Skip to comments.Is capitalism Catholic? A priest defends free-market economics
Posted on 11/30/2012 5:32:37 PM PST by annalex
Is capitalism Catholic? A priest defends free-market economics
By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Father Robert Sirico has been courting controversy for most of his adult life.
In the early 1970s, he was a radical activist in California, campaigning for left-wing causes with the likes of Jane Fonda and her then-husband, Tom Hayden. Later in the decade, he returned to the Catholic faith of his childhood and eventually became a priest.
But if he found inner peace, he did not cease stirring things up. He had, by then, discovered the works of Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek and other economists of the "Austrian school," who expounded the virtues of free-market capitalism.
As Father Sirico recounts in a new book, "Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy," he concluded not only that the free market was the most efficient system for the distribution of resources and their transformation by human creativity; he also decided that capitalism was essentially compatible with the principles of justice, peace and charity in Catholic social teaching.
That belief was and remains unconventional within the church, and it has earned Father Sirico, 61, and his Michigan-based think tank, the Acton Institute, fervent fans and detractors.
At the U.S. bishops' general assembly in November, Bishop Earl A. Boyea of Lansing, Mich., proposed that the committee on international justice and peace retain Acton as an expert consultant. But retired Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston accused Acton of insufficient regard for the church's social magisterium. The archbishop said Acton had dismissed the 1891 encyclical "Rerum Novarum," and particularly the document's affirmation of workers' right to unionize, as "time-framed" and "not applicable today."
Father Sirico says Archbishop Fiorenza's criticism was based on a misunderstanding of remarks the priest had made earlier in the year.
"'Rerum Novarum' is applicable today because it articulates timeless truths of the Catholic faith and the insight and the expertise that the church has into the human condition," Father Sirico said, but "there are features of any encyclical that are bound by its historical context." The document's very title refers to "new things" in the period's social and economic life that Pope Leo XIII wrote the encyclical to address, the priest said.
"The church consistently has taught that workers have a right to organize," Father Sirico said, yet it does not follow that white-collar workers in 21st-century America face problems comparable to those of factory workers under late 19th-century "savage capitalism."
That argument exemplifies Father Sirico's more general insistence that applying principles of the church's social teaching is a matter of prudential judgment, allowing for a range of legitimate approaches, including market-based solutions.
Father Sirico said he co-founded Acton in 1990 to "help bring sound economics to good intentions," a mission that includes advising theologians and religious leaders. Even with the best intentions, he said, "ignoring economic realities" can lead to the "unintended harm of other people."
For instance, he argues, the church's teaching that all people should have access to good health care does not necessarily translate into support for government health insurance. Making the government the main health care provider, he said, "cuts out the knowledge base (of) a competitive pricing market," raising the costs of services.
Father Sirico also suggests that dangers to religious freedom -- such as the Obama administration's requirement that the health insurance plans of Catholic institutions cover contraception and sterilizations, in violation of the church's moral teaching -- are inherent in "welfare-state" social service programs under government control.
While not denying the moral failures of capitalism, Father Sirico cites Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI to argue that the "problem with capitalism is not the economic system as such but the distorted values that may be present among actors in a market economy." He says that business people need strong moral formation to ensure that the right values, rather than the market's supposed dictates, determine their investments and other choices.
"The church doesn't uphold or endorse or canonize any economic model," Father Sirico said, making it clear that in his own value system, faith trumps economic philosophy.
He calls the work of Ayn Rand, one of the most popular and influential proponents of free-market economics, a "false gospel" of "radical individualism."
"She's looking for Jesus Christ but she rejects all of the fundamental principles of Christianity, such as human solidarity, even a clear sense of human dignity," he said.
On the other hand, Father Sirico cheers the recent decision by the U.S. bishops to endorse the sainthood cause of Dorothy Day, whose holiness he finds manifest in her service to the poor and her reverence for the sacraments. Never mind that the founder of the Catholic Worker movement hardly shared his enthusiasm for the benefits of capitalism.
His arguments for a free-market economy and market-based approaches to social problems are not articles of faith, Father Sirico says, but merely contributions to the church's larger effort to serve the common good.
"What's happening right now in the Catholic Church in the United States, and to some extent around the world, is that there is a new way to speak about Catholic social teaching, and that's exactly what Catholic social teaching allows us to do," he said.
"On issues of life, on issues of marriage, those are critical non-negotiables," he said. "On the other questions, you see bishops, you see laypeople, you see academicians having this vibrant debate."
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Editor's Note: A video interview with Father Sirico is available at http://youtu.be/UOWmOvziT2M.
For your pinging pleasure.
charity is nothing if forced....
Rerum Novarum (Latin for On the New Things) is an encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII on May 15, 1891. It was an open letter, passed to all Catholic bishops, that addressed the condition of the working classes. The encyclical is entitled: “Rights and Duties of Capital and Labour”. Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler and Cardinal Henry Edward Manning were influential in its composition.
It discussed the relationships and mutual duties between labour and obtaining capital, as well as government and its citizens. Of primary concern was the need for some amelioration for “The misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class.” It supported the rights of labor to form unions, rejected communism and unrestricted capitalism, whilst affirming the right to private property.
Many of the positions in Rerum Novarum were supplemented by later encyclicals, in particular Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno (1931), John XXIII’s Mater et Magistra (1961), and John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus (1991).
And from Rerum Novarum, thinkers like GK Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc derived Distributism which supports private property as the foundation of society and which is neither pro-capitalist nor pro-socialist.
Unfortunately, my old posts on Rerum Novarum on FR are gone.
Surely forced distribution of property under certain circumstances in order to benefit the poor is a public good and so, while not charity, is still a legitimate function of government, according to the Catholic concept of government as a guardian of public good.
To dismiss all government role in economy as a displacement of charity is a bit too sweeping.
That's the beauty of the free enterprise system. It's voluntary.
We are all the owners of our own one person enterprise and we market our knowledge and skills to the best of our ability.
Some people are more successful than others.
Them that could, did. Them that couldn't, didn't.
Of course we are charitable to the old, young and handicapped.
Economic activity should be voluntary.
Charity should be voluntary.
Sometimes society has suffering, and no one steps up and voluntarily does anything. I have no easy answer to that conundrum. Force is bad. Suffering is bad. We live in a broken world and things don’t always follow along the lines we might like.
The Church is supposed to oppose a strong central government unless absolutely necessary, limited to functions that lower orders of authority can not handle on their own.
The Church is supposed to oppose Socialism.
But, sadly, it often does not.
Thanks for posting this. Finding articles like this that I wouldn’t otherwise come across via most of the media is one of the things that I really enjoy about FR.
**Is capitalism Catholic?**
Wouldn’t it have been a better title to ask if capitalism is Christian?
In answer to the question, of course, capitalism is OK with Catholics — otherwise you would not have private businesses laying lawsuits of the Obama asministration about the HHs mandate.
IS FOR SALE!
Thank you for reading.
My fingers did not work as fast as my brain did there.
otherwise you would not have private businesses laying lawsuits at the feet of the Obama asministration about the HHs mandate.
There are sensitibilities about it that are specifically Catholic. We, for example, consider usury to be sinful.
I wish i could find a parish with a priest like Fr Sirico.
Individuals that come to the conservatism upon leaving the
left really have a lot say that I find interesting.
I received communion from Fr.Sirico on the National Review
cruise in 2008. He is the brother of Tony Sirico who was of
course ‘Paulie Walnuts’ on The Sopranos,one of my favorite
characters. Unfortunately, they are estranged,I believe.
Capitalism is what people do when they are free.
Thus, it is Catholic.
By the time Alexis de Tocqueville toured America in the 1830s, he saw the wonderful effect of our Founder's decision because all religions grew or fell according to their own effort.
Anytime I can get a progressive/dissenting Catholic magazine/blog like the Jesuit-run America simultaneously to quote papal documents, defend the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, embrace the Natural Law and even yearn for a theological investigation by those charged with oversight for the Churchs doctrine of a writer suspected of heresy, I consider that I have had a good day.
And to think that all this was prompted by two sentences of mine quoted in a New York Times story on an attempt by adjunct professors at Pittsburghs Duquesne University to form a union! Times reporter Mark Oppenheimer asked how I made sense of the resistance on the part of Duquesne, a Catholic University, to unionizing efforts by adjunct professors in light of the Churchs teaching about unions. We had a pleasant half hour talk on the subject in which I first explained that the Church generally looked favorably on unions certainly not all of them, at all times or in all places, and not at all they do, and not as an end in themselves, but rather for the well-being of those workers and their families (i.e., that the Churchs support for unions is contingent). This favorable bias does not mean that workers are obligated to join a union, nor that management is obligated to accept the terms of a union. The right to join a union, in Church teaching, is rooted in the natural right of association, which of course also means that people have the right not to associate. It all boils down to the details of the specific case, meaning that Duquesne was probably considering the ever-rising costs of education and its impact on the lives of students and their families.
It was in this context that I uttered what the America magazine/blog writer Vincent Miller deemed offensive when I observed that Pope Leo XIII wrote Rerum Novarum, In the industrial revolution, [when] the church was concerned about communism, and not just capitalism but savage capitalism . . . People were being brutalized. Thats just not the case in Pittsburgh today.
From this Mr. Miller jumps to the conclusion that by saying that Leos observations of the circumstances for workers in 1891 were historically contingent, I am somehow arguing that what Leo said has no bearing today. Now, that is a particularly odd reaction because the entire thrust of Leos encyclical, beginning with its title, was precisely aimed at looking around at the new things (Rerum Novarum) that were emerging in his day, and reflecting upon them in the light of Scripture, Tradition and the Natural Law. If the situation in Pittsburgh and the graduate students teaching part time courses in 2012 is remotely comparable to the subsistence living conditions under which many workers lived in the latter part of the 19th century, this has somehow escaped my notice.
Nonetheless, I am delighted to see Mr. Miller is vigilant about the Church teaching and his citations from magisterial texts; not a single line of any of those cited do I disagree with. I wonder if Mr. Miller would say the same about this text, from Laborem Exercens, where Blessed John Paul II wrote: Unions do not have the character of political parties struggling for power; they should not be subjected to the decision of political parties or have too close links with them. Or what he makes of Paul VIs caution about unions when he wrote in Octogesmia adveniens (no.14): Their activity, however, is not without its difficulties. Here and there the temptation can arise of profiting from a position of force to impose, particularly by strikes the right to which as a final means of defense remains certainly recognized conditions which are too burdensome for the overall economy and for the social body, or to desire to obtain in this way demands of a directly political nature.
Well, it would be - considering that charity is just another word for love . . .But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, Matthew 6:3, NIVSocialists consistently lay traps in the way they define words - and they do redefine words. If you restrict the meaning of socialism only to government ownership of the means of production, you miss the overarching characteristic of socialism. Which, for me, is the fact that ownership is actually credit for whatever positive things associated with the owner produced the owners title to the property in question. That can range from gift or inheritance from the previous owner up through finding (a gold nugget, say) the item where no one else had prior title to it, up through buying the item from its previous owner or producing the item (a ton of wheat, say) on self-owned land, on up to creating the item (Picasso creating a painting or Apple creating the iPad).
Ownership, from whatever such source, is credit for positive association with, if not actual creation of, something good. Such association will include but not be limited to thrift in not having sold the item and dissipated the proceeds on wine, women, and song. To advocate government ownership of the means of production is to assume, first, that the government deserves it (if only in the sense that it has the power to dispossess the individuals who currently have ownership), and second, that the government can keep the means of production. (both of which presume, of course, that the government has and maintains legitimacy).
Why would anyone question the ability of the government to keep something it has? Well, because none of us can, actually. Part of that is that we are temporary, and part is because the things we make are also temporary. And not only are the things we make subject to deterioration, they are also subject to another form of depreciation - obsolescence. To say that the government owns the means of production is to assume away the possibility of technological progress. The progress of science and the practical arts, as the Constitution puts (and promotes) it, tends to obsolete production of items not only in favor of preferred alternative goods but in favor of more efficient and prolific production of the goods which are produced.
So what? So, the theory of government ownership of the means of production might in some sense work if production is limited to agriculture, and the means of production is solely "real property - but not if someone invents fertilizer and tractors and so forth. In any other type of production, progress is possible and progress creates obsolescence in what the government owns. Progress simply does not fit the model of a one-time, for-all-time seizure of the means of production. The consequence is that government, with its monopoly of force, can theoretically seize the means of production from those whose ownership of them was derived from the discovery or even the creation of those physical things. But the reason the owners created those things was the expectation of owning them, so the socialists supposedly one-time seizure seizes not merely the physical, existing thing - it takes away, it destroys, hope.
Without hope or ambition, nothing gets created - the government owns everything that is - but that is all. Nothing new can ever be. Meanwhile, deterioration and changing circumstance degrades the value of the old. The first thing you know, you have Cuba.
If you degrade America to Cuba, what do you gain? What you gain, if you are in charge of doing it, is enormous power. You gain importance. You did all that in the name of charity - but the whole people are as poor as the poor were before - and those who were poor" before, now actually are poor. In Wonderland Alice is told, you have to run as fast as you can to stay in the same place. If you want to get somewhere, you have to run even harder. And thus it is with production and progress. If you arent improving, you are going backward. Kill ambition for progress, and you do not merely stay in place - you go backwards.
Charity which inflates itself at the expense of those who aspire to make actual provision for the poor is unworthy of the name. Socialism is the enemy of charity and compassion.
Free and morally upright. Otherwise they do all kinds of things, often at the expense of capitalism.
For example, free people often borrow from willing lenders. That, the Left constantly reminds us is at the core of the American budget deficit. Indeed, a necessary component of capitalism is a banking system and banks exist in order to lend. But observe: you and I surely did not sign up for Obama's (or Bush's -- plenty of blame to go around) national debt. But me and my children will be stuck paying for it; they did not sign any notes either. How is that a life of the free nation? -- and how is that mindless, unending, not secured by anything but "faith and credit of the US government" incantation orgy of debt -- capitalism? -- and how can that be justified morally?
One day, Catholic America will wake up and then every thief will find his street lantern.
Class war today is culture war. My existence is the least threatened by my employer; I can switch jobs with relative ease and many do. I do not need a trade union to bargain with my boss. My biggest economic complaint is not that the boss exploits me but that the government’s taxation and regulation eats away more and more of my disposable income every day, and it is not my boss’s fault.
My religious being is under constant threat as well, — not from the forces of capitalism but by the forces of socialism and they are forces of the US government. My wages are already used to pay for someone’s abortions and condoms. The culture around me — as soon as the TV is turned on I see it, — is stupidly, mind-numbingly anti-Catholic. We are so used to it we don’t even recognize it. My church is under a cultural siege; blasphemy, sexual incontinence and perversion are artistic norm; Catholics schools, hospitals and churches are closing to pay for predatory lawsuits, and soon the government will close them through the damned HHS mandate. My bishop has been convicted for not reporting a sex crime after he reported that very crime. This witch hunt is not just habitual journalistic sneering: it exists because the government hold the commanding heights in the culture war and is directing the vandals’ artillery.
I don’t see any need for any trade union but I see plenty of need for Catholic self-defense force, something akin to what Bill Donahue is doing, but in every parish. We are in an existential struggle. Wake up.
Modern socialism is not of the kind Marx envisaged. As all his theories, the “state ownership of means of production” is an ineffective definition, and so it means nothing. It never meant much: the factual effective owner of a factory in the USSR was not the people of the USSR — that would be an impossibility; it was not the Soviet state — it only gave speeches and strategic planning; it was a group of Communist party apparatchiks with connections in the local branch of the Party, and in the appropriate ministry in Moscow, and with the planning bureaucrats in the regional center. They ran the system, made sure the production quotas were met, or the numbers fudged so they appear to be met, paid the payrolls and meted the benefits, decided where to ship their products and where to ask for supplies; some in that managerial class were true entrepreneurs and some were total idiots, but the system hobbled along for quite some while.
Today in Obama’s America — or if not today then likely by 2016, — we shall see a bunch of bureaucrats he appointed, and a bunch of lawyers and judges obedient to the Obama Obkom who will decide which enterprise gets grants or a tax break, or is regulated to death, of fined, or managed from lawsuit to lawsuit by the legal profession. The CEO is someone in a compatible, legal-bureaucratic mold, who can deal with bureaucracies and the lawyer class and delegates all real work downstream. Usually, that “working downstream” is in China, where at least the bureaucracies work for the benefit of China and therefore are rational entities, unlike Obama’s bureaucracies that work for the detriment of America and therefore are harder to adapt to. The nominal owner is thousands of elderly stockholders in Florida who don’t even know where the pension fund put their money, cannot influence things there if they knew, and being absentee owners in retirement, would not do anything good if they somehow could wield influence.
But ours is “capitalism” and theirs was “socialism”. Makes sense?
I wouldn’t cite our fiat-money, crushingly indebted federal monster as an example of “capitalism.”
Actually, “capitalism” isn’t an “ism” at all. I.e., it’s not a political ideology. It is what happens, economically, when people are free.
The way to deal with actual crimes, of course, is to outlaw them and punish them. And not manufacture imaginary, ideological crimes such as “economic inequality” and “climate injustice.”
I am huge fan and reader of GKC, but I could never figure out what “Distributism” is. I’m pretty sure it isn’t really anything.
Indeed, that was my point.
Distributism is rural and small-town capitalism unencumbered by politicians and lawyers. When you go to a local blacksmith and buy a spade with which you till the potatoes you grow and eat, that’s distributism. When spades and potatoes are bought at the Walmart it is what we have, and distributism it is not.
That’s a recipe for grinding poverty.
So is Walmart and buying junk from China.
I buy my food at Wal-Mart. It is, on average, 23% cheaper than other chains. And costs a fraction of what the same food would cost if I raised my own and bought from small farmers.
Distributism is largely a denial of the beneficial realities of competitive advantage and division of labor.
It is looking past these realities. Food of course is not a very stark example because Walmart food is American-grown, at least in some measure.
Industrial products, such as a spade, are a better example. Now instead of an American-made spade for $30 you buy a Chinese-made for $10. A spade factory in Ohio is closed, a spade factory in Xquandongbao opens instead, Obama wins, and you saved $20. While your job is still here, that is.
Modern international trade is not capitalism. It is governments artificially connecting two separate economies with separate labor markets and fooling you for 20 bucks.
I agree about China. We have been “benefitting” by using slave labor. Nixon should never have gone to China. He was opening the door to slave labor.
But something not in the national interest would be happening even if China were itself a free country. For example, there was considerable controversy about how the iPhones are manufactured and it turned out that the workers there are just fine, — with a few adjustments an international commission did not find anything wrong with how the workers in the Chinese factory are treated. But from the American nationalist perspective a wrong against our national interest is happening anyway, because an American worker could be putting together these iPhones. Further, given higher labor costs here, Apple would have been forced to invest in a robotized factory in the United States. Instead, Apple shaved a few bucks off its price and another factory is built in China and this a a factory that was not built in the United States. By definition, the fact that the Chinese worker is cheap labor means that he, the Chinese worker is not going to buy anything comparable in value to the iPhones he is putting together: the economic loop is not closed even internationally, let alone the fact that parts of that loop are now outside of America and not benefiting America directly. With the money earned from Apple that worker will buy something Chinese-made: a house or an apartment, a motorbike, some clothes, local food. His living standard is not touching ours so he is out of the American consumer stream. What Apple did with its outsourcing is, it created another leak in the national economy, but in the meanwhile, till our national bark sinks, we enjoy iPhones.