should form the way we speak.
We need what [we] might call a preferential rhetorical option for the poor as part of the normal and normative way we speak about economics.
The "preferential option for the poor" refers to the [idea] that the poor go first in the distribution of goods, defined broadly to include not only the physical necessities of life but rights like religious freedom and economic opportunity...Who is the poor is a difficult question, but I’d suggest that these days and in these discussions it includes much of the middle class, whose jobs can be taken away by people who restructure companies for efficiency.
The poor should go first in the distribution of the good of attention. Any sustained statement about economic theory should relate that theory to the poor. If an idea is praised for creating wealth, it should be interrogated for its effect on the vulnerable. One should not speak as if real people were not involved and if general improvement were not bought at a great cost to some.
Even the most ardent free-marketer, driven by the most generous vision of human flourishing, should, when he speaks of the great future ends of economic freedom, speak also of those affected for the worse now. If he must talk about creative destruction, he should speak of those for whom that produces only suffering. it’s the charitable way of speaking. It’s also analytically useful: Having to think about the effect on the poor will force the free-marketer and his readers to think more carefully and understand more deeply about the process they’re praising.
Not everyone feels bound by Christian morality, of course, but that doesn’t let them off the hook. Even someone who feels no obligation to follow the heroic demands of Christian charity should know that basic human kindness and solidarity, and what Orwell called "decency," require him to remember the "losers" when he speaks about success.