The Logic of Profit and the Logic of Equal Distribution

Yesterday’s readings sent a resounding message to those of us Christians who live in prosperous times and in comfortable locales: Our neglect of the poor and debtors will not be forgotten by God. In his address before the Angelus yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI made numerous references to wealth and to capitalism in light of the first reading from Amos and the Gospel reading about the dishonest steward. Benedict XVI, who has been critical of free market economics both in his days as a theologian and in his statements as Pope, is something of an socio-economic enigma, having stated in his recent publication Europe that democratic socialism is very close to upholding the principles of Catholic social doctrine. The Pope strongly displayed his economic views this past Sunday, perhaps in a manner hitherto unseen, and it is clear that the simplistic caricatures we are spoon-fed in the corners of many of America’s Catholic institutes have been shattered.

Without question Pope Benedict XVI is strongly critical of Marxism in its totalitarian and materialist forms, and yet he has been no less critical of the capitalist vision espoused by many Western nations. Very often the terms of economic debate follow a framework of capitalism vs. communism without considering that both economic systems are based upon deficient anthropologies that serve as the bedrock for each system. Capitalism is grounded on an anthropology that stems from the works of David Hume, John Locke, J.S. Mill, Edmund Burke and Lord Acton. This anthropology denies any personal identity (i.e., there is no real self or person but only conscious events) and reduces the relations between de-personalized individuals to a matter of exchange–I will give you want you want and you will give me what I want. Communism is grounded on an anthropology that declares man to be nothing but a alienated material being whose sole purpose is playing a designated role in the historical progression and evolution of utopian society. Capitalism and communism, while varying in their concrete and practical faces, are very similar doctrines at their core as each subscribes to an attenuated anthropology.

Pope Benedict, aware of the deficiencies of this anthropology and of the primacy of capitalism in the West since the dissolution of Marxism in Europe, identifies two economic rationales that are operative in the West today: 1. “the logic of profit”; 2. “the logic of equal distribution.” Too often we hear that these two rationales are opposed (I am thinking of the Acton Institute here), yet the Pope declares that they need not be in total opposition. However, he does not envision some superficial Hegalian synthesis between them as if they are just two extreme positions that must be brought together into reconciliation. On the contrary, Pope Benedict XVI submits that the logic of equal distribution must precede the logic of profit, and that the latter must be subjugated to the former. What the Pope is describing here is a form of distributism that at the same time defies the unrestricted accumulation of wealth and the collectivism of communism. Profit is good for the development of peoples, but it must first submit to the equitable distribution of basic goods to all people before its benefits are actualized.

Capitalism is not to be considered the only valid form of economics, claims Pope Benedict XVI. The Holy Father–following closely his immediate predecessor–sees the historical result of unbridled capitalism to be the disproportion of quality of life between rich and poor and the destruction of the environment. Pope Benedict XVI proposes the sharing of goods and solidarity among peoples–two concepts utterly foreign to capitalism as a system–as solutions to this negative consumerist trend in the West. And yet, communism is not the solution. Rather, Pope Benedict XVI suggests that a “conversion” is needed–even among Catholics!–in order to rise above the rubble of capitalism and communism. A truly Christian socio-economic vision for the world is possible based upon the ethics and example of Christ, who enriched us with his poverty. You see, the giving of one’s self and the acts of selflessness do not terminate in the spiritual life, for man is not being detached from the world. Man is in the world, and his spiritual life is lived in human action (cf. John Paul II), which means his economic life is inalienably tied to his spiritual and moral life. Hence, the Church rightfully speaks out on economics, and perhaps no pope has done so as strongly as Benedict XVI, save Leo XIII.

Here is the Pope’s entire address from yesterday (I have bolded the points from which I drew my own analysis):

Dear brothers and sisters!

This morning I visited the Diocese of Velletri of which I was the titular cardinal for several years. It was a familial encounter, which permitted me to relive past moments rich with spiritual and pastoral experiences. During the solemn Eucharistic celebration, in speaking about the liturgical texts, I was able to reflect on the correct use of earthly goods, a theme that St. Luke the evangelist, in various ways, has brought to our attention over the last few Sundays.

In the parable of the dishonest, yet sharp steward, Christ teaches his disciples the best way to use money and material riches; share them with the poor and in this way earn their friendship, in view of the Kingdom of heaven. “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon,” says Jesus, “so that when it fails they may receive your into the eternal habitations” (Luke 16:9).

Money is not “dishonest” in itself, but more than anything else it can close man up within a blind egoism. What is needed therefore is a sort of “conversion” of economic goods: Instead of using them for one’s own interests, we need to also think of the necessities of the poor, imitating Christ himself, who, wrote St. Paul, “Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). It seems to be a paradox: Christ did not enrich us with his wealth, but with his poverty, that is with his love that motivated him to give himself completely to us.

This could open up a vast and complex field of reflection on the theme of wealth and poverty, even on the world stage, in which two rationales regarding economics come face to face: the logic of profit and that of the equal distribution of goods, and one does not contradict the other, provided that their relationship is well-ordered. Catholic social doctrine has always sustained that the equal distribution of goods is a priority. Profit is naturally legitimate and, in a just measure, necessary for economic development.

John Paul II wrote in “Centesimus Annus”: “The modern business economy has positive aspects. Its basis is human freedom exercised in the economic field, just as it is exercised in many other fields (No. 32). However, he adds, capitalism is not considered the only valid model of economic organization (No. 35). The crises of hunger and the environment are denouncing, with growing evidence, that the logic of profit, if it prevails, increases the disproportion between rich and poor and a harmful exploitation of the planet. When the logic of sharing and solidarity prevails on the other hand, it is possible to correct the course of action and orient it toward proportional and sustainable development.

Mary Most Holy, who in the Magnificat proclaims: the Lord “has fed the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:53), help all Christians to use with evangelical wisdom, that is, with generous solidarity, earthly goods, and inspire governments and economists with farsighted strategies that favor the authentic progress of all peoples.

About Policraticus
  • Blackadder

    The term “capitalism” has picked up so much baggage over the years that it is probably best, as JP II noted, to speak of the free economy, or market economy.

    Benedict is right to say that the “logic of profit” is not in conflict with the “logic of equal distribution.” In fact, one of the chief advantages of the free market is that it effectively puts the logic of profit in the service of equal distribution by encouraging economic growth, progress, and innovation. Many of the things we take to be basic necessities, from abundant food to airconditioning, are so widly distributed precisely because the “logic of profit” has made them cheap and abundant.

  • Policraticus

    In fact, one of the chief advantages of the free market is that it effectively puts the logic of profit in the service of equal distribution by encouraging economic growth, progress, and innovation. Many of the things we take to be basic necessities, from abundant food to airconditioning, are so widly distributed precisely because the “logic of profit” has made them cheap and abundant.

    This is precisely what Pope Benedict XVI is disputing. Economic growth, progress and innovation (slogans of communism, as well) do not in themselves guarentee equal distribution, and Pope Benedict XVI points to the empirical facts of the free market to illustrate this point. Your last claim about the “widly distributed” necessities is rather utilitarian. What constitutes “widely” except that a majority in Western societies have these necessitaties, yet these societies have “widely” exploited the resources of the majority of earth’s citizens in order to secure them? Once more, Benedict XVI is challenging the prevailing view that because certain goods are widely distributed among the majority of the population of capitalist nations then the market economy works well in securing justice and abundance. One need only look at the manner in which these same economies exploit other nations to realize what a farse such a notion is. The “wide” distribution of which you speak is actually very narrow.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/voxnova/ Morning’s Minion

    Excellent post!

    But a rather poor response from Blackadder– the “logic of profit” is most certainly not in the “service of equal distrubution”. In fact, the most “capitalist” eras in US history (1880s-1930s and 1980s-today) saw the generation of wealth accompanying a huge rise in inequality.

  • Policraticus

    You are correct, MM. The distribution of which Backadder speaks is driven by the desire for profit, and so there is no generosity involved, which is Pope Benedict XVI’s point. Benedict wants to invert this picture, where distribution is primatial, and profit is subsequent to rather than the purpose of distribution.

  • http://discalcedyooper.wordpress.com M.Z. Forrest

    To get more precise on the matter, the robber barron age did see growing disparity as Krugman notes on his New York Times blog, but the economy was growing so fast that the poor actually were better off. We are in a mature capitalist economy today, and the statistics are quite clear that the rich are getting richer and the middle class is slowly disappearing.

  • http://ratzingerfanclub.com/blog/ Christopher

    Michael and M.Z. Forrest:

    Q: How would you propose to rectify the present situation, replacing the present ‘capitalist economy’ with what?

  • http://discalcedyooper.wordpress.com M.Z. Forrest

    I’m not sure what the destination would look like, but some things to get us in the right direction:
    1) Enforcement of corporate charters and not approving charters that are overly vague.
    2) Act against union busting.
    3) Eliminate the LLC.
    4) Eliminate the current minimum wage. Set a $15/hr minimum wage for corporate employees.
    5) Coops would enjoy limited liability and would not face minimum wage regs. Mutual Aid societies would enjoy the same.
    6) Assess the road system where possible, otherwise make it a concession.
    7) Assess an import/export duty to fund the miltary and state department.

    That would be a start. If we accomplish those, I’ll provide some other ideas.

  • http://unemptiedocean.com adamv

    Reigning in corporate personhood may be a good move too.

  • http://catholicramblings.stblogs.com Jonathan

    A Christian who uses law to “convince” others of the Truth has failed in the basic Christian mission.

  • Policraticus

    Truth be told, Christopher, I am only at the level of attempted diagnosis. I suspect the answer of your question is much deeper than economics, going to the very core of anthropology itself. Men devote their lives to studying the interplay of anthropology, politics and economics, and in their shadows I qualify as little more than a part-time dilettante. My goal is to one day have at least a provisional answer to your daunting question, which I ask myself quite often. But for now, I can only reply that I am not capable of venturing off from a diagnosis and into a proposed remedy.

  • Blackadder

    The era between the end of the Civil War at the beginning of the Great Depression, when markets in this country were relatively free, saw a significant increase in the standard of living, including among the very poor. To me, this would seem to be an example of free market serving the common good. However, Morning’s Minion, Policraticus, and M.Z. Forrest each have different reasons for disputing this.

    For Morning’s Minion, it appears that what matters is not that the lives of the poor improved and that things once considered luxuries became commonplace. What matters is that the lives of the rich improved faster than those of the poor, leading to increased inequality. But if what one cares about is equality, rather than the condition of people, then one would presumably prefer the Great Depression to the Roaring Twenties, as there was less inequality during the former. That, however, is absurd. Inequality is a fact of life, and there need not be anything inherently unjust about it. As Pope Leo said “There naturally exist among mankind manifold differences of the most important kind; people differ in capacity, skill, health, strength; and unequal fortune is a necessary result of unequal condition. Such unequality is far from being disadvantageous either to individuals or to the community.” Any attempt to create an “ideal equality about which [some] entertain pleasant dreams would be in reality the levelling down of all to a like condition of misery and degradation.” RN 15, 17.

    Policratus seems to object to the betterment of the poor during this period because it occured not due to generosity but because of the profit motive. Now it’s true that the businessmen of the 19th century weren’t driven primarily by motives of generosity (though many of the so-called “robber barrons” were great philanthropists and I suspect that, on a per capita basis, there was more charitable activity during than period than there is today). The same is true, however, for alternative means of human betterment. There’s nothing generous about my paying taxes, nor is there anything generous about a politician or bureaucrat spending my money on social programs. Nor is there anything generous about me growing my own food and remaining self-sufficient. So the free market is no worse in this regard than any other system, and at least has the advantage of actually bettering the poor, whereas many other systems cannot even do this.

    Finally, M.Z. Forrest appears to agree that a relatively unbridled free market was good during the 1880s-1920s, but thinks that we are now living in “a mature capitalist economy” in which the free market only serves to make the rich richer without bettering the middle class. I agree that things could be better, and in fact I think that one of the reasons they are not is that we are paying for some previous government interventions in the economy. But I don’t think things are anywhere near as dire as M.Z.’s comment might suggest. Twenty years ago few people owned personal computers, and the computers that were available were slow and expensive. I doubt anyone would want to trade the average house, car, or medical care today for the average from twenty years ago. Advances continue to be made, though they happen slowly, and the temporary inequalities are always more noticed than the long term equalities. Though I know him to be sincere, I think that many of the policies he has advocated to deal with this problem would only make it worse, and would do the most harm to the very people he aims to help.

  • Zach

    Policraticus,

    Where did you get your translation of the Pope’s homily from the other day? Zenit.org has something quite different than what you used:

    http://www.zenit.org/article-20570?l=english

    In fact, in this translation, Benedict XVI doesn’t even mention his predecessor.

    And a question for you. You write, “[Benedict XVI has been] strongly critical of Marxism in its totalitarian and materialist forms, and yet he has been no less critical of the capitalist vision espoused by many Western nations”

    Are you speaking of the volume of the criticism or the substance?

  • Policraticus

    Policratus seems to object to the betterment of the poor during this period because it occured not due to generosity but because of the profit motive. Now it’s true that the businessmen of the 19th century weren’t driven primarily by motives of generosity (though many of the so-called “robber barrons” were great philanthropists and I suspect that, on a per capita basis, there was more charitable activity during than period than there is today).

    I did not make any reference to that historical period in my post or in my follow-up comments.

    There’s nothing generous about my paying taxes, nor is there anything generous about a politician or bureaucrat spending my money on social programs.

    Actually, I would dispute that paying taxes is not generous. Keep in mind that Pope Benedict XVI is calling for a “conversion” of sorts, and taxes is no exception. Rumor is, the Pope’s next encyclical will outline apositive view of paying taxes whereby the citizen willingly contributes out of his/her own wealth for the sake of the common good. The question of generosity is one of perspective and conversion; otherwise, taxes appear to be arbitrarily obligatory. However, the manner in which those tax dollars are spent, as you rightly point out, is paramount.

    So the free market is no worse in this regard than any other system, and at least has the advantage of actually bettering the poor, whereas many other systems cannot even do this.

    I think the suggestion that free market is ‘the best we got’ or is “no worse” completely ignores the heart of Pope Benedict XVI’s concern over the moral obligations for a just socio-economic system. If the free market brings about injustices, however unintended, then there is a need to seek justice in a higher and more ethical manner. We are not called to simply accept the free market because it’s “no worse” or the ‘best of bad options.’ We are called, says the Pope, to “conversion” in economic thinking whereby we seek to promote justice for all, even if it means a diminishing of corporate or individual profit. I fear that your response to my comment amounts to a concession to mediocrity and a sort of social lethargy. There is no question that free market has aided many, many Westerners (myself included!). But the fact that it cannot secure economic justice for all is reason to call into question much of the framework that has been previously taken for granted. I think that is exactly what Pope Benedict continues to do.

  • Policraticus

    Zach,

    Thank you for the correction! I wrongly stated that I was providing his homily. Instead, I supplied his Angelus address given on the same day. I’ve made the corrections in the post. Thanks again, and I am sorry for the confusion.

  • Zach

    Benedict said, according to Zenit:

    “Therefore a fundamental decision is necessary — the choice between the logic of profit as the ultimate criteria of our action and the logic of sharing and solidarity….

    [note that this is a choice that an individual must make]
    […Benedict then condemns the logic of profit]

    He writes of the alternative: “When, on the other hand, the logic of sharing and solidarity prevails, it is possible to correct the course of action and orient it toward proportional development, for the common good of all. In the end it is a decision between egoism and love, between justice and dishonesty, and a final choice between God and Satan.

    Benedict, in condemning the logic of profit, is condemning the individual’s prioritization of profit as primary. Profit cannot be what fundamentally motives the human heart. Of course, it must be motivated by Love. It is in this way that “… the logic of equal distribution must precede the logic of profit, and that the latter must be subjugated to the former”

    It seems to me he is not talking about an economic system or arrangement, and is indeed quite far from that subject.

  • Donald R. McClarey

    Popes are usually as good at economics as economists are at theology. I have no problem with the Holy Father stating that the rich have a duty to aid the poor. However, when a Pope attempts to engage in economic theorizing, something I do not believe that Pope Benedict is attempting to do, his analysis must stand or fall on its own since God has not granted to the Pope any charism of infallibility as to the dismal science.

  • Policraticus

    Are you speaking of the volume of the criticism or the substance?

    Though I have not kept any sort of count, I am not speaking of volume of criticism. Nor am I speaking of substance, for the Pope’s criticism of capitialism is based more on empirical data (though this is not to say that he does not take issue with its theoretical foundations) whereas his criticism of Marxism has tended to be more theoretical (though this is not to say that he has not spoken out about the concrete implimentation of Marxism). What I mean is that Pope Benedict XVI has consistently spoken of the incompatability of both capitialism and communism with a Christian social ethic, not portraying either as worse or better than the other. Typically–as in his political books–he criticises the two together, always prodding his readers toward a higher martrix of socio-political response.

  • Policraticus

    Benedict, in condemning the logic of profit, is condemning the individual’s prioritization of profit as primary. Profit cannot be what fundamentally motives the human heart. Of course, it must be motivated by Love. It is in this way that “… the logic of equal distribution must precede the logic of profit, and that the latter must be subjugated to the former”

    It seems to me he is not talking about an economic system or arrangement, and is indeed quite far from that subject.

    And yet, Benedict never treats the individual as a solitary or private being. The individual is always within a social matrix through which the individual both recognizes his/her self and his/her dependence on social structures. That said, Benedict never divorces social or economic life from the individual’s inner conversion. This is why he speaks in his address of world-wide consequences of the “logic of profit.” He is not speaking merely of individual choice, though this choice is the first step. He is speaking also of corporate conversion, making possible the just distribution of goods and the protection of the environment. Distribution makes little sense outside the social sphere.

  • Zach

    You are right to note that the Pope would not treat the individual as if he existed in a vacuum. We are, after all, the human race. That said, he was providing moral instruction for the individuals in his congregation; he was not outlining the way in which we should order our lives together. I think the distinction is important, because it is the difference between teaching morals and teaching public policy. And certainly, our public policy should be informed by the principles that the Pope was providing here.

    Also, It is true that distribution makes little sense outside of the social sphere, but the social sphere is not limited to the government. I would also add that corporate conversion follows individual conversion, and is indeed dependent on it.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/voxnova/ Morning’s Minion

    Blackadder,

    Solidarity calls not for total equality, but for a sharing of wealth. A pretty good measure of living standards is the median real wage, which has stagnated since the late-1970s, during an era of great prosperity. During the last gilded age, the Church called for wealth to be shared, by giving workers their fair share. The same holds true today.

  • http://geraldlcampbell.typepad.com/ Gerald L. Campbell

    Christopher asks: “How would you propose to rectify the present situation, replacing the present ‘capitalist economy’ with what?”

    I’m surprised you’d phrase your question that way.

    The capitalist economy has two dimensions: 1) it is a mechanism; and 2) it is an ethic, otherwise known as the Protestant ethic. This current ethic is predicated on an atomistic notion of the individual. The market mechanism of the economy takes on the form of that ethic.

    To get a sense of what an atomistic ethic really means read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. It will sear the meaning of EGO and EGOISTIC CAPITALISM into your very being!!!

    To mitigate the excesses of egoistic capitalism, it is necessary to transfigure the fundamental assumptions of the Protestant ethic and replace it with an ethic that is predicated on a notion of the individual that is intrinsically relational.

    Likewise, to transform the logic of profit into a logic of sharing and solidarity, as the Pope asks, it is necessary to create an ethos (Geist) whose form reflects the relational nature of the person. In addition, it is necessary to develop a relational notion of self-formation (Bildung).

    As this ethos shapes society, a logic of sharing and solidarity will overcome the structures and dynamics of atomistic ethics. In this way, the excesses of a logic of profit will be reconciled by a logic of sharing and solidarity.

    Its not accidental that the term “help” in America really translates into “Self-Help.” How many Self-Help books are sold? How many Sharing books are sold? The autonomous individual reigns supreme in America!

    To rectify the “capitalist economy” is a huge task. But primarily it involved transforming the cultural foundations of the Capitalist Economy from that of the autonomous individual to that of a Trinitarian individual.

    Thus, the question you pose feigns as a conundrum only because you are asking the wrong question. It’s not about one mechanism replacing the current mechanism (capitalistic economy). You should have asked about the underlying ethic.

  • Michael Joseph

    but the social sphere is not limited to the government. I would also add that corporate conversion follows individual conversion, and is indeed dependent on it.

    I agree with this, and I am glad you mention this crucial point.

  • Policraticus

    Michael Joseph = Policraticus

  • Policraticus

    Gerald,

    Excellent and thoughtful points. I think Weber, despite the limitations of his methodology and the attempts by certain Catholic authors to discredit his sociological findings, is as relevant as ever…prophetic, even.

  • http://geraldlcampbell.typepad.com/ Gerald L. Campbell

    Policraticus,

    Thank you.

    The problem with modern sociology is that it is encased in a scientific methodology that yields very little insight. It collects data arbitrarily arranged, it confuses correlations with causation, it reduces the individual to a locus of external relations, and it makes the person to be a bare X. It can neither predict nor define. It doesn’t address the question “why?” No wonder modern sociologists don’t like Weber! I wonder what he’d say of them?

    I’m now reading a study on how to save sociology from instrumental rationality by appealing to the redeeming capacity of art in a sociology of music!!! All this to understand homelessness. Go figure.

  • ben

    This is a fascinating discussion. Conversations like this one are the reason I make vox-nova a daily stop.

    I have a couple of observations. First to Blackadder. Your analysis of material standards of living seems to fit well with my understanding. You are correct that we live in a world where more people have more tv’s bigger homes, more cars and more computers than 30 years ago. But MM’s point abut the stagnation of the median income needs to be addressed. So do quality of life issues. 30 years ago it was more common to have a stay at home parent and the breadwinner’s income supported more people. There is an argument to be made that a stagnation in wages has lead to pressure on families. So many more people belive that 2 incomes are necessary to support a family today than used to be the case. What do you mkae of this? Can we assign any sort of economic value to famliy stability? a lower divorce rate? having more children? stay at home parenting? All of these things have been declingin since the fifties.

    Also, and this question is realted. What is the function of the economy? is it merely the production and distribution of goods? or should the economy work for the salvation of souls? If we see the salvation of souls as the yardstick to measure economic progress does that change the anaylsis? have we made progress on salvation in the last 150 years?

    Donald McClarey, You seem to be playing the same compentcy game the Fr. Neuhas is playing. I have a friend with a master degree in economics from Johns Hopkins. When I asked him why he decided to pursue graduate study of economics anf for a definition of economics he told me that he was studying economics because it is at its essence applied ethics. It is the study of how well we do at treating our fellow man-what we share with him, what we expect from him and what opportunities we provide him with. To comment on such things hardly seems out of place for the successor of Peter. Infact it seems that he might be the first person we should ask.

  • Policraticus

    Ben,

    Good questions. I liked your friend’s point:

    When I asked him why he decided to pursue graduate study of economics anf for a definition of economics he told me that he was studying economics because it is at its essence applied ethics.

    I think this is precisely why the Church has competence in the socio-economic sphere. The boundary between ethics and economy is not as clear as Donald may like. While the Church does not make public policy, it rightly criticizes the ethical standards that underlie those policies. Pope Benedict XVI has said this numerous times.

  • http://geraldlcampbell.typepad.com/ Gerald L. Campbell

    Policraticus,

    Thank you your comment.

    The problem with modern sociology is that it is encased in a methodology that it rests on no insight. Even more, it excludes philosophical insight and reason for being intrusive and corrupting of objectivity. Reality, then, is reduced to a field of discrete moving perceptions, data is collected and arbitrarily arranged, correlations are confused with causality, and the person is reduced to a locus of perceptions.

    Don’t be confused about the meaning of “locus!” It is nothing but a bare “X.” Talk about dignity of the human person!!!!!

    I’m currently reading a study that tries to liberate sociology from instrumental reason by appealing to the redeeming capacity of art. “When musical forms found in Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer and sociology’s research on the homeless are converted to fractal concept forms, the clearly identifiable differences between the two fractal forms reveals the corrupting nature of instrumental rationality and points the way toward a more universally objective sociology of the homeless.” Or so it goes.

    All this to understand the nature of homelessness? Hmmmmm! This author needs a beer.

    No wonder modern sociologists have trouble with Weber. I wonder how he would feel about them?
    Admin Note: This comment was unfortunately caught in the spam filter.

  • Donald R. McClarey

    Respectfully disagree Ben. I can’t recall Jesus lecturing on economics in the Gospels. He had quite a lot to say about the duty of the rich to help the poor and how one cannot serve both God and Mammon, but he didn’t attempt to tell the Romans or the Jews how government should regulate the economy or what policies should be adopted by government to aid the poor. When I wish to learn how to go to heaven I listen to the successor of Peter. When I wish to learn how economies funtion I read Adam Smith. Popes have no greater competence in this area than they had in astronomy at the time of Galileo. A pope may have wise or foolish things to say about economics, but it will be because of his wisdom or foolishness in this area, not because of his office.

  • Michael Enright

    Politicratus,

    Can you elaborate on how paying taxes is “generous”, given that if you do not pay there are men with guns who can come and arrest you?

    Giving money for the common good is indeed generous. However, I would challange the reliability of government in seeking out the common good. It is more probably spent in accord with the wills of the most prominent political interest as opposed to the common good.

    It seems that you do not understand the argument that the free market is the best system around. The argument is that when you interfiere with the market, you will create unintended consequences that are worse than the problems you solve. This may or may not be true, but it is not an appeal to mediocraty.

    This whole discussion reminds me of something I have been meaning to ask: why are there no Acton types who write for vox nova?

  • http://geraldlcampbell.typepad.com/ Gerald L. Campbell

    Donald,

    I’m sure you don’t need to be reminded that the study of Economics was formally called Political Economy. It became Economics because of a methodological effort to dissolve the fusion of Politics/Ethics and Economics.

    All of which goes to say that economists don’t really understand the entirety of their discipline. While they may have methodologically succeeded in separating Economics from Politics/Ethics (for the purpose of analysis) the simple truth is that Economics and Politics/Ethics don’t exist separately in the lives of individuals. They exist separately only in abstraction. So, to say that Economics can be studied independently of Ethical considerations is true. It happens every day. But in terms of formulating policies which impact individuals, social groups, institutions, and nations, it is simply foolish to do so.

    For this reason, I would argue that the Pope has an expertise in Economics that far transcends the expertise of any economist alive. Economists don’t know the full range of their own discipline. Left to their own devices, there’s is a world of Will and Power.

  • http://geraldlcampbell.typepad.com/ Gerald L. Campbell

    Michael Enright says

    “It seems that you do not understand the argument that the free market is the best system around. The argument is that when you interfiere with the market, you will create unintended consequences that are worse than the problems you solve.”

    Michael, do I hear you arguing that we should repeal the Individual and Corporate Tax Code?

  • Policraticus

    Can you elaborate on how paying taxes is “generous”, given that if you do not pay there are men with guns who can come and arrest you?

    Think of the Old Testament obligation to tithe. One could approach it with the sense that one is under obligation to do so under pain of consequence or one could approach it with the sense that this giving can benefit the institution or common good. The former sense is a natural, individualist attitude. The latter requires a sort of “conversion” whereby the obligation is welcomed as an opportunity to contribute to the common good, much like caritas makes the obligation to observe the Law appear to be a mode of generosity. It’s all about that conversion of which the Pope speaks. With regard specifically to taxes, the Pope’s new encyclical will likely elaborate in much clearer and more informed ways.

    However, I would challange the reliability of government in seeking out the common good. It is more probably spent in accord with the wills of the most prominent political interest as opposed to the common good.

    Here you shifted from the act of giving to the actions of the recipient. Careful that you do not conflate the two whereby you do not properly define generosity in terms of gift.

    It seems that you do not understand the argument that the free market is the best system around. The argument is that when you interfiere with the market, you will create unintended consequences that are worse than the problems you solve.

    Perhaps if one can produce an informed and coherent argument that an unrestricted market will solve the problems of which Pope Benedict XVI speaks, I would better understand one’s position. Truth is, I suspect you are merely speculating rather than determining your position based on empirical facts. I am well aware of the so-called “invisible hand” of the free market, and yet I am also aware that it’s possible the sun will rise in the west tomorrow. But these two speculative ideas have nothing empirical to back them up.

    This whole discussion reminds me of something I have been meaning to ask: why are there no Acton types who write for vox nova?

    What is an “Acton type”? Are you referring to Lord Acton’s Catholic heterodoxy and public display of disregard for Church doctrines? Are you referring to Lord Acton’s arguments for liberty, academic freedom and market analysis? If the former, then I believe you’ll find no Actons at Vox Nova. If the latter, I think there may possibly be two or three of our contributors who hold similar views to Acton. All I can say is that I am no Acton, and proudly so.

  • http://www.ratzingerfanclub.com Christopher

    The capitalist economy has two dimensions: 1) it is a mechanism; and 2) it is an ethic, otherwise known as the Protestant ethic. This current ethic is predicated on an atomistic notion of the individual. The market mechanism of the economy takes on the form of that ethic.

    Gerald — good point and I stand corrected. What do you make of, say, Michael Novak’s writings (whose basic contention is that democratic capitalism is only as good as the political and moral/cultural institutions which together form society. As he puts it:

    Capitalism does not operate in a moral vacuum. Those who fail to live up to the moral standards implicit in its own structure are corrected by forces from outside it. Thus, capitalism supplies only some of the moral energy present in the free society as a whole. There are moral energies in the democratic polity to call it to account. And there are moral energies in families, in the churches, in journalism, in the cinema, in the arts, and throughout civic society to unmask its failings and to call it to account.

    Or likewise, the Acton Institute’s ecumenical efforts to bring a religious dimension to the business world (their mission is stated here).

    Note to Michael Joseph — by “Acton type”, I believe (taking a wild guess) Michael had in mind folks like Fr. Sirico, Dr. Samuel Gregg, et al. I would recommend visiting http://www.Acton.org and browsing around.

    BTW I think it’s a cheap shot to play up Lord Acton’s resistance to papal infallibility at the time of its promulgation in this context. He had much more to offer and it’s apparent members of the Acton Institute aren’t celebrating the man for this particular aspect of his life. (It’s worth noting as well that, when it came down to it, Acton did not join the ‘Old Catholics’ in seceding from the Church.)

  • Michael Enright

    I think it is equally important to analyze the governmental system of taxation and spending from the point of view of both giver and recipient.

    It is not just the “invisible hand” argument. Actually, it has more to do with public choice analysis which analyzes political action in economic terms. Government is as filled with selfish individuals seeking their own good as the market is. While market failure may provide a problem for free-market supporters, the failure that is built into government operations is a much greater challange for their opponents.

    By “Acton type” I actually was refering to something more like an “Acton Institute type” or someone who thinks that free market policy is in the common good.

  • Blackadder

    Ben,

    I think that women’s entry into the workforce had less to do with economic pressures than with an ideological movement, call it feminism or “women’s lib” or whathaveyou, that said women should work outside the home. Granted this had certain economic effects. I would think, for instance, that part of the reason wages have been stagnant since the 1970s is that you’ve had more and more women entering the workforce and thus increasing the labor supply (though for obvious reasons people would be hesitant to mention this effect). Personally, I’m inclined to favor some version of a “mommy wage” that they have in some baltic states, where the government pays women who stay home with their kids. Obviously I wouldn’t say that women shouldn’t work outside the home, but it does seem like many women would like to be stay-at-home moms if only they could make it work economically, and I think there are some social benefits that come from their doing so.

    Wage stagnation is a complicated subject, and obviously wages haven’t been growing in certain parts of the economy as much as we might like. The numbers can be a bit misleading, though, as they don’t take account of the increased quality of goods, nor of increases in non-wage benefits. Since many employers provide health benefits and health care costs have gone up significantly over the last twenty years, real compensation has gone up quite a bit more than have real wages.

  • Blackadder

    “There is no question that free market has aided many, many Westerners (myself included!). But the fact that it cannot secure economic justice for all is reason to call into question much of the framework that has been previously taken for granted.”

    Let me try an analogy. The criminal justice system does an imperfect job of administering justice. Some guilty people go free under our system, and some innocent people are jailed. We should, of course, try to minimize these failings, but we have to recognize that no matter what we do the system is not going to be perfect and is going to result in some injustice. Does this call into question the framework of our criminal justice system? I think not. Unless there is some alternative system that will result in less injustice than the current system it will be foolhardy to treat the fact that the system is not perfect as a reason for getting rid of it. Even if the shoe doesn’t fit, you may still have to wear it if there are no better options, or go barefoot.

    I wish there were an economic system that was perfect. But wishing does not make it so, and there is no such system and injustice is going to be a part of life this side of paradise. We should fight against it, to be sure, but we should make sure that in so doing we don’t make the situation worse.

  • http://geraldlcampbell.typepad.com/ Gerald L. Campbell

    Christopher asks about Michael Novak’s contention: “Capitalism does not operate in a moral vacuum. Those who fail to live up to the moral standards implicit in its own structure are corrected by forces from outside it.”

    The words that pop off the page are these: “Those who fail to live up to the moral standards implicit in its own structure.” But implicit in the structure of Capitalism is the Protestant ethic. This ethic is likewise the form of American culture.

    It seems to me that Novak sees the “moral shortcomings” of Capitalism as existing “within” the culture rather than being a consequence “of” the culture. This would distinguish his position from my thinking on the matter. The implications of this distinction are, of course, immense.

  • Policraticus

    Gerald,

    That passage jumped out at me, too. The “moral standards implicit in (capitalism’s) own structure” would be those moral standards carved out by the system’s originators, who Novak actually cites as providing an economic ethic superior to that of Aquinas’ vision of virtue-based politic. And who are these moral sources who supply this implicit moral framework? Novak names two consistently: David Hume and Adam Smith. And what is this ethic? We turn to Hume’s second Enquiry and we discover that ethics is not based on reason because human beings are not persons. Rather, morality must be grounded on sentiment and feeling, for what am I but a being who experiences passions and thoughts, and my passions drive me and motivate me far more than my thoughts? And we turn to Smith, Hume’s disciple, where in his A Theory of Moral Sentiments, he reiterates that there is no person and that sentiment and wants drive human interaction. Hence, capitalism, which Smith outlines in his magisterial Wealth of Nations, is founded upon an ethics of sentiment and want and takes on the form of exchange between parties–I give you what you want and you give me what I want. This is why Enlightment liberty must always be coupled with capitalism. If reason is not the arbitor of proper action, then all people must be free to pursue their wants according to sentiment. Toss in some J.S. Mill and Bentham in order to give capitalism the flavor of utilitarian mode–I am at liberty to pursue my wants, which I decipher from my sentiments, as long as such a pursuit works for the benefit of the majority. That is the capitalist/utilitarian ethic.

    Having read a bit of Novak, I can only conclude that either Novak has not really thought out this implicit ethic in capitalism and did not really read Hume and Smith carefully, or Novak does not understand Hume or Smith, let only this ethic that grounds capitalism. Either way, it is true without a hesitation that the capitalist ethic is fundamentally at odds with the entire moral tradition of the Catholic faith, and that the capitalist ethic (to use the words of Aladair MacIntyre) is a rival morality to Catholicism. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI understood this. Of course, the Catholic defenders of capitalism never care to debate its intellectual formulation for they know it is flawed. Instead, they refer us to the “material prosperity” of free market societies in order to justify the good of capitalism. But what else is such an empirical reliance than a consequentialist defense of a system that rejects the dignity of the human person (indeed, there is no person!) and reduces societal interaction to mere exchange!

  • Blackadder

    I don’t know whether Adam Smith believed that there are no persons (somehow I doubt it). But I do know that believing in free markets doesn’t require you to believe that there are no such thing as persons.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/voxnova/ Morning’s Minion

    Good response, Policraticus. It’s good to see people quoting Smith’s first major book, which preceded the Wealth of Nations. My new post touches on some of these topics.

  • http://geraldlcampbell.typepad.com/ Gerald L. Campbell

    Policraticus,

    I concur with what you say on Hume and Adam Smith. As I said in a comment above, the person, as Hume says in the Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, is nothing more than “a locus where sense perceptions intersect.” In and of itself, personal identity is nothing. Your comment enriched this notion by referencing Hume’s remarks from his ethical writings.

    Epistemology and morality are thus disengaged from logic. So is politics and economics.

    But, let’s ask again. Has logic been displaced altogether? Or has a new logic replaced the old ?

    Let’s take it a step further.

    It’s a huge leap to go from philosophy to culture. We are used to hearing that ideas have consequences. When we hear this phrase uttered, we agree. They do. We shake our heads up and down like robots. Then, we go on to judge that the incidence of adverse consequences can be reduced judging in accordance with practical reason. OK. That’s true. But so what? Such perspective overlooks an important point.

    There is a logic to culture. And culture plays a huge role in human behavior. So there is a logic that becomes ingrained in the human fabric too. It is not sufficient to assume that culture is a neutral ground and that the individual can perfect his ability to judge through proper habituation. The culture is not neutral. It is the embodiment of a philosophy and this philosophy seeps into our being and infects us with its many forms.

    To illustrate, how many American Catholics are aware that they go to Church as Catholics and conduct their lives as Protestants? This is an exaggeration, of course, but it contains a blunt truth. We are pretty unconscious of the forms that make make up our existence and ground our behavior. Anyone from overseas can detect an American visitor to their land!

    Which brings me to Novak. I’m fairly persuaded that Novak has given himself great latitude in his writing precisely because he has failed to grasp these quasi-ontic dimensions of culture. Liberal democracy and capitalism are American culture. They predicate a view of man that is corrupt. Novak doesn’t consider this.

    Instead, Novak uses the stratagem I describe above. Practical reason must come to the aid of Capitalism. “We must act with a superior morality” — “We must work to reign in the excesses of capitalism that result from our personal moral failings.”

    Such view leaves Capitalism and Liberal Democracy alone to “work their will (invisible hand).” Any excesses in the market or politics are the failure of a personal morality. What happened with the Enron scandal? Ken Lay et al got greedy! So, the cry goes out across the land: Let’s put a leash on human behavior!!!!! Let’s pass new Laws, stricter regulations.

    At the end of the day, the structures and dynamics of Capitalism and the Protestant ethic which it serves, are left fully intact. The antidote to capitalist excesses is the adoption of a superior morality in every nook and cranny of American society. Sounds like totalitarianism to me!

    The real strategy is to change the culture from an atomistic foundation to one that is relational, and to make changes from the inside out.

  • Policraticus

    I don’t know whether Adam Smith believed that there are no persons (somehow I doubt it). But I do know that believing in free markets doesn’t require you to believe that there are no such thing as persons.

    Adam Smith did not hold that there is any personal identity in a human being but only the continual influx of perceptions and sentiments. This idea, however, was taken for granted by him and finds it fuller expression, as Gerald aptly notes, in Hume’s first Enquiry. Of course, we could even point further back to John Locke, who profoundly influenced Humean empricism. In Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, the Cartesian self, which is a substance, is rejected along with innate ideas. Locke, perhaps weary of Descartes, remains ambivilant toward personal identity for he rejects that substance or substratum can be truly known. Rather, we have knowledge of secondary qualities (e.g., colors, textures, smells) and their underlying primary qualities (e.g., extension) by means of ideas. Since I cannot know that I am truly a subsisting self, I only know my ideas of things. Hume and Smith just follow this out to its logical conclusion–there is no real self but only a collage of perceptions and passions. So, in short, Adam Smith constructs an economics based upon a ethics that leaves out any reference to or concept of the human person.

    This is why the inner logic of free market is a de-personalized economics and ethics. I would suggest that those who think we can just re-insert the person into this system simply have not considered carefully the fact that free market economics has the absence of person and obligation to person as its very foundations. You can alter the walls and roof, but you cannot replace a foundation without destroying the whole thing. To think that there can be a “personalized” free market is to construct an economic chimera.

  • Blackadder

    Let’s say you’re right that Smith believed “there is no real self but only a collage of perceptions and passions.” It doesn’t follow from this that “Adam Smith constructs an economics based upon a ethics that leaves out any reference to or concept of the human person” nor would it follow from that that “the inner logic of free market is a de-personalized economics and ethics.” One might as well argue that Thomism is a fundamentally flawed enterprise since Aristotle was a pagan and thus anything he said about ethics, metaphysics, etc. was based on paganism.

  • pb

    Blackadder: The basic point is this–Smith’s conception of human nature is deficient, and as a result, his ethical thought is affected. Let’s put aside the question about whether he used the word person or not, since I agree with you, it isn’t really necessary when one is constructing a practical science. But what one thinks of human beings and their ends, along with practical reason, does have an impact.

  • Blackadder

    pb,

    I agree that Smith’s concept of human nature was deficient, and that this may have affected his ethical thought. Heck, I’m even willing to agree that these deficiencies led him into errors in his economic thought. I suspect, for example, that Smith’s calvinist background may have contributed to his embracing the labour theory of value. But the connection between his erroneous views on human nature and his economic views is going to have to be demonstrated in particular cases. You can’t simply point to his faulty metaphysics as a reason for rejecting his economics, anymore than you can reject out of hand Aristotle’s ethics on the grounds that he was a pagan. Further, while Adam Smith is certainly an important figure in the history of economic thought, economics does not begin and end with Adam Smith. Many of the things Smith said were said both before and after him by thinkers who most certainly did not share his faulty metaphysical views. It won’t do, therefore, to try and discredit the market by associating it with the non-economic views of Smith or Hume.

  • Policraticus

    Let’s say you’re right that Smith believed “there is no real self but only a collage of perceptions and passions.” It doesn’t follow from this that “Adam Smith constructs an economics based upon a ethics that leaves out any reference to or concept of the human person” nor would it follow from that that “the inner logic of free market is a de-personalized economics and ethics.”

    Ah, but it does follow. You see, he already wrote the two big ones: A Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations where he links his ethics and economics. You obviously do not believe me about Smith, so I will just tell you to read these two works. Then you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. I’ve read them, and I’ve given you an honest account.

    One might as well argue that Thomism is a fundamentally flawed enterprise since Aristotle was a pagan and thus anything he said about ethics, metaphysics, etc. was based on paganism.

    First, this is a false analogy. Adam Smith is one person who forged an ethics and a vision of economics based upon that ethics. Aristotle and Thomas are two different individuals with two different philosophies. Second, Thomas did not accept Aristotle without thoroughly modifying latter’s metaphysics. Thomas introduced the distinction between existence and essence (foreign to Aristotle) and presented his doctrine of God as His essence being existence. This presentation of God commences both Summa‘s, so really one cannot argue that Thomas merely builds upon a purely Aristotelian foundation as you insinuate.

    Let’s put aside the question about whether he used the word person or not, since I agree with you, it isn’t really necessary when one is constructing a practical science.

    Practical science is “constructed” from theoretical science (cf. Thomas Aquinas’ commentary on Boethius’ De Trinitate), and I would suggest that the concept of person and its dignity and value is the bedrock of a practical economic system that is just. Your implied divorce between theoretical and practical science is simply unthinkable–how does one act responsibly and virtuously without reason???

    But the connection between his erroneous views on human nature and his economic views is going to have to be demonstrated in particular cases. You can’t simply point to his faulty metaphysics as a reason for rejecting his economics, anymore than you can reject out of hand Aristotle’s ethics on the grounds that he was a pagan.

    Religion has nothing to do with it. Aristotle’s paganism does not mean that his ethics are necessarily right or wrong, so bringing up his religious background is a red herring, especially if we are talking about philosophy. Aristotle’s ethics (which, by the way, grounds his politics) are evaluated on their own merit, just as is the case with Smith. But the problem you are facing is that Smith explicitly connects his ethics and economics in the Wealth of Nations, a simple fact that can be demonstrated to you if you would simply read his works.

    It won’t do, therefore, to try and discredit the market by associating it with the non-economic views of Smith or Hume.

    Here you seem to be inferring that free market economics can stand without the ethics of Hume and Smith, and yet you do not defend this inference with reference to any other free market economist. It seems to follow from your assertion that the originators of the ethics and modes of free market are unnecessary for the life of the free market, which I suggest is a rather odd claim. My best advise to you is to simply begin reading through Hume and Smith before defending either their thought or the free market itself. It remains to be shown that the ethics of Hume and Smith do not lurk behind the likes of Mill, Bentham, Burke, Acton, von Mises, Friedmann and the whole lot of capitalist heroes.

  • Blackadder

    “[Y]ou seem to be inferring that free market economics can stand without the ethics of Hume and Smith, and yet you do not defend this inference with reference to any other free market economist.”

    Well that’s true, but since you’ve given no reason to think that free market economics cannot stand without the ethics of Smith, I’m not sure why this is necessary. It seems pretty clear that a person can believe in the free market without thinking that there are no such thing as persons. If there is some necessary connection between these ideas it is, to say the least, not obvious, and it makes little sense to demand that I refute an argument that hasn’t yet been made.

    Darwin held a number of false and odious ethical and theological beliefs. These beliefs were explicitly tied in his mind to his theories on evolution. Does this mean that evolution is wrong? Well, no. Because while Darwin may have connected the two, nothing in evolutionary theory as such requires you to accept those beliefs. You cannot equate an entire field of study with the thought of a single man, and say that if he was wrong in some major way (even a way connected to that field), that the whole field is therefore called into question.

  • Policraticus

    It seems pretty clear that a person can believe in the free market without thinking that there are no such thing as persons. If there is some necessary connection between these ideas it is, to say the least, not obvious, and it makes little sense to demand that I refute an argument that hasn’t yet been made.

    First, we do not need to believe in free market. It’s present in the world empirically in the various attempts at its implimentation. Second, the free market is expressly linked to the anthropology of the British and Scotish empiricists, and without this anthropology, free market is formless. I suspect you are relying merely on an empirical analysis of free market without considering the actual theoretical make-up that sets it in motion. I have described continually this make-up, but to no avail as you continually deny want is manifest in the work of the free market theorists. Free market, by its very machinery, reduces social interaction to exchange because it requires neither the presence of persons nor any reference to the value and dignity of the person. And because free market has bypassed the person in its foundations, it is impossible to re-insert the person and the necessary respect for his dignity without collapsing its structures. Plain and simple. I ask that you study the mechanics of free market before rushing to defend it. I fear you are making all sorts of assertions without substantiating your points.

    Like the analogiy of Aristotle and Thomas, your Darwin analogy is false. Evolution is an observable phenomenon of nature. Free market is the construct of man. And so Darwin did not invent evolution, however efficient he was at describing its contours. But Smith did, in large part, give theoretical birth to free market economics. Without Darwin, there is still evolution. Without Smith, there is no free market. Thus, there is no real analogy here.

  • Blackadder

    “the free market is expressly linked to the anthropology of the British and Scotish empiricists, and without this anthropology, free market is formless.”

    See, you keep saying, this, but you’ve never offered any reason for thinking it’s true, other than your own say so. You are aware that there were economists prior to Smith, right? That many of his views and insight were also present in their work? That not all of these economists were British or Scottish empiricists? If you think that Adam Smith invented the free market, you might need to look into the matter a bit more. I’d recommend the chapter on Economics from How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization to start, as it’s short, popularly accessible, and geared toward where you seem to be coming from.

  • Policraticus

    Blackadder,

    It appears to me that you want to argue for the good of free market at all costs, and I do not think our discourse can be fruitful unless you are willing to engage the actual theory of free market and its remainders. Prior to Smith, you do not have any genuine “economist” for the simple fact that economics had not really been given any independence from political theory in general. So the consultation of these theorists–be it Bellarmine, Hobbes, Vitoria, Locke or any other–can certainly provide us with a sense of the intellectual milieu in which Smith can be located. But to attribute free market economics to any one of them is grossly anachronistic.

    Woods’ book is a very good and elementary resource, but there is no question that he extended his thesis well beyond the historical data, especially when he begins to describe Enlightenment thought. Notwithstanding this introductory and general resource, one must consult the primary sources (i.e., the actual writings) in order to really break into the various paradigms of thought in the Enlightenment. There is no question that Calvinistic Geneva and Dordt anticipated Smith’s ethic of wealth creation, but to suggest that Smith was not highly innovative in his formulation of the capitalist ethic is nonsense. Such an assertion can only be made by one who has neither read Smith nor has a working knowledge of the development of Enlightenment thought.

    As an aside, it is important to note Woods’ biases for the free market. He is after all a fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Now this in itself does not mean he is wrong. But having an acquaintance with his actual economics works, I can tell you first hand that his attempts to reconcile the market with Catholic social teaching is seriously flawed and anachronistic. For example I have his The Church and the Market in hand now. Like Michael Novak has done, Woods reads the principle of wealth creation back into the traditional Catholic doctrine of the imago Dei, asserting that the pursuit of capital and the abolition of restriction on economic growth is an actual participation in the creative image of God. Not only is this is a gross distortion of the biblical and theological grounds of the imago Dei, it is highly exclusivist as it suggests that only citizens participating in a free economy fully actualize the this image. This narrow view is, well, thoroughly Smith and certainly not Catholic!

  • Pingback: Pope Benedict XVI’s Critique of Capitalism « Vox Nova()

  • Blackadder

    Fair enough. Can I assume, then, that you have read the primary sources Woods cites?

  • Policraticus

    Blackadder,

    Yes, I have, and I encourage you to do the same, if you already have not, and also to expand that list to include the more important figures that Woods glaringly has left out.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/voxnova/ Morning’s Minion

    I wonder how people like Woods and Novak deal with the teachings of Leo XIII and Pius IX. There’s abolsutely nothing ambiguous about how they address capitalism– “idols of Liberalism”, “twin rocks of shipwreck” (free market and collectivism, ” a poisoned spring…the errors of individualist economic thinking”.

  • http://ratzingerfanclub.com/blog/ Christopher

    I wonder how people like Woods and Novak deal with the teachings of Leo XIII and Pius IX.

    You might want to try reading them.

  • http://ratzingerfanclub.com/blog/ Christopher

    Free market, by its very machinery, reduces social interaction to exchange because it requires neither the presence of persons nor any reference to the value and dignity of the person. And because free market has bypassed the person in its foundations, it is impossible to re-insert the person and the necessary respect for his dignity without collapsing its structures.

    Michael Joseph: referring to my own post, that said, how do we deal with John Paul II’s nuanced acceptance of the free market and condemnation of ‘neoliberalism’?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/voxnova/ Morning’s Minion

    Actually, Christopher, everything I read of Novak (and I have read him) tells me be does not understand either CST or economics. I’ve never read Woods.

  • Blackadder

    Policraticus,

    It will probably be a while before I get around to reading Cardinal Cajetan’s De Cambiis, assuming I can even find an english translation (sadly, unlike you I don’t speak Latin). But I’d certainly like to read more of the figures Woods mentions, as well as any other figures he may have overlooked. Whom would you recommend?

  • Policraticus

    Blackadder,

    I’d skip Cajetan and go straight to Vitoria. He was one of the most important figures in the Salamanca school, and several of his works have been translated into English.

  • Policraticus

    Christopher,

    Because I am not yet convinced that John Paul II accepted free market econoics, however nuanced that acceptance was, I really cannot answer your question.

  • Phaedrus

    1. Perhaps the Pope could start with equalizing the distribution of income WITHIN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. Some parishes are obviously “richer” than others. Liberal Catholics that believe in equal distribtion of income therefore cannot oppose equal ditributionof collections within the church can they? btw I am willing to coordinate this reditribution process.

    2. All Catholic institutions churches, hospitals, schools must immediately act to pay all employees no less than $15 per hour or the local “living wage” whichever is higher. Every jnaitor, admissions clerk, paraprofessional must immediately receive a raise to no less than $30,000 per year.

    What better way to illustrate the church’s position than leading by example. If the chrch cannot immediately achieve the equal distribution of income within the church and immediate implementation of a living wage in its own institutions the church must desist from demanding such behavior from others.

  • Phillip

    Phaedrus,

    Good point. Teachers in Catholic schools typically make less then their public school counterparts. Retirement plans, health care provision are also pathetic compared to the public and private sector.
    Part of this can be easily remedied. A great emphasis on solidarity here but little on the other wing of Catholic social thought which includes subsidiarity. I was at a talk the other day where an administrator from the Diocese of Wichita, KS noted that the typical Catholic gives 0.1% of his income to the Church. In Wichita it is closer to 1% or ten times higher. With that one percent, the diocese there can provide free schooling (thus aiding many poor children stuck in sub-average school) as well as provide free nursing care to all who need it. Costs for hospital care are also much lower. If people think they have too much money, the principle of subsidiarity provides a solution. Give it away to the Church. Write a check to the charity of your choice. Give money to your local Catholic school for a scholarship for a needy student. Pay for a nursing home bed. The list goes on and on.

    As Christian anthropology points out the importance of the person, it is with the person that solidarity must begin.

  • Pete

    Policraticus,
    Your posts have been most informative. I just recently found Vox Nova and I’m finding it a wonderful educational supplement. Could you clarify a few things for me? I understand your maintaining of the strict definition of the “free market”, and the errors implicit in that system which result from the flawed anthropologies of Hume and Smith. Could you distinguish that “free market” from sort of economic freedom advocated by JPII and Ben XVI? Second, I doubt you would argue that captalism has had many positive effects in the form of various technological breakthroughs etc. (as well as plenty of abuses). Is there another system that could have achieved these positive breakthroughs, while avoiding the dehumanization inherent in capitalism? If not, then is it a case of foregoing consequencialist benefits that result from an intrinsically evil system? Finally, the one quibble that I have with your description of the necessary depersonlization of capitalist exchange is that it would seem to make my trip to Starbucks in the morning an inhuman exchange based on immoral mutual use. What if I just want a cup of coffee? Or a new car for that matter? Could you give me a basic description of your best case, or a better case scenario? Thanks!