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Winters on Catholic Libertarians

At the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters makes the "Catholic Case against Libertarianism." Along the way, he remarks on the condescension of those who have attributed Pope Francis's bracing language about inequality to his South American ignorance of how we Americans do capitalism.

The most appalling critique is the meme that poor Pope Francis is a benighted Argentine, incapable of recognizing the virtues of capitalism because of his experience. In the first place, insofar as capitalism is now a global system—and recall that the libertarians tend to be great champions of globalization—Pope Francis’ experience of it is as valid as anyone else’s. But, more alarmingly, I do not recall any of my conservative or libertarian friends objecting to anything that came from the mouth or pen of St. Pope John Paul II because he was a Pole, or raising the concern that a doctrinal statement by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI must be dismissed, or minimized, or so heavily contextualized as to be dismissed, because of the narrow vision he brought with him from Bavaria. 

Winters, who is a visiting fellow at Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, has helped organize the institute's conference on libertarianism and Catholic social teaching, which will take place tomorrow in Washington D.C. Among the speakers and panelists will be Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa and chair of Council of Cardinals; Spokane Bishop Blase Cupich; John DiIulio of the University of Pennsylvania; and Mark Shields of the PBS Newshour. I'll be participating in the afternoon roundtable discussion on "How Libertarianism Affects the Culture." I'll post a link to video of the conference as soon as it becomes available.

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Right wing jingoism is always ready to rear its head. We see this also in the case of the American"hero"; a vet, now in a Mexican jail for having  entered the country with banned weapons.The whole right wing is now  bullying, and harrassing the Mexican government for daring to enforce their laws against a US citizen who admittedly entered their country with banned weapons and lied before a judge.The same arrogance occured in the right wing media, when the American Amanda Knox was on trial in Italy.Then the right wing media was saying that the legal system of Italy goes back to the Middle Ages  implying their mind set is mideveal and her prosecution invalid.This jingoism  is always ready to assert itself when  the right wing geets  challenged by the rest of the world.Appalling!

The most appalling critique is the meme that poor Pope Francis is a benighted Argentine, incapable of recognizing the virtues of capitalism because of his experience. In the first place, insofar as capitalism is now a global system—and recall that the libertarians tend to be great champions of globalization—Pope Francis’ experience of it is as valid as anyone else’s.

This is both true and not true.  Pope Francis' experience is necessarily specific to him, and may not correspond to the experience of people who live in other places.  Maybe capitalism works better in some other places than in Argentina ("works" here being shorthand for "treats people more fairly and justly").  And maybe Francis' critique is more applicable in some places than others.

It seems clear that quite a few people of concluded that some of Pope Francis' economic comments don't pass the credibility litmus test.  I think people feel free to ignore him because they conclude that, whatever problems he's talking about, it has nothing to do with them.

 

whatever problems he's talking about, it has nothing to do with them

 That would be my main criticism of libertarianism. It denies that subsidiarity by denying that they have any responsibility for anyone else.

 Ryan - I agree with your criticism.  My supposition, though, is that many Catholics and others of good will who participate in the marketplace don't deny subsidiarity, or other planks of Francis' economic teaching, so much as not see their applicability.  They don't understand what he is telling them nor see why it is relevant to them and what they do.

For example, recently and famously he tweeted, "Inequality is the root of all evil".   Presumably that is some sort of economic critique (?), but the truth of the statement is not self-evident, and in fact many people of good will would disagree; they might point to sin or the Devil or greed as being the root of all evil.  He has also decried "trickle-down economics", a phrase that few people use today.  I just think a lot of people are left scratching their heads, wondering "What is he talking about?"  And then, because most people seem to like him and wish to extend the benefit of the doubt to him, they speculate, "Well, maybe that's true in Argentina?"

 

I suspect that if anyone is ignoring or dismissing Pope Francis's comments on economic inequality because of his 'other' context, it is probably because the problem has very much to do with them.  It's a guilty reaction.  He's called the game for what it is and they're uncomfortable with the plain spoken truth so they try to obfuscate it with phony details.

I hope someone at the conference invokes the spirit of Frederic Bastiat, a notable Catholic libertarian of the early 19th century.   He is buried in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome.  People go there for the Caravaggio paintings but they are unknowingly infected with the libertarian spirit.  Read his essay, The Seen and the Unseen.

The Acton Institute has sponsored a special issue of the journal Econwatch focusing on the question  "Does Economics need an infusion of religious or quasi-religious formulations?”  Daniel Finn, a Commonweal contributor is one of the authors.  There should be a "trigger warning" for Michael Sean Winters.

 

http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2014/05/economics-and-r...

 

Jim Pauwels,

It is certainly fair to be unsure about what a 140 character message means or to be unsure about how best to respond to a global economy in a moral fashion. That is very different from the immediate response by the Acton Institute to declare these messages to be wrong because they imply that collective action via the government might not only be morally permissible but also morally necessary.

Shayne LaBudda:

Exactly. 

 

As an aside, does the good Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga ever decline an invitation? It seems as though he has become one of those "airport bishops" who is always traveling for all kinds of speaking engagements, rather than, you know, tending his flock. 

 

 

Jim Pawels,

I think we can all agree that twitter isn't the best method for delivering a critique on complex matters. And certainly one's life experiences impact how you see things.  Where you stand depends onwhere you sit is the old saying.   But putting that aside, I would argue that those who don't see how Francis' message applies are either missing the message because they are so wrapped up in ideology or willfully ignoring it.  While relative to the rest of the world, the US might be in better shape, reality is that since the mid-1970s income inequality has increased steadily.  Since 2007, the number of homeless families in the US has grown dramatically.  Sorry Jim, but Francis' teachings do indeed apply. 

One other note on Argentina.  From the 1990s on, it has been exactly the form of free market economic paradise that libertarians should love.  Of course it doesn't work too well, but that never stopped a theorotician.  In a sense, since the end of military rule, Argentina has stumpled from one free market solution to another with little success. 

I am pretty sure that what concerns the Pope and most other commentators is not income equality but its current extremes.  I think few object to the company president making a lot more than most workers.  But at a certain level the discrepancy is too great.  If the president or owner has so much income that he can no longer remember how many houses he owns, and one of his employees works full-time and cannot feed, clothe, and shelter her children, that seems a real moral issue.

 It denies that subsidiarity by denying that they have any responsibility for anyone else.

 

I dont think thats limited to libertarians.  Consider liberals - "if it feels good, do it" which is infected with the same lack of responsibility for others.

Rocco Palmo @ Whispers in the Loggia printed this today  (http://whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com/) :

 

* * *

The Catholic Case Against Libertarianism.

Keynote. June 3rd. 2014

 

Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodríguez Maradiaga SDB

Archbishop of Tegucigalpa

The top comment at NCR says that libertarianism is about non-compulsion. This is false. If someone takes something from them, they believe in compelling the person to give it back. If someone tresspasses, they believe in compelling the person to leave. If someone owes them money, they believe in compelling the person to relinquish their property to settle the debt.

This works well for those favored by the status quo, but does a major disservice to those who have been wronged in the past or just were not favored by the vagaries of life. 

@ Jim McCrea

Thanks for the link. That was a good read, which must have been a good speech.

Now, I can't wait to hear what "the libertarians/conservatives" have to say about what the Cardinal said. Maybe, they'll come up with something new this time around. Maybe they'll ask Cardinal Dolan to "write" another op-ed piece!

I read the speech.  Whatever Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga is decrying, I don't think it is Libertarianism.  What is this conference about? 

Cardinal Mariaga's appeal is heart-felt and quite consistent with Catholic social principles.  But I find it sadly non-practical because his exhortaions to help the poor give no concrete programs for doing so.  

The problems are economic, so the solutions must be economic.  However the good-hearted cardinal doesn't offer any *economic* solutions.  He doen't tell us HOW  a country can provide more yobs for the young people and recently laid off workers  who are anxious to work.   It would seem to me that investement in new businesses or expansions of old ones is the answer.  But HOW to get the private sector to expand the economy is the big problem.  Capitalists these days seem unwilling to risk their gelt in shaky, under-performing economies.  (Chicken capitalists!)  

Of course, government programs which hire the unemployed are another potential huge source of jobs (e.g., public works re-habilitating public roads, dams, etc.).    But that would be temporary and not enough to solve the long-term unemployment problem.

So what should Cardinal Maradiaga propose specifically?

The problems are economic, so the solutions must be economic.  

It's possible that the economic issues are themselves symptoms of an underlying spiritual malaise.  This, I thought, was the strongest part of the Cardinal's address: when he spoke of the poor being ignored, and the global culture of indifference.  This is an area where the church's voice on behalf of the poor is critical.

I don't think Cardinals and Popes have global economic policy competence.  I do think they are competent at diagnosing spiritual and moral problems.  I think their job is to call out those issues in light of the Gospel.  The specific solutions should come from people who have competence in that technical area.  Those experts, or some of them, are themselves members of the Body of Christ.  It is their sacred vocation to bring that faith and moral discernment and commitment to social justice to policymaking.  As I understand it, that is precisely how the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights came about.  That process should be the model for socially just economic policymaking.

 

 

Participants in this discussion might be interested in Charles M. A. Clark’s review of Samuel Gregg’s Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy and Human Flourishing: https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/book-reviews/blessed-are-rich 

 

See also, Roger Scruton’s “The Good of Government”: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2014/06/the-good-of-government

Ann Olivier,

Practical solutions aren't the sphere of a Cardinal. Rather, their job is to lay out the principles by which our proposals and societies should be measured.

I'd recommend two major changes. First, expand the federal, state, and local governments to reverse the cutbacks of the past five years. If goverment payrolls had expanded at the same rate as they have during recent history instead of contracting, our jobs crisis would be much less severe. Second, I'd have the Federal Reserve announce a shift in policy to have a 4% inflation target rather than 2% and commit to having average inflation meet this target rather than accepting it undershooting. This would encourage capitalists to find productive uses for their money rather than keeping it parked in safe assets.

Ryan --

I must disagree that the clergy must always be silent about economic problems.  Granted, if they aren't experts then their opinions don't count for any more than thata of the average person.  However, clergymen, most especially Catholic ones, often have a great amount of expertise concerning the de facto needs of poor people, expertise gained by overseeing systems of  hospitals, schools, and other institutions serving the public.

Further, *everyone*has an obligation to speak out against obviously great inequities, such as the lack of opportunity for many young people due to the bad education of the kids who live in slums, and most especially we need to speak out (and take action) against the poverty that is obvious in many parts of our counry.  No, we don't have to agree with the clergy persons' solutions, but we do have to make some effort to find suitable solutions based on facts.  And if we have any sense we'll recognize that the bishops do have some special expertise in these matters, not only of the economic facts presenting themselves but of the ethical principles which should guide solutions.

Jim P. --

As I said to Ryan, Catholic bishops have a particular expertise about the situation of poor people because of their involvement in Catholic institutions which deal wih the poor.  Economic solutions require data about the facts of the problems, and the bishops can definiely contribute to the data about current conditions, and if they know some basic economics they can also contribute to a dialogue about solutions.

Sure, behind many economic problems are moral ones.  But even if you change a rotten capitalists heart, if he or she doesn't act then the poor -- and now the middle class in the U. S. -- will coninue to suffer.  And just how often do he truly greedy change?  In my experience, rarely.  So then government must coerce them (usually by forcing them to pay taxes) for the sake of justice.  Coercion is not intrisically immoral.  See Matthew's recent speech on libertarianism.

Have you read Picketty?  I'm just starting it.  Very readable, though I haven't gotten very far yet.

Ann,

I don't think they should be silent. Rather, I don't think that they need to know the solution to point out the problem. If a priest know how to fix the sink, great, but I'm not going to criticize him for pointing out the sink is broken and letting the plumber figure out how to fix it.

Ryan --

I think we need to think the question of when it is appropriate for clergypersons to speak out about political issues with moral dimensions.  When I was a litle child the general presupposition seemed to be that the clergy have no business being involved in politics at all, at all.   Then around 1936 in my diocese Archbishop Rommel arrived and started to thunder against segregation.  Later, when the holocaust was revealed, the world condemned the German clergymen who had NOT spoken out against the anti-Semitism of the Nazis.  Eventually in the U. S.  Catholic the bishops started to speak out on social issues but in very, very general term.  Later,  conservative Protestant clergypersons began speaking out on very specific  political issues, and tsome of them even told people whom to vote for and whom not to vote for by name.  Now some Catholic bishops do that.

So where and how and when to draw the line?  I think we need a thread on it.  Given he Holocaust and some lesser but still very significant political evils, I just don't think there should be any absolute prohibition of clergypersons speaking out, if, that is, they are competent.

I know this topic hasn't been active for a few days (and in fact I hadn't noticed the most recent comments - my apologies if anyone was awaiting a response from me), but I wanted to note that this conference continues to make waves in the public square.  Earlier this week, Kevin Williamson of National Review wrote a piece criticizing Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga's speech and Catholic social teaching on economic matters more generally.  In my opinion, it's not his best work.  And now, Elizabeth Stoker, a Cambridge divinity student whose writing I don't believe I've previously encountered, has written a response to Williamson that is so rippingly good that I highly recommend it.  Headline: "An adviser to Pope Francis says Catholicism is incompatible with libertarianism. He's right."

 

Thanks, Jim. Stoker makes a good point about property rights, which are not natural rights and depend on the state for their enforcement. Libertarians often claim that the state equals coercion and therefore violence. Christians who call themselves libertarians like to point out that Christianity has always been suspicious of violence—hence the (theoretically ) rigorous conditions for a just war. But libertarians (as opposed to anarchists) have no problem with coercion in the enforcement of property rights.

By the way, the conversation on this topic has migrated up to this thread. I don't know if you saw it.

The way I learned it Aquinas thought that there are property rights, whether or not they are "natural" or inalienable rights.  For one thing, the commandment "Thou shalt not steal" implies such rights.  But they are not absolute, and are for the good of both the individual and the community.  They are an *addition* to the naural law -- property rights are *reasonable*:

http://scholarship.law.marquette.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3288&context=mulr&sei-redir=1&referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Furl%3Fsa%3Dt%26rct%3Dj%26q%3Dthomas%2520aquinas%2520on%2520property%26source%3Dweb%26cd%3D4%26sqi%3D2%26ved%3D0CDAQFjAD%26url%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fscholarship.law.marquette.edu%252Fcgi%252Fviewcontent.cgi%253Farticle%253D3288%2526context%253Dmulr%26ei%3DINGbU8X-OPjIsASxyoCYBw%26usg%3DAFQjCNEX_8Ta5ffKwS9g4U20wT5bMZKMdg#search=%22thomas%20aquinas%20property%22\

Here's  another article about Thomas' view:

Five Insights About Private Property from Aquinas | Institute for Faith, Work & Economics Blog

Perhaps the most important anti-libertarian principle of Thomas:  for the sake of justice, the state may take away private property.

The way I learned it Aquinas thought that there are property rights, whether or not they are "natural" or inalienable rights.  For one thing, the commandment "Thou shalt not steal" implies such rights.  But they are not absolute, and are for the good of both the individual and the community.  They are an *addition* to the naural law -- property rights are *reasonable*:

http://scholarship.law.marquette.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3288&context=mulr&sei-redir=1&referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Furl%3Fsa%3Dt%26rct%3Dj%26q%3Dthomas%2520aquinas%2520on%2520property%26source%3Dweb%26cd%3D4%26sqi%3D2%26ved%3D0CDAQFjAD%26url%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fscholarship.law.marquette.edu%252Fcgi%252Fviewcontent.cgi%253Farticle%253D3288%2526context%253Dmulr%26ei%3DINGbU8X-OPjIsASxyoCYBw%26usg%3DAFQjCNEX_8Ta5ffKwS9g4U20wT5bMZKMdg#search=%22thomas%20aquinas%20property%22\

Here's  another article about Thomas' view:

Five Insights About Private Property from Aquinas | Institute for Faith, Work & Economics Blog

Perhaps the most important anti-libertarian principle of Thomas:  for the sake of justice, the state may take away private property.