Home / Economics / Catholic Social Teaching / The Chips Begin to Fall Where They May

 

Jeffery Tucker recently wrote an article for Inside Catholic titled “Why Catholics Don’t Understand Economics.” Not only does it fail to address any concerns that Catholics have about economics, but in a fashion slightly removed from the Pythagoreans (who killed all who disagreed with them), Inside Catholic has banned anyone from making an informed comment against the Austrian position. Particularly, every member of this Review commenting on the site has had their IP addresses banned. Not that I generally read that fishwrap apart from this particular musing, so the parting is not quite so worrisome.

Fortunately, we have neither such unwritten policies nor recourse to the Pythagorean solution to debate. Likewise, Mr. Tucker is welcome to discuss and comment here.

In the first place, Tucker titles his post “Why Catholics Don’t Understand Economics”. Which Catholics? Does he mean all Catholics? Or Catholic laymen? Bishops? Priests? Maybe the Pope? Well, it seems that there is only one group of Catholics in history who have understood economics, and those were some 16thcentury Spanish Scholastics. That didn’t help Spain, which was caught in a backward economic situation for another two hundred years. Moreover, this is a false canard which has been seriously overused; the Spanish Scholastics never said anything approximating modern economics as Austrian-Libertarians mean it. Since translating and researching is well beyond the scope of this article (The collective teachings of the Salamancan fathers are in advance of 30 volumes) let us assume for the sake of argument that they were little Mises, Rothbards and Tuckers, the entire Catholic tradition as well as the Magisterium of the Church rejects these principles. So what of it?

Never mind that for now. What matters is that according to Mr. Tucker, no Catholic except for a remarkable exception of some scholastics at the University of Salamanca [sic] has understood economics including many Popes. Including myself apparently, but I’m just a troll in a traveling sideshow (as I was referred to by Inside Catholic’s administrator, contrary to its own editorial policy) so what do I know? What’s more:

It’s not just that the writers, as thoughtful as they might otherwise be on all matters of faith and morals, do not know anything about economic theory. The problem is even more foundational: The widespread tendency is to deny the validity of the science itself. It is treated as some kind of pseudo-science invented to thwart the achievement of social justice or the realization of the perfectly moral Catholic utopia. They therefore dismiss the entire discipline as forgettable and maybe even evil. It’s almost as if the entire subject is outside their field of intellectual vision.  (source)

Let us consider this for a moment. We at the Review, just as carefully as the first Distributists, have been quite careful to say that Distributism is an attempt to implement Catholic social teaching. One does not need to be Catholic to support and hold to Distributism. With this title Tucker is basically saying that Distributism is Catholic Social teaching. I can live with that. In fact we shall return to that at the end. Mr. Tucker further claims that we deny the validity of economics as a science in se. Firstly that is not true, but more importantly no one here believes in a perfectly moral Catholic utopia. Yet this is where we are at today, by saying that there needs to be justice in the market, that it is not sufficient to lower wages indefinitely and raise CEO pensions and benefits indefinitely, we are suddenly blind idealists in a Catholic utopia. I would challenge Mr. Tucker to ever find a Distributist writer, old or new who thought that perfection would suddenly arise out of the Distributist ideal. In fact, in last year’s Capitalist-Socialist-Distributist debate, Thomas Storck speaking for Distributism, said explicitly “Distributism does not aim at realizing 100% of its ideal.” Why is that? What is the point of having an ideal if you can’t realize it 100%? Because man is a creature afflicted by original sin and its resulting imperfections, thus no system is going to fully realize any conception of justice. Yet does this mean we abandon the pursuit of justice because one cannot fully realize the ideal?

A perfect example is a company which produces chemicals. There is a stream on its property. At a certain point the property ends but the stream continues to other tributary streams and constitutes a lot of groundwater for local homes. The chemical company decides, since the stream is on its property, to dump its waste into the stream since it saves them expensive disposal means and allows them to sell their products cheaper. The toxins in the water pollute the neighborhood groundwater and cause people to get sick, kill the fish in the stream and upset the local ecosystem. Under the libertarian schema there is nothing that can be done, because government can only intervene in the case of theft or fraud. The chemical company commits no fraud; neither do they take property that is yours. They might damage something that is yours, but it matters little as it is all to the dynamics of the market.  Now an economy based on justice and the common good rather than the concept that greed eventually makes for the common good in the form of lower prices, would say it doesn’t matter if the company has a stream on its property, it does not have the right to pollute water which affects so much locally.

So at the outset what is occurring is not that Mr. Tucker understands economics while Catholics do not. We simply have a different foundational principle around which economic theory is based. Secondly, for Mr. Tucker the “laws” of economics are as fixed and certain as the laws of gravity. The problem with this is that while what goes up must come down, it doesn’t follow that person (a) must invest his money, or that person (b) must pay his workers this, while CEO must be paid that. Economics properly speaking is a social science, not a physical or mathematical science. Human choices are not fixed and finite under certain conditions. In general, some things can be held to be true, such as that during times of infrastructure collapse most people will horde. Yet what if they don’t? As long as we are talking about human choices, that is a possibility, unless one believes in determinism.

Nevertheless Mr. Tucker thinks he has the solution as to why the trolls [sic] do not understand economics:

I have what I think is a new theory about why this situation persists. People who live and work primarily within the Catholic milieu are dealing mainly with goods of an infinite nature. These are goods like salvation, the intercession of saints, prayers of an infinitely replicable nature, texts, images, and songs that constitute non-scarce goods, the nature of which requires no rationing, allocation, and choices regarding their distribution. (Emphasis mine)

Aha! That is it! Why haven’t we figured this before? We don’t live in the real world. That is why we don’t understand economics. We deal in saints, grace, songs, sacraments. We don’t buy food, or eat and drink, or drive cars, or buy gas, or have jobs, or make business decisions, or own houses. Nope. We mainly deal in spiritual goods that are non-scarce and have no earthly value.

Seriously, does he think we sell indulgences to make a living?

In the meantime, most Catholics do not deal mainly in goods of an infinite nature. We do that too, but here this shows that the Catholic faith must be beyond Mr. Tucker’s intellectual vision. It follows from what was discussed above, he sees the world from the standpoint of atheistic economic principles (to such a level that God and the life of the soul are blasphemously reduced to goods), while Catholics see the world through the principles of justice and grace. But we still see the world! Contrary to whatever rose tinted glasses accompany Tucker’s bow-tie, Catholics deal in the earthly world of goods and services on a daily basis. Since some form of trade and exchange is necessary for 99.9% of people to live their lives, it is inconceivable that anyone could live and work where his main concerns were dealing in spiritual things, and that he was so stupid that he treated economic things of this world in the same manner. This is what Tucker is suggesting. He already suggested that Catholics that don’t see economics his way are stupid (it is beyond their intellectual vision), and he is saying it again that since we look to the next life and not this one, we have no idea how to conduct ourselves in this life.

Moreover, he goes on to say that these goods take on no space and can be reproduced infinitely. This is however far from reality. Images, texts, music (with respect to CDs and sheet music) are all bought and sold; a man who wishes to put religious items in his home must buy them. A man who wants to purchase a statue must buy them. Now obviously prayers, grace, sacraments etc. cannot be bought (because that is the sin of simony), his proof already fails because Catholics do in fact deal with money, commerce and exchange in the things Tucker mentions.

So let us back up and consider the difference between scarce and non-scarce goods. The term scarcity does not precisely refer to the quantity of goods in existence. It refers to the relationship between how many of these goods are available relative to the demand for goods. If the number available at zero price is fewer than people who want them for any reason whatever, they can be considered scarce goods. It means that there is a limit on the number that can be distributed, given the number of people who want them.

Scarcity is the defining characteristic of the material world, the inescapable fact that gives rise to economics. So long as we live in this lacrimarum valle, there will be no paradise. There will be less of everything than would be used if all goods were superabundant. This is true regardless of how prosperous or poor a society is; insofar as material things are finite, they will need to be distributed through some rational system — not one designed by anyone, but one that emerges in the course of exchange, production, and economization. This is the core of the economic problem that economic science seeks to address.

First of all, this analogy of non-scarce goods does not hold. If an icon can be copied indefinitely why is it that they cost between $30 and $100? An icon as a work of art is repeatable, but it must be written on a block of wood, with paint that must be acquired, by an iconographer who must be paid for his time. Sure, in theory I could produce all the icons myself by crushing my own scarabs and plants for dye and paint, cutting my own tree for wood, and producing my own brushes without exchanging a dollar, but even then I must apply capital and labor in order to produce a product which is desired for its religious value. While reference to prayers or the acquisition of grace or anything else spiritual follows, items of devotion do not follow as “non-scarce” goods. In fact they themselves are scarce goods, so Mr. Tucker is shooting himself down with his own example. Moreover if we remove things like books or art and stick to purely immaterial things, then the distinction is redundant at best since it is to the nature of a spiritual thing to be immaterial and hence not acquired as a clock or… as an icon, just as it is in the nature of food, tools, cars and religious goods to be material and therefore scarce. There is no question of these things.  Yet it is a misnomer to claim economics is the science of scarce objects, since this would necessarily embrace Communism, which believes the state is the best administrator of scarce goods, or Distributism which believes scarce goods are regulated by justice. It most certainly deals with scarce objects, yet archeology deals with erosion and I know of no definition of archeology that calls it the science of erosion. Economics is a social science, a study of human choices, Mr. Tucker’s human choices are based on two principles, namely the unlimited use of private property and prevention of theft and fraud. Ours is based on the justice of man’s acts in economy.

What this boils down to is that Tucker is claiming that because Catholics pray they have no concept of how material things work, as if Catholics did not live in the real world and have need of employment, buying food, buying clothes, selling clothes, taking out loans or starting businesses. We’re all too busy praying to know what all of those things are about! Therefore we don’t know anything about economics. On top of that I’m a troll in a traveling road show, but I was a manager at Wal-mart for 4 years, much to my own chagrin as a Distributist, but I made it. I wasn’t walking the floor rosary beads in hand worried about non-scarce goods such as grace, virtue or the “scarce non-scarce” Icon. I was doing a job (irrespective of my misgivings about it) for which I was remunerated and could then purchase more scarce items for my family’s consumption, in the way of food, clothes, gas and diapers, while making a house payment with my second job. Most Catholics are in the same boat. The thesis that focusing on our spiritual end causes us not to understand the use of temporal goods is nonsense. What it does is cause us to have different ideas about a social science, which Mr. Tucker somehow perceives that his minority opinion within the realm of economics constitutes science.

Mr. Tucker concludes his point arguing:

But consider people who have dedicated their life to the work of these non-scarce goods. One can easily imagine that they find immense power and glory in these goods. I certainly do. They are the things to which all religious people have devoted their lives. This is a fantastic thing–and truly, without non-scarce goods, the whole of civilization would come crashing down to the level of the animals.

At the same time, the world does not only consist of non-scarce goods. The economic problem deals with the issue of scarce goods. And this is just as important to the flourishing of life on earth. All things finite are subject to economic laws. We dare not ignore them nor ignore the systems of thought seeking to explain their production and distribution. Note that Jesus’ parables deal with both realms. So should we all.

There we have it in a nutshell. Catholics only live in the world of non-scarce goods (as if we were all in some kind of Carthusian order), but Jesus lived in both; let’s be like Jesus. After all, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope Leo XIII, St. Pius X, Pius XI and John Paul II did not live in both realms, they were stuck in the realm of non-scarce things, that is why they did not understand economics!

Why can’t those old Popes be more like Jesus?

Yet Jesus also said something else to the apostles, he told them “He who hears YOU, hears Me.” (Mark XVI:16) What does this mean? Catholics know what this means; it means that Jesus Himself invested the Church with His authority. When the Church binds men with His authority, they are bound. Yet this could get pretty tyrannical, so Christ put Peter in Charge and guides him. As Vatican I declared,

“The Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter, that by His revelation they might make new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith delivered through the Apostles.”

Apparently not when they are talking about economics. Then suddenly they are just too bound up with non-scarce goods to have any idea about what they are doing.

However the Popes did not think so. Leo XIII and Pius XI’s teachings are already well quoted on this website and elsewhere. St. Pius X, attempting to defend Pope Leo from dissent, insisted that Catholics are in fact required to submit to the Church’s social teaching:

We first of all declare that all Catholics have a sacred and inviolable duty, both in private and public life, to obey and firmly adhere to and fearlessly profess the principles of Christian truth enunciated by the teaching office of the Catholic Church. In particular We mean those principles which our predecessor has most wisely laid down in the encyclical letter “Rerum Novarum.” (Singulari Quadam no.2, emphasis mine)

Pius XI, after his swoon over non-scarce items, turned the Church’s attention to the scarcely understood scarce:

Many believe in or claim that they believe in and hold fast to Catholic doctrine on such questions as social authority, the right of owning private property, on the relations between capital and labor, on the rights of the laboring man, on the relations between Church and State, religion and country, on the relations between the different social classes, on international relations, on the rights of the Holy See and the prerogatives of the Roman Pontiff and the Episcopate, on the social rights of Jesus Christ, Who is the Creator, Redeemer, and Lord not only of individuals but of nations. In spite of these protestations, they speak, write, and, what is more, act as if it were not necessary any longer to follow, or that they did not remain still in full force, the teachings and solemn pronouncements which may be found in so many documents of the Holy See, and particularly in those written by Leo XIII, Pius X, and Benedict XV.

There is a species of moral, legal, and social modernism which We condemn, no less decidedly than We condemn theological modernism. (Ubi Arcano, no. 60-61, my emphasis)

As far as the good Pope is concerned, the teachings on the just price, just wage and government intervention to protect them are in fact part of universal ordinary magisterial teaching. This has been a constant teaching in the Catholic Church, at first in practice, but later in more explicit doctrine.

Mises recognized this, and declared:

“The fate of  Civilization is involved. For it is not as if the resistance of the Church to liberal ideas was harmless…The Church, Catholic as well as Protestant, is not the least of the factors responsible for the prevalence of destructive ideals in the world today.” (Socialism, Chapter 29, cf The Church and the Libertarian pg. 74)

In the end, when Tucker asks “Why Catholics Don’t Understand Economics” he means why do Distributists not get economics, since claiming to be a Catholic himself he could scarcely say no Catholic gets economics. He certainly means that Distributism is Catholic social teaching, and it is the enemy, just as surely as Mises himself saw any religion, grace, all those nice non-scarce items Tucker extolled earlier as an evil against “economic law”. Yet whose economic law? The Marginal Theory of Value?

The real battle ground has nothing to do with those neat little categories Tucker goes through, or the opprobrium he throws at Catholics who accept what the Church has handed down about justice in society. It has everything to do with foundations. There is no such thing as a free market in any sense. Every market must be directed. The question is how? In a vacuum of government direction the wealthy will direct it, being the most powerful unit.  In a Socialist state the government directs the division of capital and labor, their production and remuneration for work. The Distributist says justice should direct it. Now since economics is a social science, as we said, it is not like a mathematical law, or a physical law, any given equation can be directed, or for that matter will be directed. Economic laws are not to be ignored, nor passively felt such as gravity, but used and subordinated according to justice, because they are not inherent. Markets are not natural creations, they are social constructs, and what’s more they vary from culture to culture. Trade in Carthage was different from trade in Greece, just as today trade in New York is different from trade in Afghanistan. All principles in markets and values necessarily reflect the culture which creates or modifies them, yet justice remains constant because it is written on the heart of man in the natural law. If Mr. Tucker paid attention to non-scarce things, he might have some intellectual vision of that.

For those who wish to read what Ludgwig von Mises thought of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, click here.

 

About the author: Ryan Grant

 

Ryan Grant is a native of eastern Connecticut. He received his Bachelor's degree in Philosophy and Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and also studied at Holy Apostles Seminary. He currently teaches Latin in Post Falls, ID where he resides with his wife and three children.

 

Recent posts in Catholic Social Teaching

 

28 Comments

  1. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to see a Ferrara-Medaille and Woods-Tucker debate.

  2. I’d happily pay for ringside tickets.

  3. Felice Centofanti

    Here is my current understanding of the retail industry
    in the USA:
    the CEO enjoys a stay at a hotel for $4000/night
    while at the same time a faithful employee cant afford to get
    sick or get treatment by a physician. Were
    the employee to get sick, he
    would get fired or his hours would be reduced
    to practically nothing.
    It leads me to ask what type of aberration in society
    allows a football player to makes millions a year
    yet a custodian cant afford even to get sick.

    I’d love to learn how this imbalance can be reduced
    through distributism. Because up to now usa-capitalism and communism
    are and have failed rather miserably.
    Thank you for talking about economic justice,
    based on the common
    needs and aspirations of every person.

  4. I’m not even Catholic, but you Catholics (including the folks at Chronicles) have convinced me of the wisdom of the Distributist approach to economics. I used to read LewRockwell.com and Mises.org all the time, but I look back and see that was just for learning nuts and bolts of the mechanics of economics. I was made aware how they loaded up much more than that into their “economics.”

  5. Let me put it more concretely for you, someone who begins working at Wal-mart generally starts at 8.45 an hour, give or take depending on the area. In a year that comes to $17,565. Wal-mart’s CEO makes that in an hour.
    Now strictly speaking with respect to justice, there is nothing against the CEO of a large company making more than those at the bottom, but how much more? The example I just gave is obviously ludicrous. Moreover, that is not only in retail, that is everywhere. The doctrine is that in order to have successful CEOs there ought to be attractive multi-million dollar salaries. Even though this doctrine is clung to more than global warming in a University, its practical results are replete with failure. Not only do the same CEOs run their companies into the ground, they get bonuses on their way out as we saw with Merryl Lynch and AIG. Now not all, but quite a few.

    If we apply the common teaching of Catholic theologians, it should be proportionate to the work involved. Distributism solves this in two ways, one is the increase in small businesses or cooperatives where all the activity is based on work everyone involved is an owner, the other is with Employee ownership plans that give those who actually work in the company ownership and rights over what a CEO gets paid and certain decisions the company will make.
    That is of course how it would work in a distributist society. Getting there is another question, to which there can be a lot of differing opinions.

  6. We’ve extended the challenge numerous times, Mr. Medaille has offered to debate anywhere. We’re waiting for a response to such a challenge. Judging by the response at Inside Catholic, it is doubtful they would accept it.

  7. Of course, we Catholics at the Review are pleased. Just as one does not need to be Catholic to accept that adultery is wrong, one does not need to be Catholic to accept that justice and morality should apply to economics – in other words, Distributism. The formulation of economic teachings known as Distributism were principally put together by Catholics over the last century, but those teachings are not exclusively Catholic and many pre-date Christianity. Distributism consists of those economic teachings that have been examined and found to be compatible with Catholicism. Some of our contributors are not Catholic. We encourage people of other faiths to examine these teachings because we know they are also compatible with other faiths; they are compatible with reason.

    I think the summary of this particular dispute boils down to this. Distributism is in fact a very practical economic system which, even though it may never be established to perfection, would go a long way to alleviating the economic roller-coaster of the prevailing system. We believe that anyone who seriously examines this system will accept it. We believe that, if people of most faiths were to apply their faith to economics, they will accept Distributism. We believe that Catholics who study the authoritative teachings of the Church and apply those teachings to all aspects of their lives, including economics, will accept Distributism.

    Welcome!

  8. Another point for our non-Catholic readers. While Mr. Tucker’s article singles out Catholicism, his arguments also apply to those of any other faith as well. Anyone who spends time contemplating the non-scarce goods of prayer, grace, and our eternal life after this one is also a target of his twisted logic. This attack, for it is an attack, is aimed at Catholics, but people of all other faiths will be included in the collateral damage.

  9. That’s a good observation, and why I included Mises quote that not only did he perceive the Catholic Church to be the enemy, but the Protestant Churches as well because for him it is the Gospel and our Redeemer Himself who is opposed to the enlightenment order of the world.

  10. The truth written by Belloc, Chesterton, Schumacher, and Pope Leo XIII, not to forget Aquinas, were all part of my late in life conversion. So I’m definitely in your and John Medaille’s corner on this debate – we won’t get into the joys of pipe smoking, a Spartan king’s challenge to invading Persians, and the wonder and glory of the EF. It is probably not going to contribute much to this debate but I’m bound to ask, do you think this wholesale jettisoning of centuries of Church teaching on economics, pre- and post-Reformation, has anything to do with the 60’s and all that has followed within the Church? It doesn’t seem to me that you can throw out little things like, say, the Syllabus of Errors, and not have the likes of Von Mises then start crowding in. Good essay and responses, Mr. Grant

  11. I am rather new to this site (but not to the Distributist/Austro Libertarian issues) so perhaps this has been mentioned before.

    I have two points. First, I think the issue between the two camps is a matter of trust. The economic theory is secondary at this point. Second, there is a shared concern for justice between the two camps that can be extremely fruitful.

    Unavoidably (unfortunately), I’m being reductionist here, the Austrian rhetoric since Rothbard, et al, seems to be designed to argue against the intervention of any outside institution in the marketplace. The Austrian theory itself is less strident but arrives at the same conclusion.

    The Austrian’s rhetoric is essentially arguing against the state as it is today because they do not trust it. The Austrians are not going to move away from their distrust of government, and to my mind they have extremely good reasons for this. To list two, most reverent Catholics can understand the Austrian concern by reflecting on the lack of protection provided by almost every government in the world for the unborn. Secondly, state power is growing much more quickly and much more secularly and has much greater potential for destruction than corporate power (corporations can not make people do things at gun point). (I understand that corporations enlist the power of government to do what they will, but that just proves my point.) They view Distributism as just one more tool the state could use to gain power over economic choices.

    So to get this discussion going in a more positive direction the Distributists are going to have to be the big men here and deal with the Austrian fears first. These fears are political and sociological not related to economic theory.

    My second main point, regarding the shared principle of justice is that many of the Distributists writings that I have seen are primarily concerned with preserving a material structural order where individuals have some basic level of safety apart from the state (i.e. small property owners, etc – some specifically material connection that preserves their essential freedom and thus one factor of their human dignity, their possibility for human flourishing). It is a matter of most basic justice – does a man have a reasonable chance to obtain what he ought in order to be a decent human being – an image of God?

    While not denying that the state has its problems with justice, Distributists are often found arguing against large corporations which tend to treat employees in the meanest possible terms as mere interchangeable means of production and in fact all resources of production without any conception that they are truly a gift from God.

    The Austrians see the matter of justice differently. The state is the biggest creator of injustice the world has ever seen. Why trust it at all, ever?

    This will show my bias in understanding, but it seems like the two camps are talking about the same issue. Can large impersonal institutions enhance or even secure justice for the common man?

    My point is that theory is probably secondary at this point. A debate between Woods and Ferrara would be good entertainment, but we better get deeper than this.

    It’s a matter of trust and justice. The Austrians do not trust the Authority of the State to enforce justice. The Distributists do not see any concern for justice in the marketplace. But if the Distributists want to help the Austrians along, they are going to have to help the Austrians understand that Distributism is not an enemy of justice. Why should one trust the state or any institution outside of a given market transaction and how does one prevent the state from being the biggest purveyor or injustice? If driven hard, I think the Austrians might admit that the market is not always just, but they fear even worse injustices coming from the state (or any other institution).

    Distributists, I call on you, answer this fear, and you may find that you have some powerful allies in the fight for true justice.

  12. Even if (an if which is not true) their views of economics were “the only valid view,” what they are discussing is the level of objective manipulation. They are telling us this is what works, therefore, it must be accepted and followed.”

    Isn’t that the argument we hear from those supporting embryonic stem cell research? Indeed, are not the pro ESCR crowd famous for telling those who oppose such manipulative work as being “anti-science”?

  13. Jeremiah Bannister

    As much as I would love it, Mr. Rogala, I am not holding my breath. A debate of that nature would be more than they can handle. They wouldn’t only have to account for numbers, but also for their dissent. Very few Catholics outside the distributist camp would consider this worthy of even a mention, but distributists are birds of a different feather.

  14. Jeremiah Bannister

    “It leads me to ask what type of aberration in society allows a football player to make millions a year, yet a custodian can’t afford even to get sick.”

    Hear! Hear! Worse yet, custodians rarely have recourse to anything other than a threat to quit. Sadly, quitting would hardly phase the CEO. Custodians are dime-a-dozen, after all. They are expendable, and there are more than enough desperate people willing to wage themselves out for a pitiful pittance.

    You are right: Capitalism and Communism have failed. This has become more than obvious for any and all who see themselves as more than mere consumers. The trade-off has been self-destructive, amounting to little more than trading gold for trinkets, exchanging a birthright for porridge.

  15. Jeremiah Bannister

    Yes! It is! I was part of a panel discussion at Michigan State University a few years back that dealt with the embryonic stem-cell controversy. This is exactly how supporters of embryonic stem-cell research argued.

    But doing as much requires an arbitrary separation of ethics from activity, and those who advocate as much are forced to suspend their most basic and ruling assumptions regarding man, ethics, authority, etc. This may happen, and it happens all the time, but it is entirely unacceptable.

  16. Jeremiah Bannister

    I agree. The proper role of the state has been a rather important issue for me, and I know as much is true of those on this site. Also of interest would be the attitude Catholics must have towards the state, towards civil authority in general and civil magistrates in particular.

    I wrote a very brief blog entry on this topic entitled, “Being American and Catholic.” I have a video on the topic as well, and it may be of interest to you. It is entitled, “Catholic Patriotism.”

    Your second point is also quite good. Many people believe that the differences between Austro-libertarians and Distributists boils down to the means by which to accomplish similar or even identical ends. But it really is much deeper than this. There are different views of justice at play here!

  17. The Distributist answer to the question of trusting the government is subsidiarity, the proper limiting of the role of government. This limitation, for the Distributist, is not as extreme as for the Libertarian, but it is significant. It is certainly more than the current limitations of the so-called conservative Republicans, and much more than the liberal Democrat. Distributism seeks to apply its economic philosophy to all aspects of society that impact its economic life, not simply to “big business.”

    So, in regard to the application of trust, Distrubitsts do not trust the government any more than the Libertarians. Our position is that the government has a greater role than that admitted by the Libertarian and much less than that admitted by the current Conservative and Liberal camps. In any case, it is the duty of the people to be vigilant in guarding against government expanding beyond its legitimate roles. It is the duty of citizens and churches to speak out against this whenever it occurs.

    In regard to your question, “Can large impersonal institutions enhance or even secure justice for the common man,” the answer is and emphatic NO. This is why government must be limited by the principles of subsidiarity and businesses must not be allowed to concentrate the control of productive capital into the hands of the wealthy few. We advocate the prevalence of widely distributed ownership of productive capital, real and cooperative competition by ruling out monopoly, and collective ownership of large companies by the workers when appropriate. This is why we cite the Mondragon corporation as an current, real example of Distributism and how it can work in today’s society and with today’s technology.

  18. I think this has become my new go-to site for a humane perspective on economics (among other things). Thanks for all the great articles – like this one.

  19. Thank you very much for your kind comments, Sarah. Remember to tell your friends and family about us!

  20. I think we need to qualify this more succinctly, Communism has failed to produce an economic model that works for the basic functions of economy. The slave economies of the ancient world lasted longer than communism, because they could produce the bare essentials for economy, capital, labour, wealth, whereas Communism found itself unable to sustain it because of the implausibilities of the theory, the state cannot correctly appropriate remuneration, capital, and the correct division of labour so as to sustain basic production from capital. Capitalism has failed for the same reason the slave economies of antiquity failed but not for the same reasons that communism failed, that is with respect to justice in the economic lay out.

  21. To be honest it is quite obvious Austrian economics is rooted in liberal, “enlightenment” ideas of man and is utterly at odds with just about any traditional idea of man that I know and transparently so. Sure Hayek has a few insights but I don’t know why it is worth bothering about Austrians otherwise, those who get sucked into it in any substansive way are so obvously completely wedded to a modernist, liberal philosophy. Is is astounding that anyone who has any knowledge of traditional Christianity could ever consider Von Mises as anywhere near as useful an authority as the Church Fathers and Schoolmen.

  22. Well, to elaborate on the causes and effects of the weakness of the Church would take up a lot of space…

  23. Sigh. Ok, I’ll bite but only briefly. You write “these goods take on no space and can be reproduced infinitely. This is however far from reality. Images, texts, music (with respect to CDs and sheet music) are all bought and sold….”

    I feel a bit silly having to point this out but when you buy a CD or sheet music, you are buying a CD or sheet music. The data they contain can be otherwise transmitted digitally and are infinitely reproduceable and thereby non-scarce. The physical properties of the CD and the sheet music are themselves are different: they are scarce goods and must be rationed by some means.

    Well, enough of this. Believe it or not, my essay really wasn’t about you guys.

  24. Dear Mr. Tucker,

    I will ask the author to respond directly to you regarding the question of scarcity. However, I do wish you would respond to the bulk of the article itself rather than the question of whether products of the mind (the intanglible or immaterial) are abundant while scarcity exists in the material world. There are other, substantial questions which we believe Austrians – particularly those who use the faith in order to proselytize Austrianism – need to answer. Some of them are raised in Mr. Grant’s article while others have been brought up by Mr. Bannister.

    I do not hold you culpable for the administrative decision to ban us from discussing your article on Inside Catholic, however, while the essay in question may or may not have been directed at distributists, it was certainly directed at Catholics. And, as most of us on this site are Catholic and loyal to the social teaching of Holy Mother Church, your article, “Why CATHOLICS Don’t Understand Economics” deserved our response.

    In addition, your comment: “Maybe there is something to this book but if so, it will be the first with the word distributist in the title that makes a coherent economic argument” certainly brought the discussion to the attention of distributists.

    As Mr. Culbreath stated in his comments to you and the Austrians:

    I would, however, like to see the arguments of Medaille, Ferrara and their “tribe of trolls” addressed rather than dismissed. We’re not all economists here, but we’re all Catholics: the burden of proof is on the Austrians to show that their policy proscriptions can be reconciled with Catholic social doctrine.

    And herein lies the problem with Austrianism (and we enjoyed a sample of this last year in our debate with capitalist, neo-conservative, and columnist Michael Novak): You wear many hats and step outside the realm of your social science, but never to answer this simple question: how can Austrian economics be reconciled with Catholic social doctrine?

    Until Austrians answer this question, time will run out for the Acton and Mises institutes.

  25. I feel a bit silly having to point this out but when you buy a CD or sheet music, you are buying a CD or sheet music. The data they contain can be otherwise transmitted digitally and are infinitely reproduceable and thereby non-scarce. The physical properties of the CD and the sheet music are themselves are different: they are scarce goods and must be rationed by some means.

    Be that as it may, they have to buy the CD, the sheet of music, etc which goes back to the main point. Whatever level of activity in non-scarce goods Catholics maintain, even the means to maintain those things are part and parcel with dealing with scarce ones, someone must apply labor to capital and produce a rosary, or as I mentioned an icon, someone must sing, and receive remuneration for singing (e.g. choirs must be paid). Thus while it is indeed true that the Church’s musical tradition, the rosary, prayer, breviaries, etc. are infinitely repeatable with respect to their content, the means to engage in them in anyway whatsoever must be through a scarce good such as wood, or a book, or a cd, which must be produced by someone so it can be bought, which ultimately means someone must deal in scarce goods in one way or another to earn an income with which to buy.
    So again the argument would not appear to hold on that level, namely, that since Catholics don’t deal in scarce goods they can’t know anything about economics, since dealing with non-scarce goods requires scarce goods.

    Well, enough of this. Believe it or not, my essay really wasn’t about you guys.

    It may not have been against the Review per se, but you wrote “Why Catholics do not understand economics”. We’re Catholics claiming to advocate Catholic social teaching in the economy thus in general you are writing against us even if not in particular.

  26. Well if we’re getting picky you mean indefinite not infinite. God is infinite, the universe and what it contains can only be indefinite.

    Your essay was pretty poor and to be honest betrays an entirely modernist and liberal mindset. To even think one can jump from the Schoolmen, let alone St.Anselm or the Church fathers or St.Francis or St.John of the Cross to the paltry, grasping materialism of the likes of Von Mises, who isn’t actually some genius when it comes to economic theory anyway, is absurd. It a mindest utterly under the heel of modernism.

    But anyway Ludwig Von Mises or Murray Rothbard did not understand economics. John Maynard Keynes, Joan Robinson and Nicholas Kaldor and the other post-Keynesians for instance understood a lot more of economic theory than any Austrian, even if they wished to keep corporate-capitalism alive with the massive state intervention is does and always has required, rather than put it out of its misery.

    Distributists and traditional Christians understand economics and as importantly they understand the place of economics, truths which Ludwig Von Mises never grasped.

  27. Let’s not forget the other fatal critiques of Austrianism. One of the most trenchant is an old conservative critique of classical liberalism, namely of the errors of its sociological and psychological individualism. Robert Nisbet has been one of the greatest recent writers on this gaping flaw in liberal individualism. Man is a social animal, his self is partly constituted by the social associations, culture and society he is a part of. To then try and form a theory of man’s action that ignores this, that considers him as an atom and society as an mere artifice growing out of the immediate, rational actions of individuals is bound to fail.

  28. Pingback: Thomas Woods and his Critics (The ‘Austrian’ vs. ‘Distributist’ Debate among Catholics) « The American Catholic