Catholic And Capitalist

 

A beautiful blog post on Rorate Caeli about the way Capitalism and Catholicism are compatible (or not).

The matter is, of course, one of definitions. If by Capitalism we mean, with dictionary.com

 an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, especially as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.

then it is clear that not only is this system not in any way in contrast to Catholicism, but by encouraging the production and distribution of wealth and free time like no other system in the hystory of humanity (you would not, and I mean not, find any other system allowing so many to become so successful by so humble origins; not a system creating such a huge means to support the less fortunate) it is certainly conducive to improvement in the spiritual and material conditions of Christianity. Today, most people can access, say, the summa theologica online and have the time and means to enjoy it in comfort. Try that in North Corea, or in any rural society that is not the fruit of the naive imagination of hopeless dreamers.

The problem lies, as so often, in the distorted perception some have of the present world, and in the non-existent historic perspective of too many.

On the one hand, the indefatigable supporters of the theory of the Great Conspiracy of some very fat and very rich – invariably cigar-smoking – “fat pigs” lets some people – often unemployed,  frustrated and, in general, losers – choose them as the scapegoat of everything that runs below their own perfect standard, and of the culprits for all the differences with the perfect world they would most certainly create if they only were allowed to run it.

On the other hand, it would be foolish to deny that Capitalism has gone, like a savagely growing teenager, through a phase of hormonal tempest and disordinate growth, a phase during which it was probably not unfair to say that with all the wealth and possibilities created by capitalism, it was possibly reducing more people to brutes than was helping to raise to a better life, and the rather vivid descriptions of the Dickenses, Zolas  and Conan Doyles of this world move one to think whether the old pre-capitalistic society was not in the end a better way of life – though with, in absolute terms, less certainly and possibly less to eat, as proved by the huge number of people attracted by the slums of the great cities and the rather savage work in the mines –  than the security, paid at great price, of the employment in a mine or a mill, let alone a life of expedients and utter misery.

What many, I think, struggle to understand is that Capitalism is smart. It is self-healing like skin, durable and supple like leather. When growth became inhordinate and, at times, inhuman, Capitalism corrected itself and transformed into a system able to distribute wealth and free time with such liberality as to … assure its survival and thriving. When Communism threatened it, Capitalism made possible and financed the greatest arms race humankind had ever seen, and got rid of the problem (thanks, Gipper!) in a couple of decades. When smog and dirt were  disfiguring the landscape, destroying life in the rivers and  changing the faces of the most beautiful cities, Capitalism created ways to “clean itself” and make life better for everyone, poor or rich, young or old. “You can’t trust air you can’t see”, was the sad joke in Los Angeles in the Fifties. When Capitalism creates too much statalism, entitlement mentality and exploding public debt capitalism creates… the Tea Party, and the self-healing mechanism starts another round of self-reform.

Those who, today, rant again Capitalism generally do so from their own laptop, at home, or perhaps from the nearby cafe with wifi connection. They are “poor” – when they are – at a level inconceivably high for every generation before them, bar none. Many of them not only do not know poverty; they do not know work, passing judgement over a system which maintained them every day since their birth. Think “Occupy”.

You could of course say that Capitalism led to the loss of the spiritual backbone of the West, but I would disagree. If we look at Europe, some of its richest corner are among the most Catholic (Bavaria in Germany; Triveneto in Italy), and the most powerful country of the planet is still the most Christian among the major ones. The problems of Catholicism – and of Christianity – do not come from the wealth (everyone of us know, and history puts in front of us inifinte example, of people very rich, and very pious) but from the betrayal of Christianity from the side of the clergy, the Catholic clergy as well as many Protestant ministers. When, though, the Christian ministers do not abdicate to their role Christianity is robust and expanding, and the importance religion is having in the current presidential run once again show how Capitalism and Christianity – or more specifically, Cathlicism – are not only compatible, but mutually beneficial.

It beggars belief that a “crisis” that left the Western world, perhaps, 2% back from the top is lived as some biblical catastrophe, or taken as a sign – as some some particularly stupid person did; an archbishop of Westminster come to mind – of the “end of capitalism”.

Fools. Capitalism will bury them and all their blabbering as it has buried poverty, communism, pollution and so many other threats and evils.

Please visit Rorate Caeli  and enjoy the many beautiful quotes from past Popes, putting them – of course – in their own historical perspective. Even JP II, generally so prone to under-the-beltline populism when the talk is about such themes, gets it entirely right.

Mundabor

Posted on January 11, 2012, in Catholicism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Mundabor,

    The current Western economic model is a “fritto misto” of good, bad and evil components. The most beneficial aspect is, as you identified, that we are free to patronise whatever goods and services are offered (subject to means). Next most important is the sequential exploitation of rising density energy sources, culminating in crude oil (25,000 equivalent man hours of labour in each barrel), ie. the second law of thermodynamics.

    Without doubt capitalism is bad for society in aggregate. Your compatriot Amintore Fanfani has described why and also why capitalism is incompatible with Catholicism. Another bad is taxation, which falls where it shouldn’t (on interest and wages), but not where it should (on rent); Henry George has explained why. Limited liability is another bad thing as it leads entrepreneurs to overreach themselves, and it subverts common law.

    The greatest evil is undoubtably fiat money. The global banking system was provided with trillions of taxpayers money to keep it liquid. It’s a multi-generational debt and it’s wholly immoral. What’s worse, it hasn’t worked. Another significant evil is the military-industrial complex that puts its placemen into government, to subvert popular will and create never-ending war.

    Planned economies fail for all the reasons Hayek wrote about. However, consumer discretion is not synonymous with capitalism; in fact capitalism acts against consumer choice in the long run. Leo XIII correctly observed that we should all have a bit of capital to protect our families against the vicissitudes of life; from there Chesterbelloc developed Distributism which the capitalists continue to smear as a pipe-dream proposed by a couple of economic illiterates. But, Mondragon, a Spanish co-operative employs 83,000 people, 85% of whom are simultaneously capitalists and labourers.

    Well done on your blog, it’s a high quality effort.

    • Wigsonthegreen, I only agree on the high quality effort, and must disagree on pretty much all the rest. As this blog is, though, not meant to examine the work of my compatriot Amintore Fanfani (who was certainly a capitalist, though not in the way you put it) I’ll have to leave it at that.

      M

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