Catholics can respectfully disagree with Pope Francis on economics

My friend Fr. Gerry Murry has a good comment on Laura Ingraham’s new site, LifeZette (don’t ask me about that name, I’m not sure either).  My emphases and comments.

Can Capitalists Be Good Catholics?
Pope Francis warns of ‘subtle dictatorship’
by Fr. Gerry Murray

Pope Francis’ recent scathing criticisms of capitalism and the free-market have left many American Catholics scratching their heads, wondering if they have to hit the confessional next time they go out to buy a new car.  [Not to mention turning on the air conditioner. Laudato si’ 55.]

“Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society,” said the pontiff at a global gathering of popular movements in Bolivia. [We can all agree that both making anything into an idol and greed are bad.]

In this scathing critique of the modern economic system, he warned about “the evil effects of this subtle dictatorship” that “destroys human fraternity” and “sets people against one another.”

In a passionate delivery, he cautioned about the spoils of greed: “The economy should not be a mechanism for accumulating goods” but requires the “fitting distribution of its goods among all.”

Francis described the global financial system as “the new colonialism,” and decried “the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor.” [“austerity” measure… as in Greece?  BTW… isn’t Argentina the Greece of the Americas?]

[NB] This brings us to the inevitable question: Does being a good Catholic mean being “anti-capitalist” or “anti-free market?” Are Catholics obliged to agree with the pope’s critique? The answer to both questions is no.

One can be a devout Catholic and disagree thoughtfully and respectfully with Francis’ economic-political outlook. Moral and ethical conclusions about the actual functioning of domestic economies, international banking, and global largely fall in the realm of prudential judgment. [Exactly.] Should American investors buy foreign bonds? Should corporations build factories in poor countries? Should governments sign free-trade agreements with neighboring states? All of that is up for free discussion and debate.

On the plane back from Paraguay, Francis admitted his distaste for the subject of economics.

He said, “On Greece and the international system, I have a great allergy to economic things, because my father was an accountant and when he did not manage to finish his work at the factory, he brought the work home on Saturday and Sunday, with those books in those day where the titles were written in gothic. When I saw my father I had a great allergy and I didn’t understand it very well. Certainly, it would be all too simple to say that the fault is only on one side. If the Greek government has brought forward this situation of international debt, also they have a responsibility.”

An American reporter pressed the pope on his critique of the “global economic system,” which many see as directed at the United States. He replied, “I heard that there were some criticisms from the United States. I must begin studying these criticisms, no?” he said. “Then we shall dialogue about them.”

[NB] So Catholics are invited by the pope himself to disagree with his conclusions on matters that are under discussion. In matters of economics, he admits his lack of interest and hence invites qualified persons to criticize his positions. He has promised to study those criticisms.

He wants to dialogue with those who disagree with him. That is all to the good.

Hopefully the Holy Father will take some time to study and absorb some of what has been offered as a criticism of some of his statements on markets and the global economy.

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  1. Magash says:

    I’m always very interested in the way that supporters of the free market take exception to the very reasonable and Catholic view that a truly unfettered free market (which exists no where on Earth) would not necessarily be a good thing. After all, a company or corporation who puts accumulation of profit above all other moral considerations is almost certain to make decisions at variance with Catholic moral teaching. Likewise, while a robust economy is the most likely result of a relatively unfettered free market it is unrealistic to expect that such a robust economy will free us from having to exercise our responsibilities to engage in charity, just as it is unrealistic to think that government action can substitute for charitable acts by individuals.
    Certainly there are enough downsides of the crony capitalism that now exists in the United States for any Pope to be able to criticize its practices without upsetting many proponents of true capitalism.

  2. Johnsum says:

    The detractors of the capitalist market usually offer “crony” socialistic remedies for allocating scarce resources. What this means in practice is that the ones in the know (who have connections to the resource allocators) end up with most of the resources.
    It appears to me that the Holy Father would like to see an economic system operated by the Church. Come to think of it that did not work out well either and recently had to remodel it. It remains to be seen how well it is going to work.

    The Government is already in our pockets and controls all the incentives through its taxing powers, de facto greatly influencing allocating resources in our country. If the Pope does not like this system let him condemn it, I have done it myself already.

  3. discens says:

    I could not find the phrase ‘free market’ in Laudato Si’; the words ‘free’ and ‘market’ yes, but not together. Capitalism does not mean free market, and free market does not mean capitalism. Capitalism means the private ownership of the means of production, and is essentially immoral because ‘private’ is understood as ‘exclusively private’ and so contrary to the abiding Church teaching (repeated in Laudato Si’) about the common destination of material goods. The free market is properly a market where buyers and sellers negotiate on prices without coercion or interference from third parties. In itself such a market is neither moral nor immoral. It becomes one or the other because of the morality or immorality of the negotiating parties. Buyers and sellers, to be moral, must not be cheaters or usurers or liars or take advantage of misfortunes or windfalls so as to satisfy greed or deprive others, and especially the poor, of the means of subsistence. Above all both must have a keen sense of what is called the just price. This concept is a venerable Catholic one but it is measured by prudence and the common good, not by algorithms or mathematical formulas or the so called bottom line. Capitalism, because of its corrupt notion of private property, distorts the market into lust for profit without regard to the social good.

    Nothing here however supports socialism or communism or Marxism. This latter system, variously named, is also immoral because it means the public ownership (or in practice the bureaucratic state ownership) of the means of production and denies individuals the right to private property. The Church and sound morality rightly reject this system. So, apart from the stuff about global warming in Laudato Si’ (which Francis admits is taken from the prevailing scientific and political consensus and so admits must stand or fall with that consensus), the rest of the Encyclical seems to be good old Catholic orthodoxy. I don’t know how any Catholic could reject it.

  4. kevinm says:

    I think what the Pope often refers to as capitalism is really crony capitalism; which IS evil. The true capitalist is an innovator and risk taker who profits when his risks bear fruit. Society as a whole then benefits by job creation, cash injection etc. The crony capitalist is simply interested in the amassing of personal wealth by any means. I believe that owing to certain a naivete’ and linguistic barriers by His Holiness his messages are often misunderstood or misinterpreted.

    Just my 2 cents….


  5. APX says:

    As one who lives well below the poverty line, I have issues with capitalism insofar as not paying employees a just wage and shipping everything off to China for production because it can be produced cheaper there.

  6. JesusFreak84 says:

    Problem is that, when you DO disagree with Pope Francis on these things, people throw it in your face when they disregard teachings on contraception, abortion, homosexual advocacy, etc.

  7. Imrahil says:

    I wouldn’t say so strictly that “crony capitalism is evil” and that free competition is, as it were, directly demanded by unquestionable principles.

    “crony” can apparently mean many things, but the dictionary tells me it means in itself “good chap”, “intimate friend”, etc.

    Now our ultimate goal is “get to Heaven”. Our secular goal may be said to be “and, as far as compatible with that, as much happiness as we can get in the meantime on Earth”. The simple objective “to maximize, in quantity or quality, the production of goods” is, however, is only of worth as a means to one of these real ends, not in itself – and hence I do not see how an economy that, rather than efficiency, prefers to put one’s friends and relations in secure positions where they can do their honest share of work (thereby enforcing the need of making oneself friends) would be guilty of breaking natural law.

    And indeed Catholic societies, such as Italy (especially Southern Italy), Spain, Portugal, (Ireland?), and yes Latin America, and quasi-Catholic countries such as Greece (the difference between Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism is mostly restricted to the fact of schism plus a few disputed points of doctrine, the rest of the culture is the same) seem to have, generally, favored a more “familistic” economy. In parts even in Bavaria: Governor Streibl once countered accusations of having, supposedly, put a good word his former classmate (an aircraft constructor) to the responsible authorities with “Saludos Amigos! [original Spanish!] Do you really consider it a shame to have friends?”

    The present Prime Minister of Greece has, on at least one occasion, complained that Chancelloress Merkel (who happens to be a Protestant pastor’s daughter – and the present German president is a Protestant pastor, the minister of Finance is a confessed Protestant) is leading a religious campain: for the imposal of Protestant principles onto his country.

    (Note that, as I said, “crony” seems to mean many things. It is different if a “big player” conspires with the state in order to, through excessive regulation or what not, run little business owners out of business to foster his selfish aims. That, at least taken by itself, is evil. – If, however, this is but the general trend of politics, which a big businessmen – or a politician – sees no possibility to change anyway, and he only strives that he or his friends, rather than other big players and their friends, get the gains? That’s already a different case again. These things tend to become complicated. )

  8. richly says:

    I’m a Catholic who leans conservative on most political, social, economic, and liturgical issues. Pope Francis has me (and other fellow Catholics of similar stripe) scratching/banging our heads (more often that we’d like). After Laudato si’, it seemed that much of the conservative blogosphere I usually visit were highly critical of the Pope and the encyclical. And conservatives I respect and admire such as Dennis Prager seem to have turned away their support for the Holy Father, one example being The language toward Pope Francis (and the Catholic Church as a whole) is quite harsh -to me unfairly, because Mr. Prager seems to have derived his view from MSM accounts on the Pope.

    Fr. Murry’s article is desperately needed to counter the misconceptions. “Ironically,” the Holy Father has inadvertently created a greater “market” for would-be Catholic apologists to explain the faith and correctly interpret his views :).

  9. Imrahil says:

    Dear discens,

    Fr Messner proved in Social Ethics that restricting private property onto things that aren’t means of production means disbanding private property altogether. That it isn’t according to the spirit of Rerum novarum, with the image in its background that people save up their wages to buy a farm of their own, is obvious in any case.

    Dear Johnsum,
    It appears to me that the Holy Father would like to see an economic system operated by the Church. Come to think of it that did not work out well either and recently had to remodel it. It remains to be seen how well it is going to work.

    I’m not saying that the pre-“Enlightenment” (or is it rather pre-Mercantilist?) economy in Catholic areas, which for all practical effects, at least from a modern viewpoint was just that (the guilds each having their altar in the Church and their proper patronage feasts, etc.), was all fine down to the tiniest bit – but it does not seem to have so thoroughly malfunctioned.

    Dear JesusFreak84,
    ah yes. Well then, we must go the whole hog and defend the things because they’re true. It was understandable that, with all the Catholics claiming the Catholic trademark for all their and even some heretical positions, we took shelter under the adjective “loyal to Rome”… but some time, the day had to come where we ascribe to the Pope all that really is due to him, the obedience to the visible Head of the Church, the role as final voice in matters of faith and morals (including deciding what is matter of faith and morals) when he actually uses it, and so on – but still, start to defend truth “because it’s true” again, not only “because Rome says so”.

  10. discens says:

    Imrahil. Good for Fr. Messner. Property certainly includes more than the means of production; it also includes consumables (like a peanut jelly sandwich) and usables (like a car). But the latter two are derivative from the former. Capitalism and socialism concentrate on, and are rightly defined by, means of production, since what is done there determines the rest. We need to get rid of both. So since the contemporary world has got rid of socialism (bar a few insignificant holdouts), we need all to line up behind Pope Francis and get rid of capitalism.

  11. Elizabeth D says:

    I am going to be honest that I do personally think that avoiding private cars and air conditioning is a good idea. These things have their place, as everyone would acknowledge. But it should not simply be the expected norm. I have never had a driver’s license or driven, because I have always felt that car ownership should not be the norm. That is a lifestyle choice and a “creative limitation” in life that will affect other things in one’s life such as where to live or what kind of work can be considered. And I do not have air conditioning, though that was just how it worked out with the place I could afford to rent in the location I wanted to live.

    I have to suspect that these thoughts of Pope Francis have a lot to do with the global South and the poor campesinos. I think he wants to say to them that it is okay not to have American style lifestyle expectations. I can only agree. Pope Francis is skeptical of the industrial revolution (I really think that in terms of the ability of everyone to have a dignified and adequate means to support their family the concern is legitimate) and seems in favor of a kind of distributist agrarian idea of families having their own house and bit of land. While I have heard Dale Ahlquist advocate that, I am personally not quite sure it makes sense as a large scale proposal for America or Europe. These are very difficult subjects. In the United States the welfare state maintaining large numbers of us outside of the workforce is covering over some kinds of problems, and creative massive other problems.

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I’ve never had a driver’s license, either, but the “choice” was that it scares me to death to drive.

    However, it also scares me to death to start running out of food in the middle of winter when the weather is bad for weeks on end, and the “creative limitation” on where I can work has caused a lot of hardship to my family, as well as causing me the gradual loss of most friendly human contact.

    So no, I don’t feel any particular benefit or holiness from not driving. I feel very tired, and I feel very stupid about the whole “getting caught in a blizzard last winter when people with cars were smart enough to stay home”, and the whole “breaking my arm because I walked to church in an ice storm” thing too. My “solidarity with the poor” is me not having income, and thus not being able to help other people who need it. And the time my A/C wasn’t cold enough and I couldn’t sleep for four days was the time I got fired from my job because I messed up from tiredness.

    So yeah, not really feeling any solidarity. Loving my new part time job at a corporate conglomerate, because it gives me a lot more help than any of the social justice types in my area ever have. Fortunately, I know the difference between matters of faith and morals and matters of prudence, and am used to ignoring smart people who say the odd stupid thing. Even the Pope.

  13. tioedong says:

    on my personal blog, I recommended that the Pope read Michael Novak’s book Business as a calling, or Francis Fukuyama’s book Trust.
    Both insist on the links between morality and business.
    Ironically, here in the Philippines, the corrupt families who run the place tend to be good Catholics, while the business community is often Chinese (confucian values) or Protestant Christian. Saying we need to love the poor is good, but when the guys and women busy stealing everything get photo ops with the pope or bishops, one realizes why so many businessmen are becoming protestant.

  14. marcelus says:

    Of course anyone can disagree with the Pope. Disobey, is a whole different thing

    “Francis described the global financial system as “the new colonialism,” and decried “the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor.” [“austerity” measure… as in Greece? BTW… isn’t Argentina the Greece of the Americas?]”

    It was. Problem for us, not for the first world is that first world run institutions such as the IMF , made a mess in the case of Argentina. Of course we are to blame for most of it, including following their “suggestions”.

    PF speaks about something in this case,. that only people fdrom equador and bellow undertstand. Unfortunately . Or luckely. When he speaks of “measure of austerities” he is referinng to what the IMF for instance did all over LATAM. Ajustes they called them in spanish, and people dreaded that word. I recall Argentina being the star of the class in the 90’s IMF schoolbook, following each and every measure suggested or imposed by the IMF ir order to refinance the “deuda externa” or foreign debt cor get access to credit. Those ajustes meant plain and simple, salary decreases, layoffs, more taxes, even new ones I remember and the rest is know.,

    Only the 3rd world goes thru that.

    So it is understandably hard for anyone up there not to think about what PF says in terms other than socialistic approach or communism or so when addressing economics, good or bad.

    He has been there.

  15. discens says:

    The Pope is a genuine representative of the Third World. It’s about time the Third World had a global leader to tell the Capitalist West and their fellow travelers elsewhere a few home truths. Let him hobnob too with soi-disant Catholics who pillage their own countries — but let him rebuke them to their faces at the same time. Laudato Si’ is doing it in general terms. Francis is now getting more specific, as for instance with the mining industry, the topic of recent meetings at the Vatican. Francis seems a real God-send — and as orthodox on the Church’s social teaching as you can get. We need a lot more from him along the lines of what he’s already given, and, Deo gratias, there’s little doubt we’ll get it.

  16. AnnTherese says:

    Sounds Christian to me. Thank you for preaching this, Pope Francis!

  17. Gerard Plourde says:

    As many have pointed out in the preceding comments, the concepts and problems confronted when discussing economics are complex and fraught with moral choices. Because economic systems are developed by humans we must first of all recognize that they are all imperfect and subject to the effects of Original Sin. Therefore, like all human activities, we must take care that our actions and decisions are directed to lawful ends achieced through licit means. An example of this would be the stock market. It is certainly licit to invest money in a company and to expect a share of the profit derived. This is the classic “buy and hold” strategy. Because stock values fluctuate it is also licit to invest for a time and then sell one’s position to realize a gain.

    The moral calculation becomes more murky when one examines the common and accepted practice of “short selling”, which often involves selling shares that one has borrowed in the belief that the stock value will decrease and that the borrowed shares can be replaced with ones purchased at the lower price. The profit for the short seller comes in the difference he realizes in the money he received when he sold the borrowed shares and the lower cost paid for the replacement share. It is a form of gambling, which while not evil can put a person in a position where pressure may cloud his judgment and conscience and illicit choices and means become attractive.

    More clearly evil (and illegal) is the practice of insider trading, wherein /one uses nonpublic knowledge about a company’s plans or a situation that may affect a company’s value to gain an advantage in purchasing or selling its stock. It is most clearly evil when combined with short selling. Here the trader sells borrowed shares in the sure knowledge that he will be anle to relace them at a lower price necause he knows

  18. Gerard Plourde says:

    (continued from above) and is privy to confidential information.

  19. WYMiriam says:

    Discens, you wrote, ” So since the contemporary world has got rid of socialism (bar a few insignificant holdouts), we need all to line up behind Pope Francis and get rid of capitalism.” (emphasis added)

    And replace it with . . . . . . . what???

  20. Charlie says:

    Bishop-elect Barron over at Word on Fire has an excellent piece on understanding Church teaching on the economy and how Francis is very much along the teachings of Pope JP11 and Benedict.

  21. Elizabeth D says:

    Bishop-elect Robert Barron, doesn’t that sound good? :-)

  22. robtbrown says:


    1. Capitalism is not essentially immoral. It is a polygonous word whose meaning depends on the angle of vision.

    2 You’re correct about private property not being essentially private, but not correct otherwise. It is natural law that man has a right to private property (contra Marxists and mere Socialists). That right, however, is not absolute–all things are owned by God, but individual men can have private use of them. That is why it is so, and often cited, that for prosperous people, giving alms is a matter of justice rather than mercy. That’s also applicable for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

    3. I’m not sure what the definition of capitalism as private ownership of the means of production actually means. If it means not owned by the government, then I agree. If it means ownership restricted to, say, one family, then it’s obviously obsolete. Ford was once family owned, but now is publicly held. The family owns much less than 50% but still can control the company.

    Further, the influence of technology in business has increased the power of marketing while decreasing the power of production (nb: the power of Walmart, which produces nothing). That’s why it’s possible to return a TV that breaks down over a year after it was purchased.

    4. The capital-labor diptych is relevant only about 2% of the time (unskilled labor). Those computer programmers who work for Microsoft. They comprise a great deal of the capital (Microsoft also has a lot of cash).

    5. There are legitimate criticisms to be made about various facets of capitalism, but I agree with Chris Lowney–constructing a caricature, then criticizing it, doesn’t really have much to offer.

  23. The Masked Chicken says:

    I am probably a stupid and incredibly uninformed Catholic, seeing as how I had never hear of Fr. Barron until this week. It was announced at Mass, this morning, about Fr. Barron’s appointment and while I thought it good news, I had no idea why his appointment was anything special. I, sometime, wonder why someone as out of touch with the current goings-on in the Church as I should be opening my big mouth.

    “Bishop-elect Barron over at Word on Fire has an excellent piece on understanding Church teaching on the economy and how Francis is very much along the teachings of Pope JP11 and Benedict.”

    Actually, his piece is a short summary of the prior writings of some recent popes on economics and an attempt to imply that the current pope is in the same tradition. However, none of the quotes he cites are to be found in Laudato Si (I checked), which is authoritative and, so, must come from other speeches or feverinos of the current Pope, which are not authoratative and are not binding on conscience. It would have been more convincing if Bishop-elect Barron could have cited passages from the two encyclicals of Pope Francis to prove his point. I am not saying that Pope Francis is not following in the footsteps of the economic teachings of prior popes, merely that this article is a weak demonstration of the fact.

    The Chicken

  24. The Masked Chicken says:

    To be fair, I did not examine the Pope’s first encyclical, so the quotes might be found there. Someone will have to check (he could have cited his sources).

    The Chicken

  25. The Masked Chicken says:

    I just check the first encyclical – the quotes aren’t in there, either.

    The Chicken

  26. JPK says:

    The Pope has an obligation to teach Catholics about the dangers of greed and idolatry. I wasn’t so taken aback about the language concerning greed and such. However, like most people, Pope Francis has a poor understanding of basic economics and what used to be called the “political economy”. I think anyone would be hard pressed to find any classic “capitalist economy” today. The US has morphed into what Jonah Goldberg called a Liberal Fascist society. It certainly is no longer the free wheeling, open ended, every-man-for-himself Capitalist Economy – not when over $4 trillion is transferred from the private to public realm; today the US federal government has on its books over 200,000 pages of regulations and statutes which govern everything from the amount of fluoride allowed in drinking water to the number of calories allowed in school lunches.

    It is for that reason any kind of Marxist critique of today’s global society holds no weight – not when almost every single nation is either Socialist or Progressive (i.e. fascist). The Church and its members face a number of dangers which we never faced before:

    1)The Administrative State (an ever growing monolith of quasi public and public organizations which have an unending appetite to control)

    2)A benevolent state which deprives men and women of their true purpose in life. This can lead to Acedia, or a kind of indifference to not only the material world but the spiritual world at large. I think some monks in the ancient past called this The Devil at Noon.

    This goes beyond Socialism, as classic Socialism deals primarily with workplace conditions, wages, and progressive taxation. Today’s Liberal Fascism invades all facets of life; it certainly goes beyond mere economics. But, Pope Francis is either ignorant of this new phenomenon, or is at home with it. Here in the States the Church is about to get a big does of it.

  27. discens says:

    To WYMiriam. Answer: replace capitalism with the Church’s social teaching — which is not sectarian but natural justice and sound common sense. Start with Rerum Novarum of Leo XIII and go on from there. It’s all clearly and sanely set out.

    To robtbrown. I do not understand what you are objecting to in my posts. First of all the link you gave backs up what I said perfectly. The post does not talk about capitalism but about the market and says that if the participants in the market are immoral the result can be horrible, but that if they are moral the result can be wonderful. Did I not say as much by saying that the free market is in itself neither moral nor immoral but becomes one or the other because of the morality or immorality of the participants?

    As for capitalism, definitions are necessary for intelligent debate. I defined what I meant by it. You don’t; you just say it’s polygonous. Well what I’m talking about is the doctrine that says private ownership is exclusive ownership (the doctrine is in Locke and Adam Smith if not expressis verbis), and the private ownership is of the means of production primarily (as Locke and Smith both assume as well) but derivatively ownership of anything else. The owners can be individuals or families or syndicates or stock holders or what you will. The main point is that ownership means rejection of the common destination of material goods. Socialism etc. I define as the contrary, namely denial of private ownership of any kind, even with common destination. In practice socialism means control, and often selfish abuse, not to mention laughable inefficiency, by bureaucrats and politicians. Both systems, as so defined, are immoral (one denies common destination, the other denies private ownership). These definitions come from the acknowledged theorists of each system, and since both systems in practice are precisely the application of the theory to material goods, the definitions fit the systems as actually existent in practice. The so called mixed economy, which most Western countries have or profess, combines in juxtaposition the elements of both systems: exclusive private property in some things, bureaucratic control in others. The purest example of such juxtaposition in my experience is the US, which lurches from outrageous individual plutocracy on the one hand to absurd bureaucratic inefficiencies and intrusions of privacy on the other. Other Western countries generally retain enough of their pre-capitalist cultures that these extremes are mitigated. The only way forward from the mess, and the injustice, is to abandon both systems, pure or juxtaposed, and return to the timeless common sense of the Church’s social teaching (which has its roots in Aristotle, by the way, whom neither Locke nor Smith much cared for) — there’s a straight path from Rerum Novarum to Laudato Si’.

    Disagree with me if you will, but then you must either accept the definitions and show the conclusions I draw don’t follow, or attack the definitions and show what should replace them. Otherwise we will just be talking past each other.

  28. robtbrown says:

    Discente dicente,

    To robtbrown. I do not understand what you are objecting to in my posts. First of all the link you gave backs up what I said perfectly. The post does not talk about capitalism but about the market and says that if the participants in the market are immoral the result can be horrible, but that if they are moral the result can be wonderful. Did I not say as much by saying that the free market is in itself neither moral nor immoral but becomes one or the other because of the morality or immorality of the participants?

    As for capitalism . . .

    You said “capitalism is essentially immoral”. My point in saying that it is polygomous was obvious: It depends on what is meant by capitalism. If you want to Locke (PI) yourself into a certain definition, you also limit yourself to other possible meanings of capital and capitalism.

    As I made clear above, changes in the structure of business–from obtaining raw materials to the point of sale (wholesale or retail) have necessitated a change in understanding of what is meant by capitalism.

    Of course, I think that definitions are important. My point is that the definition you offer (which you attribute to Locke and Hobbes) is obsolete for various reasons, mostly because the processes of production have changed. At one time skilled labor was almost completely self employed. On the other hand, those who worked in manufacturing processes were mostly unskilled.

    And then there is the matter of distinguishing public ownership from govt ownership. The Green Bay Pakcers are owned by the citizens of Green Bay–the number of stockholders about the same as the population. Is that public or private ownership?
    The phrase “exclusively private” seems to me to contradict any right of the commonweal to tax for legitimate purposes. And so I prefer St Thomas’ distinction between absolute and relative right to property, the first only belonging to God, thus the second referring to use.

    Among other things capitalism can mean:
    1. A philosophy that encourages people to accumulate as much capital as possible.
    2. A monetary based economy (rather than one based on, say, the gold standard).
    3. An economy in which paper money is a commodity (hello, George Soros).
    4. A business philosophy in which any business deal benefits both sides (cf Warren Buffett).
    5. An economy based on expansion in various aspects, among which: markets thus production and prosperity

    In so far as Capitalism has both individual and communal benefits, it is a just system. In so far certain parts of it function improperly, it is not just–the same is trying for a socialist economy.

    And so, there are various aspects of capitalism: individual, common, short term and long term thinking. A CEO might make decisions that benefit him and others with stock options (cf mergers) but harm the common good of the company. On the other hand, decisions might be made that benefit the overall situation of the company but not those individuals whose talents are needed (and they leave).

    There is no better example of short/long term problems than General Motors. There were certain decisions made some years ago that ensured GM’s market share short term but, as we have seen, undermined it long term, all but destroying the company. Its American version is little else than a retirement community that is trying to be financed by selling cars and trucks.
    I agree with what you say about the US compared to Europe. It also has to noted, however, the US produced Edison, Bell, the Wright Brothers, Lindbergh, electronics (transistor, integrated circuit, microchip), walked on the moon in 1969 (no other nation has done it), and the Internet.

  29. robtbrown says:

    I forgot to apologize for the delay. A visitor the past few days has undermined what little daily order I had.

  30. robtbrown says:

    Also: Many years ago I heard Ralph Nader use the phrase Corporate Socialism. I took it to refer to a company (e.g., GM, which was on top of the top world in those days) whose power permits it to control the market rather than respond to it.

  31. discens says:

    robtbrown. Thanks for the reply. I don’t have much to add since you agree that capitalism defined as I define it is immoral, and I agree that capitalism defined in other ways is not or need not be immoral (ditto for definitions of socialism). Presumably, though, there is some connection between the meanings and they are not simply equivocal (like a bank where you put your money and a bank you sit on while you fish in the river). I leave you to find the connection. As for Pope Francis, he, like his predecessors, is going after capitalism because of its denial of or indifference to the common destination of material goods, and going after socialism because of its denial of private property. If we cling onto those two key ideas (historically central to the practice and theory of both systems) we’ll understand better what Francis is up to (traditional Catholic doctrine) and be enabled to give a proper and human form to our economic activity (traditional Catholic practice).

  32. robtbrown says:


    What good is a definition if it doesn’t cover the subject? What is a baseball player? He’s someone who wears a uniform. Not wrong but hardly adequate.

    IMHO, no bishop should ever speak about economics unless he first understands the multiplier effect.

    I’ll close with a few quotes:

    The problem with capitalism is capitalists; the problem with socialism is socialism.

    And from GK:

    “Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.”

    “To be smart enough to (make a lot of) money you must be dull enough to want it.”

  33. robtbrown says:

    If I might summarize, it is a matter of natural law:

    Capitalism does not in se deny natural law (i.e., right to private property), but it allows certain people to operate who think the right to property is absolute rather than relative (which intrinsically denies natural law).

    Socialism in se denies natural law because it denies any right to private property.

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