In a recent article on the social doctrine of John Paul II in the Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica, Father Fernando de la Iglesia Viguiristi, SJ, had this to say about one facet of John Paul’s epic 1991 encyclical, Centesimus Annus:
To the key question, ‘After the collapse of communism, is capitalism the only alternative left?’ Wojtyła [i.e., John Paul II] replied, ‘If by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative’ (CA 42).
Fair enough; that’s an accurate quote. But why did the professor of international economics at the Pontifical Gregorian University omit the sentence immediately before that negative judgment, to wit:
If by ‘capitalism’ is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a ‘business economy,’ ‘market economy,’ or simply ‘free economy.’
I completely agree with the late pope that “free economy” is the better term here, and not only because the word “capitalism” evidently causes European academics to break out into hives.
A free economy — one in which the market, not the state, is the dominant actor in economic life — is one of the three interlocking sectors of the free and virtuous society of the future that John Paul II outlined in Centesimus Annus, the other two being a democratic polity and a vibrant public moral culture.
In John Paul’s view, both the democratic political community and the public moral culture were essential in tempering and directing the tremendous energies that free economies let loose, so that those energies serve individual human flourishing and social solidarity. The democratic polity does that by devising a legal and regulatory framework for the free economy, one that rewards honesty and creativity and punishes corruption. The public moral culture (which the Church helps shape) does that by helping form a citizenry which understands that some appetites are not to be indulged, because they harm individuals and destroy the virtues necessary to live freedom — including economic freedom — nobly.
Given 21st century economic and political realities, the issue is not choosing between a market-centered economy and the socialist fantasy that continues to seduce intellectuals. The real issue is the degree of regulation that should frame the activities of the free economy, on everything from minimum wages to pornography to carbon emissions to the development of artificial intelligence. The debate over the proper legal regulation of the economy is ongoing, as it should be. Right now, it’s quite heated, and the players in that drama include not just old-style liberals and conservatives, but populists and “national conservatives” who are unhappy with free trade and seem smitten by national industrial policies of the sort favored by social democrats and others on the left.
This ongoing debate can take two important lessons from Centesimus Annus, I suggest.
The first has to do with the nature of wealth in a post-industrial world, and the implications of that for economic justice. If wealth today is created primarily by economic imagination and entrepreneurial skills working through disciplined and expanding networks of production and exchange, then the prime imperative of justice in the economy is the inclusion of as many people as possible in those networks — which means anti-poverty programs committed to the empowerment of the poor. In a U.S. Catholic context, that 21st-century economic reality underscores the fact that the most effective of the Church’s anti-poverty programs are our inner-city schools, the survival of which is a moral and social imperative.
The second lesson is related to the first and touches the sharply debated question of “globalization.” No doubt globalization has had adverse consequences for some Americans; it has also helped lift as many as two billion people out of abject poverty. Living the social-ethical virtue of solidarity, so stressed by John Paul II, would seem to mean addressing those two facts of 21st-century economic life together, not setting them against each other in a nationalistic, zero-sum game of beggar-thy-neighbor.
The question of “how,” I leave to the economists. The principle is what the Church should address.
(George Weigel’s column ‘The Catholic Difference’ is syndicated by the Denver Catholic, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Denver.)
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“The democratic polity does that by devising a legal and regulatory framework for the free economy, one that rewards honesty and creativity and punishes corruption. The public moral culture (which the Church helps shape) does that by helping form a citizenry which understands that some appetites are not to be indulged, because they harm individuals and destroy the virtues necessary to live freedom — including economic freedom — nobly.”
This may be the ideal, but it is far from the real in this county at least. In the United States, the entire “regulatory framework” (e.g. unjust at-will employment) surrounding employment and “labor relations” is the product of corruption/malice/ignorance stretching back at least to the 19th century.
Rerum Novarum (1891) and Quadragesimo Anno (1931) should have been paid very close attention to by judges and lawyers, but corruption appears to be stronger than morality. If the same had been MANDATED to be Catholics, then it is – hopefully – much more likely that things would have turned out differently. As it is, there is justice in case law (FYI injustice could never – by definition – be the basis of case law.), but it is buried deep and is CRIMINALLY ignored by corrupt judges and their corrupt lawyer accomplices.
There was a good comment that I came across which was popular on a “right” website – which eventually banned me from commenting (i.e. upsetting TPTB). It was along the lines that the quickest way to be fired was to tell the truth. If I recall correctly, it was in response to an article where some person got fired from Fox News for offensive language related to the (AFAIK) fraudulent COVID-19 “pandemic.”
“The real issue is the degree of regulation that should frame the activities of the free economy, on everything from minimum wages to pornography to carbon emissions to the development of artificial intelligence. The debate over the proper legal regulation of the economy is ongoing, as it should be. Right now, it’s quite heated, and the players in that drama include not just old-style liberals and conservatives, but populists and “national conservatives” who are unhappy with free trade and seem smitten by national industrial policies of the sort favored by social democrats and others on the left.”
There is room for debate, but not much.
Minimum wages MUST be based on HOUSEHOLD need and be tied to, ideally, a male breadwinner. The current minimum wage should be at least $24/hr.
It should be obvious to any Catholic that pornography – like contraception – ought to be outlawed. And the Communications DECENCY Act of 1996 was supposed to do that for the Internet – until it was “corrupted” by mistaken/corrupt courts.
There is no doubt that human-caused “global warming” is a hoax. Carbon emission regulation is a means of technocratic/globalist totalitarian control.
Free trade is like free speech. It can be abused. And abuse of it MUST be corrected.
If memory serves, the late Fr. John Neuhaus published a summary of Centesimus Annus for which he was faulted in dismissing as residual baggage this: “This [‘concerted worldwide effort to promote development’–italicized] may mean making important changes in established lifestyles, in order to limit the waste of environmental and human resources, thus enabling every individual and all the peoples of the earth to have a sufficient share of those resources” (n. 53).
With this sobering perspective, the grounding of the Catholic Social Teaching NOT in ideology, but in “the field…of theology and particularly of moral theology” (n. 55) gains decisive poignancy. This grounding (as Weigel would affirm) rather than in, say, science especially when linked to consequentialism and proportionalism (as transcended in the moral absolutes of Veritatis Splendor, 1993).
So, in addition to what we might “leave to the economists” are these three points:
FIRST, “[h]ere we find a new limit on the market: There are collective and qualitative needs which cannot be satisfied by market mechanism. There are important human needs which escape its logic” (n. 40); something about both the “human ecology” and the “natural ecology” (nn. 37-40) which are distinct but interrelated; “[man] with the capacity to transcend every social order so as to move toward truth and goodness; [and] structures of sin […] to destroy such structures and replace them with more authentic forms of living in community is a task which demands courage and patience” (more than the sharp pencils of economists, n. 38)…
SECOND, but, yes, also, “there exists another form of ownership which is becoming no less important than land: the possession of know-how, technology and skill [italics]. The wealth of industrialized nations is based much more on this kind of ownership than on natural resources [….] the role of disciplined and creative human work [italics] and, as an essential part of that work, initiative and entrepreneurial ability [italics] becomes increasingly evident and decisive” (n.32).
THIRD, regardless of the slanted and hasty flavor of, for example, Laudato si (2015, hurriedly timed to be associated with/influence the political arena at the Paris Climate Accord), there is this historic issue of the tipping points and feedback loops in the global and local ecologies.
Very perplexing question, and even urgent, the sustainable OR unsustainable trajectory of past and future centuries of cultural utilitarianism—within ecological resilience OR not?
With Weigel, the message of the Catholic Social Teaching (CST) resists the globalist ideology of self-appointed elites. Instead, CST raises the moral conundrum of proclaiming: (1) wider solidarity AND concrete subsidiarity—always both together, (2) the transcendent human person AND the family—always both together, (3) rights AND responsibilities—always both together, (4) informed conscience AND faithful citizenship—always both together, (5) the option for the poor AND the dignity of work—always both together, and (6) all of these AND sustainable care for God’s somewhat sacred creation—always both together.
Therefore, insufficient are BOTH the overconfident and myopic benefit-cost analyses of “economists,” AND the ideo-theology in high places of the so-called Jesuit spirituality, for example, the truncated quote cited by Weigel from Father Fernando de la Iglesia Viguiristi, S.J.
Thank you, George, for this piece and for specifically pointing the out-of-context and misleading quote by Fr. VIguiristi.
Difficult time for those aspiring to be faithful Catholics when virtually nothing that comes from Rome can be trusted. St. JP II pray for us.