December 16, 2017

IM Book Review: Defending The Free Market

Father Robert Sirico has travelled a long twisty road from the left end of the political spectrum to the right and from a Catholic upbringing, to Protestant dabblings, to prodigal wanderings and back again to Catholicism and the priesthood.

Sirico (yes, brother to Tony of the Sopranos) caught my attention a few weeks ago in an interview sparked by the publication of his latest book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy. It struck me as an odd topic for a Catholic priest, but he deftly and charmingly defended his view that free markets are not only most efficient, but most moral. Yes, an odd topic for a priest, but even odder for a man who counted Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda as close friends and fellow activists during the Vietnam Era. So of course, I rushed right out and bought his book. Such colorful characters and their writings tend to invite closer scrutiny.

As a result of his own inward and outward scrutinizing, Sirico finally made the Catholic Church he was born into the house of his spiritual rebirth and also where he would spend his days as pastor, teacher, researcher and writer. His political conversion was hardly less life changing. Though he claims no affiliation with any political party, he helped found The Acton Institute, an organization that for more than two decades has been dedicated to studying religion, liberty and the practical effects of world markets on poverty and human rights.

Freedom and Property Rights

At the basis of Sirico’s contention that free markets are most moral is his belief in the principle that other human rights diminish when people are not free to own property. In this he echoes Austrian economist, Frederich Hayek. It’s no secret that we humans long for freedom and will go to great lengths to achieve it and protect it. And there is no doubt freedom can be and often is used selfishly. He says, “The free enterprise system isn’t perfect, of course, for the simple reason that human beings aren’t perfect. Every vice you see among human beings, you will also see in the markets they create.” But Sirico points out that an atmosphere of freedom is also the best breeding ground for the human creativity that benefits untold millions. Think Louis Pasteur. Think the Wright brothers. Think Thomas Edison.

Conversely, it is the political movements that have accomplished the “abolition of private property” practiced at various times and in various places throughout world history (and more contemporarily in the USSR, communist China, North Korea, Cuba, etc.), that have established “many of the most brutal regimes in the twentieth century.”

In free societies, where people can own property and the rule of law protects against theft and other violations, trades that benefit each party can take place.

As kids, we learned all about this going through our Halloween candy. Some liked Snickers bars and some liked M&Ms. It was mutually beneficial to trade until everyone got more of what he or she wanted. It’s what happens when we go to the grocery store, or the car dealership, or to a doctor’s office or to work, except we use currency as a means of exchange. We trade our skills or labor for money and then that money for what is valuable to us. It happens in small businesses and big ones. A product or service is offered that provides value, determined by the customer. The dollars that go into the business feed and house the business owners, the employees, the vendors and a host of others. Sometimes businesses also give away dollars, so people who aren’t integral to its operation benefit as well. Additionally, tax dollars from the business provide societal benefits, again not necessarily to those integral to the operation.

Sirico explains that because the U.S. market is relatively free, everyone – customer, supplier, employee and employer – is able to walk away from a transaction if it is not beneficial. Customers can go to a competing business for a better product or a cheaper price. Suppliers can refuse to sell to businesses that fail to meet their financial obligations. Employees that don’t like their working conditions or pay can search for another job. Employers can replace employees that drain company resources instead of enhancing them. Because the U.S. market is also protected by the rule of law, there is legal recourse for any party with a grievance.

Families, mom-and-pop businesses, huge corporations and countries are markets, from tiny to global and they mesh together in ways that are complicated and would be hard to plan even if they were completely understood. The system is greater than the sum of its parts because value, creativity and ingenuity are added along the way and resources, by virtue of their relative demand and relative scarcity, are utilized with efficiency and economy because people in the market are free to flex and seek the highest benefit.

Poverty and Charity

Freedom, according to Sirico, is the foundation for the antidote to poverty. Charity is part of the answer he says. As a Christian, Father Sirico can’t and won’t ignore Scripture on this point, but says charity is only part of the solution and it doesn’t always take the form we envision. Sometimes it seems easier to give money than the type of interaction and assessment that will provide more than temporary relief (i.e. the idea of giving a man a fish versus teaching him how to fish.)

Sirico say that if you really want to help the poor, don’t just throw money or aid. Instead, start a business and involve individuals’ talents, creative abilities and desire for dignity and actualization. Poverty is more than lack of means and its remedy is more than wealth.

To prove his point that free markets bring the jobs that pull people out of poverty more than entitlements and charity, he details several examples in his book, one of which is the industrialization that took place various places around the globe starting in 1800. From that year until 1950, he says poverty decreased by half and by half again between 1950 and 1980. During the same period, world population increased from one billion to seven billion.

The Fixed Pie

Sirico further uses these statistics to introduce a section entitled The Fallacy of the Fixed Pie. Although he recognizes the continued existence of poverty, he believes that statistics like the one just mentioned prove that freedom and creativity applied to wealth-making produces bigger pies and more pies for everyone to share in and negates the idea that the world’s pie is fixed and we humans are doomed to smaller and smaller portions as populations increase.

He says the disconnect comes in thinking politically versus dynamically, “In politics, the pie is fought over to determine who gets what portion of the pie; in the market, the pie can grow.”

Political solutions to address poverty outside national borders tend toward foreign aid and again, there is usually a fight. Politicians struggle to determine how their idea of the fixed pie should be distributed. For Sirico, foreign aid’s lack of effectiveness and moral questionability makes it not worth the political fight. Just how successful is foreign aid in helping the world’s poor? According to Sirico’s Acton Institute, not very. Natural disaster’s aside, foreign aid does little to address true need. What developing countries must have is freedom to incubate innate human creativity and the rule of law to protect those creative efforts from government corruption and immoral opportunists.

According to Sirico, there are two primary problems with foreign aid and a host of lesser ones. First, where freedom and property rights do not exist, foreign aid does nothing to help the poor. It facilitates the luxurious living of the corrupt. Sirico quotes British economist Peter Bauer on this subject, “Foreign aid is a process by which poor people in rich countries help rich people in poor countries.”

Second, indiscriminate foreign aid is responsible for wiping out some local industries in developing countries. For example, second hand clothing flowing from the U.S. and Canada in the ‘70s and ‘80s killed the cotton industries in Kenya. A solar power plant in Haiti died when aid groups provided free solar technology in the wake of the 2010 earthquake. And former President Bill Clinton believes providing subsidized U.S. rice to Haiti during his administration was a disaster for Haiti’s agricultural economy.

As controversial as any economic discussion is bound to be, one topic more than most may rouse some ire. It’s that of creative destruction.

Creative Destruction

Using a horticultural illustration, Sirico tells of the time he returned to his religious community and seeing what he thought was the ruination of the beautiful holly bushes surrounding the property. Another priest had spent the day whacking away at them. As it turned out, that priest who grew up farming understood the concept of pruning. What looked severe and damaging to Sirico was ultimately a therapeutic and preserving measure.

 Sirico says that as hard and painful as pruning is, it must be allowed to take place in markets. When Henry Ford introduced his Model T, it meant the end (or at least severe curtailment) of saddle makers and buggy makers. Suddenly, farriers and stable boys were job hunting and re-inventing themselves, perhaps as autoworkers, mechanics and gas station attendants. For those affected by creative destruction, the process can be wrenching, but in the end the process creates new possibilities. How many of us are in fields our parents or grandparents never imagined? How many of our children and grandchildren will be doing jobs we haven’t yet imagined?

For this reason, Sirico doesn’t support bailouts of failing industries. He believes we are all too ready to give up freedom to government control in exchange for a pseudo security that ultimately hurts markets and slows new job creation.

Despite the pain of creative destruction in layoffs and downsizing, Sirico thinks the alternative is worse. Eliminate the “positive results of even a hundred years of creative destruction …  and the result would be the swift death of literally billions of human beings.”

Help in Times of Need

What is the solution for easing the very real hardships of those experiencing unemployment or underemployment? Aside from creating a truly free market and eradicating taxation punitive to job-creating businesses, Sirico points out that God clearly demonstrates throughout Scripture that we are our brothers’ keepers. Administering help, for example, through a church or other service organization, is personal and meets social, emotional and spiritual needs as well as material ones. Dealing with needs on a smaller, more personal basis also weeds out potential fraud and provides for needs in more precise ways.

Even so, Sirico recognizes obstacles to this, namely that people turn first to government for help and churches often abdicate their societal responsibility. It’s partly a question of which has come first. Did welfare expand because churches failed or have churches given up because they can’t compete with programs that require little accountability and perpetuate entrenched poverty by providing long-term entitlements?

Greed

Greed is another topic that arises when people talk about capitalism. Sirico’s chapter on the subject sets out to debunk the notion that greed is the foundation for free markets, noting that it is simply a consequence of fallen natures and will be evident in any market, free or controlled. Greed is any normal desire that becomes inordinate and can be focused on things both material and immaterial. The result of greed unhindered is avarice, the attempt to obtain those inordinate desires “without regard to others.”

While greed and avarice can and do exist in free markets, property rights and the rule of law are in place to prevent victimization and to bring justice when it occurs. And strange as it may seem, the greedy can get rich while still providing useful and beneficial products and services. Prosecution is a negative motivation for the greedy to stay within the bounds of law, but positive motivations exist as well. Giving away money and services is tax deductible in most cases and it improves public images for businesses and creates philanthropic reputations for individuals.

Pricing

While still on the subject of greed, Sirico addresses the supply of resources and pricing. Isn’t it immoral and greedy to set prices on goods and services so high that people who need them can’t afford them? That is one frequently heard complaint about the free market. Pricing is simply a way of allocating resources. In a free market, the scarcer the resource, the higher the price. Lower prices indicate either abundance of product or low demand for it. Market determination of pricing may not be equitable, but it is indiscriminate. Discrimination is based in human subjectivity, but truly free markets are innately objective.

What happens in controlled markets where legislative bodies or government agencies and executives fix prices on goods and services? Pricing is subjective and cannot accurately reflect scarcity and demand. If goods or services are scarce, fixing their prices, in an attempt to make them available to more people, doesn’t make them less scarce, but it will create shortages, black markets and corruption in governing agencies. It does nothing to level the playing field and create the equality it purports to effect.

Equality Idolatry and Redistribution of Wealth

Speaking of equality, Sirico believes it is socialism’s golden calf. We worship and hail the nice ring it has to it, but the practical result is ultimately the imposition of “straitjacket sameness on everyone.” Furthermore, he lambasts the Occupy crowd for making no effort to distinguish among the upper one percent the difference between those “who grew rich from serving the 99 percent conscientiously and effectively” versus the swindlers and those in bed with government insiders. He bets they keep buying their Apple products because they find them useful and valuable despite the earnings that put Apple in the despised category.

At one time, Sirico was a progressive and thought redistribution of wealth was the humane answer to the problems of poverty. Now he says that redistribution of wealth, while sounding noble and generous, would be disastrous and cause untold suffering.

Confiscating the wealth of the world’s upper one percent would translate into about $13,000 for every person on the planet. After everyone got finished eating and spending his way through that amount in a relatively short period of time, the proverbial you-know-what would hit the fan because most of that top one percent of wealth is invested in businesses which would suddenly be dismantled, along with the jobs they create. Doing this would create a nuclear winter of the global economy.

Theology For Economic Man

Of course, there is much more to this book and I’ve highlighted only a few points. Sirico includes chapters such as Why State-Sponsored Health Care Is Not Compassionate and Caring For The Environment. He ends with A Theology For Economic Man, the premise of which is that despite being fallen in nature, humans are motivated by deeper desires than sensual gratification. Created in God’s image with spiritual capacity, humans properly connected to their Creator, are called to bring dignity and the culture of Heaven to all their pursuits, including work, be that changing a baby’s diaper, sacking groceries, farming fields that feed nations or administering complex organizations.

Although we have the potential for both virtue and vice, Sirico says, “Freedom is indispensible to the flourishing of a virtuous society … without virtues … we are susceptible to either of two temptations: to seek tyranny over others or to permit tyranny over ourselves, often because we idolize security and material comfort.”

Just before reading Father Sirico’s book, I finished one published a few years ago by Alan Hirsch. The Forgotten Ways, which discusses reasons for and antidotes to the decline of the Church in the West, is far different than Sirico’s, but some of its closing analyses draw some interesting parallels.

While Hirsh believes that consumerism (the striving for comfort and ease) trumps any other religious challenge in threatening the complete demise of Western Christianity, he also says that the nation-state has replaced God as “the mediator of protection and provision” and the middle class ideal of safety and security. Sirico would not disagree that consumerism threatens the theology of economic man, but he would seem to emphasize a greater threat in the ever-increasing relinquishment of freedoms to government in exchange for its ever-increasing protections and provisions. In either case, we deviate from seeing God as the mediator of our values and defer either to the marketplace or Big Daddy government to give us our “sense of identity, purpose, meaning and community.”

Sirico ultimately believes that without the virtues that arise from human submission to God’s internal government, we decay and spiral into greed and avarice, no matter the market, no matter the government. Yet, even when greed is present (and it will always be present) freedom and free markets still provide the most benefit to the poor and are most affirming of human dignity.

Comments

  1. Amazing. I will definitely be buying this book. Thanks for the heads up.

    “Sirico quotes British economist Peter Bauer on this subject, “Foreign aid is a process by which poor people in rich countries help rich people in poor countries.”

    Sadly true. This is an area where I have disagreement with NT Wright and his stance on blanket forgiving third world debt.It does not work. The next “democratic” tin pot dictator in line for improvement loans that wil be “forgiven’.

    • If you like the quote you should read Peter Bauer’s book Equality, the Third World & Economic Delusion. It is unparalleled in its description of third world poverty.

  2. Mmmmmm – this is more an American rather than a purely Catholic orientation, I think. I’ve interacted in some online discussions with people defending free-market capitalism with all the fervour of Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the tablets of the Law.

    It’s an economic system; it’s no better and no worse than the people who operate it. It’s not moral or immoral in itself; you can help people or exploit them in any system.

    But sure – as his own personal opinion (and not Official Economic System of the Roman Catholic Church), he can publish a book on any topic he likes 🙂

    • No doubt, Martha. Father Sirico doesn’t speak for the Catholic Church in this book.

    • The difference with free market capitalism is that nobody ‘operates’ it. Each of us are free to make our own economic decisions so each of operates our own system, in stark contrast with every other economic system. And the results point to the differences, and the benefits to all.

    • I agree, Martha. This seems an American view. Father Sirico might find Catholics elsewhere to be very different. As a slight aside, the word “charity” always sounds condescending and Victorian to me. I prefer to think of it as justice and the redistribution of wealth.

  3. Dan Crawford says:

    Sirico might better spend his time reading the Scriptures and Papal Encyclicals rather than Hayek and Rand. Analyses such as his are wonderfully meaningful abstractions in the classroom, depending as they do on the construction and destruction of straw men. The difficulty is that they bear little relation to the lives of those whose jobs have been outsourced and have found in the their middle age very few opportunities for employment which can support their families. Sirico’s economic principles can’t really explain how corporate medicine provides more “compassionate” care for those who have no access to medical care of any kind – the people Mr. Paul says should “prepare to die” since they have no insurance. The good priest might want to spend more time with real poor people, the ones trying to live on minumum wage jobs. If he finds that objectionable he might read novels by Dickens, Sinclair, and novels by contemporary writers who don’t write best-selling porn but instead focus on real people who have had to deal with the “benefits” of his ideal economic system. Mr. Sirico’s priesthood and education have been a waste. Maybe he ought to take a parish among the urban poor. Obviously, though, that might present difficulties for a man who has traded Christ for salvific faith in capitalism.

    • A bit of what Sirico says about Rand: ” … her foundational belief in radical individualism — an autonomy that precludes social obligation and responsibility — is problematic.” He says her ideas of the free market are in conflict with one of its hallmarks — the societal glue of engagement and responsibility.

    • Aidan Clevinger says:

      I don’t know why a belief that capitalism is a good system equals apostasy and rejection of Christ. Especially considering that Jesus showed exactly zero interest in politics or economics in the Gospels apart from His followers’ personal obedience to government and their personal giving. The fact that the priest in question defends capitalism doesn’t mean that that priest doesn’t help the poor. Capitalism and charity are not antithetical, and the principles one upholds in the political realm need not be the principles one upholds in the personal realm.

    • Aidan Clevinger says:

      While we’re on the subject of abstractions, which system would you like to put in the place of capitalism? I agree with you that there are gritty realities to capitalism that many free market defenders ignore – but isn’t this true of any system? Capitalism’s only real opponents are feudalism (which I think we can all agree didn’t work) and Socialism (the death toll in Soviet Russia alone seems to nix that one). So what would you like to propose as an alternative?

      • I’d like to just toss in a distinction here as food for though. It is worth mentioning that capitalism itself does not equal free markets. Sometimes capitalism can result in monopolies and those do not allow for free markets at all. However, Free Market Capitalism, as we are striving for here in the USA, attempts to both allow and restrain capitalism so markets do remain free. At present we aren’t doing a very good job since we seem to be drifting toward National Corporatism (a fascist-type system) where the government is in bed with and even owns certain companies. What it sounds like Sirico is trying to promote here is Free Market Capitalism which really is the best of all systems in this imperfect world.

  4. I may be off topic, of not off target here, but I had this sudden thought reading the comment from Martin (above):

    Blanket forgiveness for sin does not work. Jesus should have only for the sins of those who were the most righteous and who tried hardest to be good.

    Second though/qquestion
    If the 1% already own the bulk of the world’s wealth, where are the rest of “us” supposed to get any real wealth?

    • Josh in FW says:

      In a free market economy wealth is created not obtained. You create wealth by providing a product or service that previously didn’t exist or by providing a current product in a manner that is better (more efficient or higher quality) than those currently available.

    • I didn’t realize that the spiritual realm functioned along the exact same dynamic as a fiscal economy. Jesus was crucified by those he forgave. Perhaps we should invite the same from those who owe us money? Because, ultimately, that is what will help them most, right? I’m sorry, the analogy doesn’t work: We need forgiveness more than anything else in the world and are utterly incapable of earning it. The third world, on the other hand, often needs their corrupt governments to have their feet held to the fire. Blanket forgiveness might be an endorsement of their status quo. Jesus did include repentance as a requirement for forgiveness.

      The vast majority of people I have heard complaining about the “1%” were actually in that group and didn’t recognize it. I’m not saying necessarily you, but Wall St. protestors pimping iPods, iPads, Starbucks, etc… are not the marginalized, oppressed, underprivileged bottom class they think they are. Those who actually are I rarely hear complaining, I just see them working hard.

      • +1 Miguel. I tell my friends in college that if they take a part-time minimum wage McJob over the 3 month summer break, that puts them in the top 20% of income worldwide. (You can try it yourself at the instant calculator at http://www.globalrichlist.com.)
        Clearly, when you look at our standard of living in the context of human history, we are all living as the 1%.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Historically, Miguel, the most rabid Communists and Anarchists have been rich kids — trust-fund babies indulging their own little pyschodrama/temper tantrum against Mommy & Daddy telling them “No”. With all the rest of us cast as expendable red shirts in the movie of My Oppressed Life.

        Defiining “Anarchy!” as “I Get To Do ANYTHING I Want” without realizing that Anarchy means everybody bigger and meaner than them also gets to do anything THEY want. To them.

        And “The RICH (TM) Have to Pay Their Fair Share” — you have no idea how they jump with glee at the thought of “Now I have Dibs on everything The Rich(TM) have”. They never realize that it also means the homeless guy in the street also has dibs to everything they own — THEIR iPod, iPad, X-Box, car, apartment, clothes — “You’re RICH!” (From experience in fandoms, “Rich (TM)” is usually defined as “Anyone who has more than ME”.)

    • flatrocker says:

      Ninure da Hippie,
      Couple of observations on your comments…

      Your comment attempts to compare governmental blanket forgiveness of debt to scriptural blanket forgiveness of sin. Hopefully you would agree that neither wealth nor poverty are intrinsicly “states of sin.” And those that hold wealth or struggle through poverty are also not intrinsicly sinning. While the concept of “earned grace” has been covered in a variety of ways on this blog, associating debt forgiveness with sin seems a bit of a stretch.

      As for the second comment, might I suggest you look at the life stories of Steve Jobs, Jesse Jackson, Vera Wang, Warren Buffet, Barack Obama, Will Smith, Jack Welch, Joel Osteen, etc, etc, etc. Or how about the most succesful plumbing contractor in your town, or the auto dealer, or the Subway franchise owner, or the heart surgeon at your local hospital or …. well hopefully you see the trend. And please note, this is not an endoresment of any one particular person nor their methods for financial success.

      The point here is that alot of these individuals (and maybe most of these) were at one point in their lives part of the 99%. Each made it to the 1% in very different ways, but they are all part of the 1%. If being in the 1% is your life’s goal, go for it. However, understand the tradeoffs because there are many.

  5. He’s the brother of the actor who played Paulie Walnuts on The Sopranos, rather than the actor who played Tony Soprano.

  6. This is somewhat of tangent, but this is what came to my mind after reading this. I have a few friends on Facebook who posted this quote by Buckminster Fuller:

    We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.

    On the surface, I can understand why that’s appealing. There are plenty of resources on the planet even with the population the way it is. We produce enough food even during times of drought and famine to easily feed everyone. But yet there are people who are still dying of hunger and those who are still barely scraping by.

    But, here’s the thing. I believe if we somehow came up with some system that gave everyone some set allotment of resources, it would only be a short time before an imbalance would take over again. Charlatans would rise up and take advantage of people. You’d end up with haves and have-nots.

    The main reason a free market system has an advantage over other systems is that it gives people the means to actually provide for themselves and not be entirely dependent on a government or other body for their sustenance. There will always be abuses, and there will always be those who need help. And as the body of Christ we need to step up to help these people. We can’t simply depend on the government to do it. I’m not particularly interested in debating the merits of a government run healthcare system versus a private one at the moment. I think the situation in the US is unique compared to the much smaller European countries that have socialized medicine. I would be skeptical of a large federal program’s ability to really manage care throughout the varied regions in the US. It might not be impossible, but I’m not convinced it’s the best thing.

    Anyway, I pretty much hate debating politics, and I’m trying to look at the issue apart from the political sides associated with it. I do agree with Father Sirico that preserving individual freedom is the most important ideal for a government.

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    He says the disconnect comes in thinking politically versus dynamically, “In politics, the pie is fought over to determine who gets what portion of the pie; in the market, the pie can grow.”

    The Fixed Pie.
    i.e. We’re all passengers on this one small Spaceship Earth, with only so much to SHARE. (Two choruses of “Kumbayah…”)
    i.e. The Zero Sum Game, where since there is only so much to go around (the Fixed Pie), the only way to get more for ME is to take it away from YOU. By force if necessary.

    Despite the pain of creative destruction in layoffs and downsizing, Sirico thinks the alternative is worse. Eliminate the “positive results of even a hundred years of creative destruction … and the result would be the swift death of literally billions of human beings.”

    i.e. The Perfect Agrarian Society, Living In Simple Harmony With THE PLAAAAANET (TM). “THE PLAAAAANET will thank Us!” Latest incarnation of Citizen Robespierre’s Republique of Perfect Virtue.

  8. Klasie Kraalogies says:

    I largely agree with him, especially in his realisitic view of the human condition, and how it influences economic matters.

    However, all free systems have laws – it is what distinguishes freedom from anarchy. The laws are regulatory rather than restrictive in nature, insofar that they prevent extremities, and provide for the opportunity of maximum freedom and safety for all.

    As such, there is a difference between what is sometimes describes as unfettered capitalism, and a free market. In the latter, we stop people from becoming all-powerful, or undermining competition by dubious business practices etc. We try to ensure a minimum standard of infrastructure, healthcare and education, which in turn provides markets, workers and safe environments for business.

    Hayek is ok, but instead of proceeding to Friedman and eventually the Austrians, might I suggest the better (and incidentally, more Catholic) route would be the Ordoliberals – Roepke, Bohm, Eucken etc.

    Ordoliberalism has the best track record too – it is why Germany today is the pillar of Europe – and became so rising from the ashes after WW II.

    A short study – https://www.econstor.eu/dspace/bitstream/10419/4343/1/04_11bw.pdf

  9. Interesting how much this book sounds like Franky Shaeffer’s book “Is Capitalism Christian” – one that he disavowed many years later.

    • Perhaps Sirico and Franky waved as they passed each other in their respective migrations to the opposite side.

  10. Professor Failure says:

    Sounds like every other justification of morally problematic capitalism that I’ve seen.

    What makes it worse is that it tries to make this justification from a religious perspective.

    Yeah, I’ll be skipping this one.

    • Read Klasie Kraalogies comment above. I don’t think the good priest is talking about “morally problematic capitalism.”

  11. Jonathan says:

    A much better examination of the market from the Catholic side is “Being Consumed,” by William Cavanaugh, a theology professor at the Univ. of St Thomas.

  12. We have seen the results of unchecked capitalism with only the church to provide welfare and support. The most striking evocations of it are found in Dickens. The social welfare system was devised because relying on the charity of other is never enough. Confiscating all property as the Soviets tried in their collectivization is obviously not the solution, but charity has never been enough, especially given the population these days.

    An exception to this could be seen in the Mormon experiment before Utah became a state. A mandatory 10% tithe was placed on gross income and redistributed to the needy. The church also owned many businesses and a great deal of the property in Salt Lake City. To my untrained eye, this looks like a 10% tax on gross income and a socialist/monopolist property and business structure, although under the name of a church instead of a government. (Although in the Utah Territory, the LDS Church and local government were essentially the same.)

    I am curious to his arguments about government provided healthcare, given the reduction in cost and the improvement in overall health found in countries with single payer or similar systems. (Part of another online community I am part of regularly fields questions along the lines of “this looks serious, but I can’t afford to go to the doctor. Can I put it off?”)

    On a side note, given how Christian the United States is, I am somewhat surprised that the Christian Democracy never really took hold in the US as a political movement.

  13. warren merriman says:

    I don’t believe it, you actually publicized a well written book in defense of a free-market economy. I am especially shocked at the inclusion of the final thought (….freedom and free markets still provide the most benefit to the poor and are most affirming of human dignity). What’s next for Internetmonk, a review of a book by Wayne Grudem? How about a full column by Rush Limbaugh? Eventually you might even say something nice about the Beach Boys.

    • Warren, we share this review to stimulate discussion here at the iMonastery. And, like it or not, we do live in the midst of a free-market economy, giving us the privilege of critiquing it as part of it.

      And I am working on some insights from Brian Wilson, the greatest composer of our day and a minor prophet …

      • warren merriman says:

        Sorry about the sharp tongue. I grew up during the 1960’s (I am 67 years old), and my politics have gone from moderate to extremely conservative. I am a harsh critic of the economy (I blame both George Bush and Barack Obama for the mess that we are in).

        Along slightly different lines, have you ever heard of the Hollyridge Strings and their Beach Boy Songbooks?

        Warren

  14. Communism is not the antidote for greed, but it is the result. If you want to stop communism, invest in local businesses. Shop at mom+pop stores. Hire a neighbor kid to do yard work. Put your money in a local credit union. Build community. Invest wisely, but invest in in a way that helps your neighbor. This is what Calvin taught. This is at the heart of Lutheran doctrine.

    If religious conservatives believe that wealth is merely a right with which they can hoard and self-indulge as they please, then they alone are to blame if this country slips into communism or socialism.

  15. warren merriman says:

    Point well taken. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  16. Maybe like Calvin, we could force everyone to attend church and baptize their babies.

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  19. Why religious conservatives are not as alarmed over Randianism as they appear to be over communism is beyond me. Both are equally hostile toward Christianity and organized religion in general.

  20. Christiane says:

    “While greed and avarice can and do exist in free markets, property rights and the rule of law are in place to prevent victimization and to bring justice when it occurs.”

    no, they are not . . . too many ‘loopholes’ for profiteers and banks,
    not enough protection for workers and consumers

  21. You have brought up a very fantastic points , appreciate it for the post.