Skip to comments.Catholics Against Capitalism
Posted on 06/10/2014 6:36:50 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet
Something strange happened in Washington last week: A panel of Catholic intellectuals and clergy, led by His Eminence Oscar Andrés Maradiaga, was convened to denounce a political philosophy under the headline Erroneous Autonomy: The Catholic Case against Libertarianism. The conference was mainly about free-market economics rather than libertarianism per se, and it was an excellent reminder that the hierarchy of the Church has no special grace to pronounce upon matters of specific economic organization. The best that can be said of the clergys corporate approach to economic thinking is that it is intellectually incoherent, which is lucky inasmuch as the depths of its illiteracy become more dramatic and destructive as it approaches coherence.
The Catholic clergy is hardly alone in this. There is something about the intellectually cloistered lives of religious professionals that prevents them from engaging in anything but the most superficial way with the 21st-century economy. Consider Tricycle, the American Buddhist review, which periodically publishes hilariously insipid economic observations e.g., the bracingly uninformed writing of Professor Stuart Smithers of the University of Puget Sound religion department, whose review of Conscious Capitalism by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and Raj Sisodia contains within it a perfect distillation of fashionable economic antithought. Like Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, he writes about the structural problems of capitalism, but gives no evidence at all that he even understands what that structure is. Unfortunately, relatively few do.
As Marx pointed out, Professor Smithers writes, capital is full of contradictions. Capital not only creates wealth, value, and jobs it also destroys wealth, value, and jobs. Those wondrous technologies also manifest as wrathful deities, efficiently eliminating or reducing the need for labor. The implicit economic hypothesis here is that producing a certain amount of goods more efficiently in this case, with less labor makes the world worse off. (Why not use spoons?) The reality is the opposite, and that is not a matter of opinion, perspective, or ideology it is a material reality, the denial of which is the intellectual equivalent of insisting on a geocentric or turtles-all-the-way-down model of the universe.
The increasingly global and specialized division of labor and the resulting chains of production i.e., modern capitalism, the unprecedented worldwide project of voluntary human cooperation that is the unique defining feature of our time is what cut the global poverty rate in half in 20 years. It was not Buddhist mindfulness or Catholic homilies that did that. In the 200,000-year history of Homo sapiens, neither of those great religious traditions, nor anything else that human beings ever came up with, made a dent in the poverty rate. Capitalism did. One of the great ironies of our times is that so many of the descendents of the old Catholic immigrant working class have found themselves attracted to an American Buddhism that, with its love of ornate titles, its costumes, its fascination with apostolic succession, and its increasingly coddled professional clergy, is a 21st-century expression of Buddhism apparently committed to transforming itself plus ça change! into 15th-century Catholicism. Perhaps it should not be entirely surprising that it has embraced the same intellectual errors.
Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga and likeminded thinkers, stuck as they are in the hopelessly 19th-century distributist model of economic analysis, apparently are incapable of thinking through the implications of their own dogma. The question of how certain goods are distributed in society is a second-order question at best; by definition prior to it is the question of whether there is anything to distribute. To put it in Christian terms, all of the great givers in Scripture the Good Samaritan, the widow with her mite, Joseph of Arimathea had something to give. If the Good Samaritan had been the Poor Samaritan, with no resources to dedicate to the strangers care, then the poor waylaid traveler would have been out of luck. All the good intentions that we may muster are not half so useful to a hungry person as a loaf of bread.
Those who put distribution at the top of their list of priorities both make the error of assuming the existence of some exogenous agency that oversees distribution (that being the Distribution Fairy) and entirely ignore the vital question of what gets produced and by whom. Poverty is the direct by-product of low levels of production; the United States and Singapore are fat and happy with $53,101 and $64,584 in per capita economic output, respectively; Zimbabwe, which endured the services of a government very much interested in the redistribution of capital, gets to divide up $788 per person per year, meaning that under circumstances of perfect mathematical equality life would still be miserable for everybody. Sweden can carve up its per capita pie however it likes, but its still going to be 22.5 percent smaller than the U.S. pie and less than two-thirds the size of Singapores tasty pastry. You cannot redistribute what you dont have and that holds true not only for countries but, finally, for the planet and the species, which of course is what globalization is all about. That men of the cloth, of all people, should be blind to what is really happening right now on the global economic scale is remarkable, ironic, and sad. Cure one or two people of blindness and youre a saint; prevent blindness in millions and youre Monsanto.
Unless His Eminence et al. have come up with a way to apply something akin to a literal loaves-and-fishes model to the global economy and Im going to go ahead and predict that that isnt happening, no matter what color the alleged economists hat is then production precedes consumption. The poor you will always have with you, Jesus said, but in the capitalist world, that simply is not true there is no poverty in the capitalist world comparable to poverty in the early 18th century, much less to the poverty that was nearly universal in Jesus time. Our people are clothed, fed, and housed, and the few shocking exceptions, as with the case of the neglected mentally ill, are shocking because they are exceptions and those are not economic failures but political failures.
Which brings us to our fundamental problem: The errors of the Catholic hierarchy regarding the economy are the product of errors in its thinking regarding the state. Catholic thinking about the role of the state has evolved precious little since render unto Caesar, even though there is, especially in the Christian world, a blessed shortage of Caesars just now, and has been for some time. The Catholic clergy still operate under the Romans 13 assumption that the powers that be are ordained of God. (Paul apparently forgot to add . . . and the Electoral College.) From the old royalist Right to the redistributionist Left, there is an implicit and sometimes explicit belief that the state is a channel for moral expression, whether that expression takes the form of entrenching traditional ideals about family life or or collaborating with the state in the seizure and redistribution of wealth. (Probably worth keeping in mind the clergys historical track record here: The last economic idea that it got itself exercised about was Marxism.) But the state is in fact no such thing. It is a piece of social software, a technology, a tool with no more moral significance in and of itself than a hammer. Like a chainsaw, its uses depend on whose will is controlling it sometimes you get the United Chainsaw Carvers Guild (which, no kidding, exists) and sometimes you get Patrick Bateman. Having failed to reckon with both the epistemic challenges to the various economic-planning orders they dream of (without understanding how little they know about what they imagine they can design) and the public-choice analysis of state action, Catholic economic thinkers conclude that they can invent a chainsaw that can cut through wood but not their legs. (Which keeps going wrong and wrong and wrong.) Enthralled by the power of selecting among the millions of choices about what the state should do, they never consider the relatively restricted and plebiean question of what the state actually can do.
This is true even among the so-called conservatives. Consider John Paul II writing on the 100th anniversary of Rerum Novarum:
If Pope Leo XIII calls upon the State to remedy the condition of the poor in accordance with justice, he does so because of his timely awareness that the State has the duty of watching over the common good and of ensuring that every sector of social life, not excluding the economic one, contributes to achieving that good, while respecting the rightful autonomy of each sector. This should not however lead us to think that Pope Leo expected the State to solve every social problem. On the contrary, he frequently insists on necessary limits to the States intervention and on its instrumental character, inasmuch as the individual, the family and society are prior to the State, and inasmuch as the State exists in order to protect their rights and not stifle them.
But the state in fact has no way of knowing to any practical effect what the common good even is or how its policies might affect priorities relating to it. The common good may seem like a relatively straightforward thing when your theater of operations is the general moral intuition of a saint, but its something else when youre working with 20,000 pages of Affordable Care Act regulations and that, not refined sentiment, is the realm in which the state operates. Meanwhile, he also expects the state to determine just wages and union work rules, to administer unemployment insurance, to calculate the economic consequences of immigration, and a hundred other things that the state has no capacity for doing. Like Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga and others, he assumes that the state will act in the cause of justice for the poor rather than being the most ruthless and pitiless exploiter of the poor, as history, including the history of this country, very strongly suggests that it will be. The relevance of these reflections for our own day is inescapable, the sainted epistolist writes, saying perhaps rather more than he meant to. Put not your trust in princes. Expecting them to deal rationally to say nothing of morally with systems of incomprehensible complexity is an error.
The case against libertarianism? As usual, the most important part of the question goes unstated and unanswered: Compared with what? You can have free trade or you can have trade managed by politicians; you can have free markets or you can have capital managed by politicians; you can have real prices or you can have shortages, waste, and chaos; you can have a society in which people are free free, among other things, to follow the Gospel to a higher kind of freedom or you can have . . . something else. Can you be Catholic and libertarian? the Washington Post asks. I suppose that it depends on how you intend to fulfill the Lords command to feed His sheep with rhetoric or with bread and how much faith you put in the proposition that deep within his conscience, man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. And it must depend very heavily upon how you feel about the peaceful, cooperative, egalitarian, collaborative, poverty-pulverizing economy that we built when Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga wasnt looking, the billions it has saved from poverty, and the billions more that it will save. Can you be Catholic and celebrate that? How could you be Catholic and do anything else?
I myself first felt the pull of the Church in a very, very poor place India, as it happens that was at the time engaged in the humane project of making itself a considerably less poor place, largely by ignoring the advice of the Hindu versions of Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga. I am grateful to our clergy, and if my criticism herein seems unduly uncharitable to these princes of the Church, it is only because their backward views on capitalism are doing real, material, irreversible damage to the world and especially to the lives of poor people, who are most in need of what only capitalism has to offer. His Eminence may not entirely understand it, but the banks and boardrooms are full of men and women doing more in real terms for the least of these than he is more, in fact, than he would even understand how to do and what he proposes mainly is to stand in their way. For Gods sake, stop it.
Isn’t that just the USCCB?
“Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga and likeminded thinkers, stuck as they are in the hopelessly 19th-century distributist model of economic analysis, apparently are incapable of thinking through the implications of their own dogma.”
Stuck in distributism? No, I don’t think so.
This anti-enterprise stuff does immense harm to the poor. Clericalism. It's poison.
I’d like to hear more of your point of view on what’s called “distributism”. All the explanations I’ve heard so far seem garbled because of using different definitions.
Just yesterday I warned of the “Christian Left” loose in Texas, particularly out of San Antonio Catholic seminary and bishops, wholesale.
On a thread trumpeting Texas conservative certainty in their future, I beg to differ. I was wondering if Texas Republicans leaders and strategists have even noticed this quiet source of socialist thought.
Both G. K. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc were distributists.
Chesterton once said that socialism and capitalism were two sides of the same bad materialist coin.
Libertarianism, whether as an economic policy or political philosophy or even a basic way of understanding life, is shot through with internal inconsistencies and bogus assumptions.
I can see why the Church, and any thoughtful person or groups of persons, would be opposed to a thoroughgoing libertarianism.
Before he wrote The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith penned The Theory of Moral Sentiments. He was no believer in the market solving all problems. He certainly was no George Gilder who believed that a free market was not only the best economic arrangement but also the best molder of character.
There are lots of reasons to be skeptical of a "free market", not least of which such an animal has never been seen and will never arrive. It has as much likelihood to exist as the communist utopia predicted by Marx.
Also note that libertarians are for open borders and are OK with corporations using their profits to lobby congress to pass legislation to skew the markets in their favor. They will never connect all those dots at one time, but they believe in every step along the way.
This is the second time in a month I find articles from National Review that could have been written by Politico.
One of the many blessings of the Catholic faith is that the only “truth” comes from the Catechesis of the Catholic Church. nothing outside of this is church doctrine.
What anyone else says is personal opinion, or possiblly intentional slander. personal opinion all really depends on how you define capatalism. The crony capitalism we have today is NOT Christian. That said the problem isn’t “capitalsim” or private business, The problem is having a government that functions under the guise of Democracy, but is actually beholden to Fat Cat bankers and hedge funds managers who launder money for cartels. It is taxation without representation, which is tyranny. A government funded by enemies of its’ citizens is treasonous. The message of the Catholic Church is distorted daily, because the criminal cartels are in charge.
Afghan poppy fields are at record production under US military protection, and we have an opium epidemic in the country that exceeds alcohol and car accidents in accidental deaths. World markets are being flooded with pure heroin, and world citizens are bring deceived beyond most people’s comprehension. Our complicit government has the blood of American children on its hands, along with the enabling “media”. God will take care of them, everyone else take care of your families.
Also note that the extreme right (and not just Catholics) have always declaimed against "usury," bankers, and "the money power."
“Id like to hear more of your point of view on whats called distributism.”
That’s part of the problem - defining distributism - especially in an age where we are all dependent on the economy of scale, massive production to lower costs, and mass participation in activities driven by global economic developments like nothing the world has ever seen. Many of the greatest texts on distributism are seriously out of date going back to the 1920s, 30s, etc. The humane principles involved are still good, but the denial of the economy of scale (which we all enjoy the benefits of) is a serious flaw. I like the internet. The internet never would have come about without vast investments of capital which distributism really doesn’t allow for fear of too powerful robber barrons or governments dominating the little guy.
“All the explanations Ive heard so far seem garbled because of using different definitions.”
I’m afraid that will continue. One place to start might be:
http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Capitalism-Socialism-Statement-Ideal/dp/1932528105/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1392737482&sr=8-1&keywords=beyond+capitalism+and+socialism I am not a big fan of the press that publishes it. Yes, they have some good books but a rather sordid leadership.
And then there’s this: http://www.beyonddistributism.com/articles.php
Here are some other worthwhile reads (recent ones):
http://www.crisismagazine.com/2011/the-pontifical-council-for-peace-justice-and-sauron (hey, anyone who can work Sauron into an article on economics...)
And then from three weeks ago: http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2014/05/why-is-distributism-so-intolerable
What we need to do is to go back to the cave man days and start over, Since there will be no one getting paid for sitting on their butts and whining, they will have to get busy doing something.
It would be my guess that the socialist whiners would be some of the first to put capitalism to work.
The problem is the lack of differentation between small business and multinational corporations.
Calling them both “capitalism” - which is commonly done - is absurd.
As a result, we live in an absurd world.
Anything these faux-Catholics have to say is nonsensical, putrid garbage.
Yes, well, it influences and it’s an agenda among many seminaries serving illegals and Hispanics.
This needs to be noticed in Texas and countered, because it’s growing. So far, crickets. And, I am Catholic forever.
This isn’t making sense to me. Most of the businesses in America were started by Catholics and other believers in God.
Most of the businesses in America was started by Catholics?
Catholics who didn’t even start showing up until the 1840s and who reached 5% in the 1850s? The voters who as their numbers grew brought in unions and Europeanism?
Americas First Mass [Ecumenical]
George Washingtons Return from Service to Mount Vernon, Christmas Eve, 1783
Remember, Remember (George Washington and Guy Fawkes Day)
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Americas Catholic Colony [Ecumenical]
The Catholic Church in the United States of America [Ecumenical]
Catholic Founding Fathers - The Carroll Family [Ecumenical]
Charles Carroll, founding father and "an exemplar of Catholic and republican virtue" [Ecumenical]
CITIZEN JOURNALISM: Founding Catholic [Father]
"How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization" ( Book Review )
LOL, Check your history, when the United States was created it has about 0.4% Catholics, they were almost nonexistent, and then they started immigrationa in the 1840s, and by the 1850s were about 5% of the population.
But all of the many countries south of us were founded as Catholic.