Blogs » J.Q. Tomanek of Victoria » Can you read or do you always offer straw men?


This article here from the Hoover Institute really got my blood flowing this morning. I have not a single problem when another person offers critique of something I believe. In this case, it is misunderstood social teachings of the Church that are criticized. Richard Epstein is debunking something that does not exist. I assume he simply does not understand Her teachings.

There is a secret that Catholics believe, ssshhh, don’t tell anyone. The secret is that every human person is invaluable, unrepeatable, unique, priceless, a subject, a moral creature, rational animal, lover/beloved. It stands to reason that the starting point of any human system, including economic, has the human person as the actor.

The Holy Father said that it is wrong to put “profits before people” and that “The economy cannot be measured by the maximum profit but by the common good. The economy cannot function only with mercantile self-regulation but needs an ethical reason in order to work for man” as Epstein mentions in his article. Epstein sounds critical of these words and claims them as socialist. However, the Holy Father’s words must be read in the context of his writings from before and previous social teachings offered especially over the last 120 years or so. The Holy Father leans on these years and allows the democracy of the dead to speak. When profit/loss only economics is chosen, people end up abused. A similar situation was witnessed by Karl Marx when he visited England in the 1800s and his experience of the treatment of workers led him to develop what we call Marxism which is state socialism.

Economists in the Church also saw the problems when profit/loss only economics is chosen and the Church then offered her solution. In the midst of stating her solution, she also discredited centralized state socialism. So, this mindset must be used in interpreting the present Holy Father. So when the Holy Father says that people come before profits, he is not saying the state is in charge of central planning the economy. Rather, in Her wisdom, the Church offers two primary principles that give more power to the human person to act without violating the human person. These two principles are subsidiary and solidarity. The former recognizes that those closest to the problem are the people that should deal with it. In organization terms, think of it as bottom-up human action. The latter recognizes that human nature is also associative. We are born into a family, form civic groups, assemble for church, meet at the pub, visit with neighbors, etc. In her terms, this reflects human solidarity. Her teachings see two apparent opposing goods and say, “Here is how you puts these puzzle pieces together.” She recognizes the value of the human person and the fact that the human person is a social creature. She sees the value of the individual person and the value that community provides to the human person.

As Catholics, we don’t believe the free market can regulate what is ethical for the human person. There must be something that the free market is guided by like natural law, human dignity, etc. By itself, profit/loss only economics is not self-defining; it takes the human mind to develop the thought. It is actually profit/loss only economics that exists only in a vacuum because economics would not exist if it wasn’t trying to provide scarce resources for the human person. Cows don’t trade, pear trees don’t take their goods to the market, and rocks don’t provide services. Rather, these are all resources that the human person uses to provide goods and services to benefit himself and other human persons.

But just because She believes this doesn’t mean she is socialistic. The choices are not capitalism or socialism; rather the choices are profit/loss-only capitalism, socialism, or some kind of economic system with the human person as the center. Profit/loss only capitalism and socialism cannot provide for the human person because these economic systems were developed assuming the human person is a stand-alone individual which should be able to do anything it wants (profit/loss only) or should be controlled by a central state (Marxist socialism).

For example, in profit/loss only capitalism, murder-for-hire is good if there is a demand in the market for it. If the only guidance is if there is profit, stealing, cheating, abducting, kidnapping all become fair game. If the only guidance is the state, then whoever has control of it makes what is fair. These are the two things the Church has consistently spoken against and is the things the Holy Father has in mind when he said, "The economy cannot be measured by the maximum profit but by the common good. The economy cannot function only with mercantile self-regulation but needs an ethical reason in order to work for man."

“Where in the world does socialism fit into that quote?” is what I would ask Epstein. Socialistic collectivism is not “common” or “good” or “common good”, so a Marxist socialist could very well misunderstand and think the Church is for profit/loss only capitalism. Marxist socialists and profit/loss only capitalists do share something; they both believe the Church’s social doctrines wrong. The human economic principles defeated communism in Poland with the Solidarity Movement, will it be solidarity or subsidiary that will defeat “mercantile self-regulation”?