Friday, January 23, 2015

Better Together

In today's WSJ, Tim Busch weighs in to explain that despite claims to the contrary Catholicism and capitalism can be compatible:

Lest more controversy swirl, it is important to point out that the principles behind this initiative and the principled entrepreneurship program are consistent with Catholic teaching. Consider the seminal text on Catholicism and economics, Pope Leo XIII ’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, which discusses at length the “rights and duties of capital and labor.”

The encyclical, along with the resulting body of literature from successive popes, lays out the qualities that must be present in a just economic system. Among other things, the list includes the protection of private property and human freedom, a concern for the common good, and, most important, a deep respect for human dignity and a “preferential option” for the poor.

Capitalism meets these criteria better than any other economic system. It is also the single most effective means of alleviating poverty. In the past 20 years alone, it has lifted more than a billion people out of extreme poverty, according to the Economist. It is also single-handedly responsible for creating a global two-billion-person middle class over the past 300 years.

But free markets only work within a moral culture. When business is unmoored from a concern for the common good, capitalism can slide into cronyism and corruption—exactly what Pope Francis has critiqued in recent months. It is such perversions of a free-market economy that do not fit Catholic teaching.

This is why it's important to distinguish between critiques of what you could call perversions of capitalism and free markets and critiques of the principles of capitalism and free markets. Those who really understand and espouse capitalist principles abhor cronyism and corruption as much as the critics who lump it all together under the umbrella of capitalism. Just as those who truly understand and espouse Catholic principles abhor the abuses and corruption of the those who act in the name of the Church.

In this, both Catholicism and capitalism have something in common. To borrow from the great G.K. Chesterton: both have not been tried and found wanting; instead all too often both have been found difficult and not tried.