Monday, May 5, 2008

Catholic Social Justice and the Free Market, Pt. II

As I mentioned below, Mr. Woods has some very good points in his article on this topic. Specifically, he has some outstanding criticisms of ideas that have become accepted out of hand as THE orthodox view of how the problems of poverty and economic inequality are to be handled.

However, starting on around page 3, I think he begins to overstate certain things. For example, he states that the phrase "preferential option for the poor" was coined by liberation theologians. While the precise phrase indeed has its origins with liberation theology, the concept is not that new. Consider the definition that Woods gives for the preferential option:

  • "It means we should formulate economic policy, and design our institutional framework, with a special eye to improving the well-being of the poor in particular."
Now compare that with this bit from Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno:
  • "The function of the rulers of the State is to watch over the community and its parts; but in protecting private individuals in their rights, chief consideration ought to be given to the weak and the poor."
Sounds pretty similar to me. In fact, I don't think Woods mentions QA at all in his entire article. With regards to what Woods believes is the preferential option for the poor, he posits the free market. To a certain extent, he is correct. However, I would temper this by saying that things that are free tend to be so because there are laws in place to protect them. I would suggest that a system that promotes injustice (which is merely a possibility, not a necessity of free markets) cannot be all that free. We must guard against this tendency.

Again from QA:

Just as the unity of human society cannot be founded on an opposition of classes, so also the right ordering of economic life cannot be left to a free competition of forces. For from this source, as from a poisoned spring, have originated and spread all the errors of individualist economic teaching. . .

But free competition, while justified and certainly useful provided it is kept within certain limits, clearly cannot direct economic life - a truth which the outcome of the application in practice of the tenets of this evil individualistic spirit has more than sufficiently demonstrated. Therefore, it is most necessary that economic life be again subjected to and governed by a true and effective directing principle. This function is one that the economic dictatorship which has recently displaced free competition can still less perform, since it is a headstrong power and a violent energy that, to benefit people, needs to be strongly curbed and wisely ruled. But it cannot curb and rule itself.

Does this necessitate high-level government redistribution? Not really. More on that next time.

1 comment:

David said...

Excellent. I'm sure I'll enjoy reading more of your posts.