Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium and the free market

dont-tread-on-neighbor300I am sure we are all busy this Thanksgiving week, so I considered my self lucky to have found the time to read through Pope Francis’ letter titled Evangelii Gaudium on Tuesday, but I hadn’t really figured out my reaction to parts of that letter that might be read as hostile to the free market.

This morning I was checking my email–waiting for most of my family to arrive for Thanksgiving dinner–when I received this message from a fellow named Kris who was troubled by the same concerns. I took a few minutes to hazard a response (which time may later help me to refine). Here is Kris’ letter and my early thoughts:

From: Kris Mxxxxxxxx
Subject: EVANGELII GAUDIUM

Dear Mr. England,

I came across a couple of your posts on catholic.com while searching for conservative/libertarian responses to Catholic Pope Francis’ newly released Encyclical.

Coincidentally, I own a copy of your book, Free Is Beautiful, and have read some of it. I admit I was disappointed by it because I don’t think it acknowledges that although Catholicism and libertarianism are compatible, the Church has worked against libertarianism in many ways throughout its history.

I’d like to know what your reaction to the Pope’s new Encyclical is. In particular, the remarks about “trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world” and “ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.”

As a fellow libertarian Catholic, I found those statements disturbing. Should I?

Sincerely,
Kris Mxxxxxxxx

————————————————————————–
Randy England <randyengland@gmail.com>
11:59 AM

Hi Kris:

Thanks you for your thoughtful message. I’ve only read the letter once, and it is clear there are no doctrinal issues that I have any trouble with. There a couple things I wish could be clarified. One is his harshness with what Pope Francis calls “unfettered capitalism.” Neither you nor I, nor the Pope has ever seen unfettered capitalism. I assume he must be condemning our modern corrupt, crony capitalism which any decent person ought to condemn.

I would like to see a free market in which anybody–especially the poor–can practice their occupations, subject only to the need to please the people they serve. They should be able to do it without government permission.

They shouldn’t need a license or government permission to practice a trade out of their homes; to sell their wares as a street vendor; to braid, cut, color hair or apply makeup; to have all the garage sales they want, to care for children in their homes, to bake & sell bread, to to use their vehicles to drive other people around inexpensively; to raise small animals in town; and on and on.

These are ways the market could be “unfettered” and I think our Pope might agree.

As to “trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” I don’t think that the rich getting richer necessarily helps the poor, but I cannot overlook the fact that a poor man today lives a better, longer, cleaner, healthier life than did a king 200 years ago. He can travel further, faster, use the phone, electric lights and probably see his children’s children born and raised, instead of watching them die. This is progress and the poor man participates as much as a king, arguably more.

I would give anything to be able to discuss these things with our Pope, but I have to trust in God that the Church will grow its understanding of liberty as government becomes more obviously corrupt and oppressive.

I am not worried about the past. It took the Church over a 1000 years to BEGIN to eradicate and finally condemn slavery (because of the “hardness of our hearts” as Jesus said). This may be that sort of thing. It can take time for understanding to develop. I really believe that liberty under non-aggressive institutions is the future.

God bless you and your family this Thanksgiving. It’s time for dinner!

Kind regards,
Randy England

———————————————————-
Kris Mxxxxxxxx
8:10 PM

Dear Randy,

Your response has made me much more comfortable being a Catholic libertarian. Thank you. I also believe that liberty under non-aggressive institution is the future. How could the kingdom of God be any other way? Please feel free to use this exchange in your blog if you feel it would help others like me.

Yours in Christ,

Kris

voluntary

Libertarianism and the Catholic principle of “subsidiarity.”

Few trends are more damaging than the relentless march of the state into every area of life. With each passing year, the state brazenly exposes its contempt for the dignity of the individual and thereby testifies to its own illegitimacy.

The Church recognizes that while man is a social creature, he himself is prior to society; prior to the state. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it.” CCC 1930.

Man is above the stateHuman society is first composed of its individual members, who form numerous associations for survival, companionship and every other human need. Whether the group is a family, a church or any other co-operative effort, every institution derives its governing authority from the consent of the individual person. Society has an order that must be respected.

Pope Leo XIII taught that “Man precedes the State, and possesses, prior to the formation of any State, the right of providing for the substance of his body.” Rerum Novarum, 7.

Regarding the next societal level—the family—he wrote, “[T]he domestic household is antecedent, as well in idea as in fact, to the gathering of men into a community, the family must necessarily have rights and duties which are prior to those of community, and founded more immediately in nature.” Rerum Novarum, 13.

This natural ordering of society is known as the principle of subsidiarity.

In 1931, Pope Pius XI lamented the “near extinction” of these intermediate institutions that left the individual standing alone before his master, the state. In the place of

. . . that rich social life which was once highly developed through associations of various kinds, there remain virtually only individuals and the State. This is to the great harm of the State itself; for, with a structure of social governance lost, and with the taking over of all the burdens which the wrecked associations once bore, the State has been overwhelmed and crushed by almost infinite tasks and duties.”

Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.

The supreme authority of the State ought, therefore, to let subordinate groups handle matters and concerns of lesser importance, which would otherwise dissipate its efforts greatly. 

Quadragesimo Anno, 78 – 80.

Subsidiarity is a principle of respect, and of justice. Subsidiarity best promotes the common good at every level of society. Nations fall. Civilizations die, but every person we meet is an immortal being, higher than anything in the physical creation; above and before the state. So let’s show some respect.

 

revolution

Mind Your Own Business

Mind Your Own BusinessGod respects our free will and permits us to live our lives for better or worse, but we ought not think His forbearance  signals an opening for us to step in and interfere with our neighbors’ lives. On the contrary, many scriptural passages condemn meddling in the affairs of others. When others threaten or harm us, we have a right to protect ourselves, our property and our loved ones. It is our affair.

We may even come to the aid of a stranger who is being robbed, but with a caveat: The further we are from a problem, the more we must pause before interfering with matters that do not concern us (and which we may not understand). This is never more true than when others behave in ways we disapprove but are not harming anyone, except perhaps themselves.

People who meddle in others’ business we call busybodies, and the scripture has nothing good to say about them

The mildest biblical reproach for the busybody is when King Solomon declares him to be a fool. Prov. 20:3. Elsewhere Solomon advises that he who meddles in another man’s quarrel is only buying trouble for himself “like the man who seizes a passing dog by the ears.” Prov. 26:17.

The New Testament is harsher, describing such people as lazy idlers: “We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a disorderly way, by not keeping busy but minding the business of others.” 2 Thessalonians 3:11 They are meddlers going from house to house with gossip “talking about things that ought not to be mentioned,” rather than being productive.1 Tim. 5:13. St. Peter, calling them “intriguers” (or mischief-makers), classes them with thieves, murderers and other criminals. 1 Pet. 4:15.

There is a common thread here: MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS

Mind Your Own Business

Romans 3:8 – There is no “necessary evil.”

Some libertarians say–when speaking of their own or others’ journey–“It usually starts with Ayn Rand.” No doubt  the scales have fallen from many eyes upon reading her novel, Atlas Shrugged. But no matter how a person comes to libertarianism–at bottom–it comes down to Romans 3:8. Evil means are not justified by good ends.

No one agrees with everything everything the government does, but one might imagine the existence of a government whose activities were limited to promoting the common good and nothing else.

No matter how well a government might behave in most matters, no modern state (except one: the Vatican) avoids aggression as as a means of accomplishing the “good.” Even the “good” government—which never initiates violence except to finance its good-deed-doing—finds itself making the moral choice condemned by St. Paul in Romans 3:8: that of doing evil that good may come of it.

In 1994, Pope John Paul II examined this topic of making right moral decisions. He wrote that while it is important to consider good intentions and good results, neither of those justify an evil action:

Let us say that someone robs in order to feed the poor: in this case, even though the intention is good, the uprightness of the will is lacking. Consequently, no evil done with a good intention can be excused.
John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor (1993) 78.

Christians do not have the option of robbing or caging their neighbors for a good cause (except in self -defense). There can be no “necessary evil.”