Of fallacies and futility and free-market utility…

The Truth About Capitalism

The Truth About Capitalism (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Capitalism is not a philosophy. It is simply a method of allocating resources based on voluntary exchange instead of coercion. While some say that such a method promotes greed, history indicates that greed is no less present in any other system of allocating resources. Distributism is completely compatible with capitalism to the extent it is a voluntary expression of the desire to make such market exchanges by reference to appropriate moral values and not just profit. Distributism is most difficult to apply in the context of enterprises that need large amounts of capital to compete successfully. Such businesses tend to organize as public companies whose ownership is distinct from management. Such companies have a very difficult time voluntarily expressing values that are inimical to profit maximization. It is not impossible, since corporations can be organized expressing other goals which would be disclosed to investors, but thus far such efforts have not proven all that successful. Instead, non-pecuniary values are imposed via government regulation, which plainly can be blunt and political instruments. It is also important to realize that non-investor corporate constituencies, especially consumers, do alter behavior by imposing their values thereby affecting corporate profits. Imperfect information and imperfect consumers limit the efficacy of such forces, but truly there is nothing about a free market system that renders it inherently incompatible with Catholic values.”

–– a comment by M. Petrik at The American Catholic’s oldish post on “Distributism and the Futility of Third Ways”

I think his point is that capitalism is not presented as an entire Lebensphilosophie, but simply as a model for commerce. It’s a fallacy to say that, because capitalism puts profit above all else in business, therefore it puts profit above all else in life. One’s dealings in the business world are, hopefully, but a part of one’s life. Indeed, the desire for profit assumes that one has higher ideals and ends to which those profits can be committed. In any event, I agree with JP2 that it’s better to speak of and work for a “market economy” rather than “capitalism,” since the latter is by now perhaps inextricably tied up with the Marxist critique, and thus perhaps trapped inside that interminable dialectic.

I’m inclined to agree with my friend, himself another Catholic tormented by the apparent rift between economic realities and “well meaning” Church teaching on economics: “I don’t think there is any alternative to capitalism. It’s simply the economic face of a complex society. The other stuff is all book invention and fantasy. Soviet Communism simply managed to produce, in the words of one wise one I have forgotten, ‘super monopoly state capitalism’.”


About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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8 Responses to Of fallacies and futility and free-market utility…

  1. Crude says:

    What about distributivism?

  2. What’s in a name? Distributism by another name––distributivism––would smell just as distributist. It’s already hard enough to say and use on Twitter, don’t lower its market value with another syllable! Heheh. –> http://www.medaille.com/distributivism-encyclopedia.pdf

  3. Crude says:

    Of course. 🙂 I was just wondering what you thought of it. I recalled you spoke of it positively?

  4. I’m dying to get Feser to write more about all this. This is the first time in my life (well, after my conversion, I mean!) that I’ve ever had a struggle just to “roll over” and accept the Church’s teaching on a subject. I think this is because it’s a very real question where ECONOMIC truths lie under the Church’s magisterial competence. MORALLY, the Church is right to teach as she does, and does so infallibly by the ordinary magisterium, but the question is whether those moral ends are best achieved by economically fallacious policies. I know Feser has shifted from hardcore libertarianism to conservatism, but he also looks down upon distributism. Being urged to argue against capitalism ON CATHOLIC GROUNDS feels to me like I’m being asked to argue against evolution AS IF young-earth creationism were Catholic dogma. Indeed, my reflex is to say: “Distributists: Catholic Young-Earthers”. Sigh.

    LECTURE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsuW3h2HAII
    TRANSCRIPT: http://www.edwardfeser.com/unpublishedpapers/socialjustice.html
    Thomas Woods on all this, too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kEnhIUQ494

  5. I have. I’ll be posting several comments and ideas from conversations about all this from my Facebook tonight and tomorrow.

  6. Crude says:

    I’m still trying to figure out where you’re coming from on this particular one. I think capitalism as a model (and models are idealizations) isn’t really a problem from the Church’s perspective at all. I’d be surprised at that. The problem seems to be capitalism as an ideaology.

  7. Easy for you to say! You have no idea how much pious, if not smug, anti-capitalism there is in distributist, and thus in “classical conservative”, circles. My current mottoes are “distributist values achieved by by free-market means in Catholic natural-law terms” and “the promotion of public policy to enact widespread productive freedom-in-ownership under decentralized government.” Since the financial crises of late, it’s open season on anti-capitalism, which of course just augments a long-standing Whiggish crusade against human progress by free market means. The election of Pope Francis has only added buckets of chum to the distributist waters.

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