Catholics Against Capitalism (Are Not Dumb)

Kevin Williamson at National Review complained about a Catholic conference led by Cardinal Maradiaga called “Erroneous Autonomy: The Catholic Case against Libertarianism.” Williamson:

The best that can be said of the clergy’s corporate approach to economic thinking is that it is intellectually incoherent, which is lucky inasmuch as the depths of its illiteracy become more dramatic and destructive as it approaches coherence.

Instead of citing churchmen specifically, Williamson (1) lampoons a Buddhist religious studies professor and (2) insinuates that the Catholic clergy is distributist.

Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga and likeminded thinkers, stuck as they are in the hopelessly 19th-century distributist model of economic analysis, apparently are incapable of thinking through the implications of their own dogma. The question of how certain goods are “distributed” in society is a second-order question at best; by definition prior to it is the question of whether there is anything to distribute.

Justice, in other words, cannot be the libertarians’ first principle. (Unlike, say, Catholics or Rawlsian liberals.) This is the basis of Francis’s critique of libertarianism. But Williamson is too busy condescending to the Catholic clergy to check their sources and understand their arguments. Although a number of prominent Catholic intellectuals espouse and have espoused distributism, it is too cute to consider it the last word on Catholic social teaching, a body of thought that has shaped contemporary European social democracy to a significant degree.

In an excellent article for Forbes this winter, Alejandro Chafuen links the prominent American economist Joseph Stiglitz to the economic thinking among Pope Francis’s inner circle. And for Stiglitz, questions about “distribution” — of jobs and wealth — are not ‘second-order’ questions disconnected from productivity. Stiglitz has a pointed critique of “free market fundamentalism” and its faith in an “invisible hand”. For instance, can firms internalize the externality of large-scale unemployment? Does inequality slow economic growth? At a Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences conference last month, “Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility”, Stiglitz briefed Maradiaga on these topics.

One can critique Joseph Stiglitz. National Review does here and here. But nobody accuses Stiglitz of falling off the turnip truck. But somehow we imagine the cardinals simply dust off musty first-editions G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc and wave them at the social injustices perpetuated by global capitalism…

 

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