Thursday, August 26, 2010

Thinking in Slogans, Talking in Anathemas

The old fight between Distributism and Austro-Libertarianism has erupted again, with Jeremiah Bannister in one corner — A Resolved Tension and The Bottom Line: Exposing Catholic Austro-Libertarian Dissent — and Jeffrey Tucker in the other — Why Catholics Don't Understand Economics.

Mr. Tucker's thesis: "People who live and work primarily within the Catholic milieu are dealing mainly with goods of an infinite nature.... If one exists, lives, and thinks primarily in the realm of the non-scarce good, the problems associated with scarcity – the realm that concerns economics – will always be elusive."

This statement reminds of a post at — The New Beginning in response to an article — US Bishops Call for Good Jobs, Wages for All — the title of which says it all — Some concrete recommendations, please? Jobs and wages for all? From where? By whom? How? (Through prayer, yes.)

George Orwell spoke of "the streamlined men who think in slogans and talk in bullets" of his day. Distributists are not, by and large, violent people (although many "third way" movements have been fascist in nature), but it would be nice if they'd stop throwing words like "dissent" around so loosely.

The Ordinary Magisterium, under which the Papal Encyclicals to which the Distributivists constantly refer, is as far as I know, non-infallible. Also, they tend to be written in a way that leaves much room for interpretation.

When speaking of a "just wage" for example, does that mean the State must set a minimum wage law, and if so, what? Or could it mean Catholic employers should not swindle their workers? Or could it mean that the State should get out of the way and let industrialists, unions, and markets come to a just wage?

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24 Comments:

Anonymous m.z. said...

When speaking of a "just wage" for example, does that mean the State must set a minimum wage law, and if so, what?

When justice demands such, yes. The state I suppose doesn't need laws proscribing abortion as long as no one has an abortion.

Or could it mean Catholic employers should not swindle their workers?
No, they shouldn't.

Or could it mean that the State should get out of the way and let industrialists, unions, and markets come to a just wage?
Either the market is capable of moral arbitrage or it is not. The premise of your question is that it is capable of moral arbitrage. I don't think you actually believe that, so at best, the industrialists and unions can come up with a wage.

11:52 PM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

But the problem with modern capitalism is that the State is never out of the way. The State is collaborating with corporations to concentrate wealth and control business to favor the corporations and make government policies vis a vis the economy easier to enact because there are fewer major stakeholders to deal with.

Large concentrations of wealth are virtually impossible without State support and (ultimately) control. Every corporation in this country is a creature of the State -- corporations can only be legally created under statute, and must be registered with the secretary of state's office in the state where they are incorporated. Without the government literally sanctioning their creation, no corporation could exist.

Distributionism isn't perfect -- like any economic system, it needs modification to deal with reality. But the argument that the current system we have is somehow the "free market" is balderdash. What we have now is almost exactly the same kind of system identified by Belloc in The Servile State and later implemented by the fascists in the 1920's and 30's: the fusion of large corporations with omnipresent government.

1:49 AM  
Blogger Richard Aleman said...

"The Ordinary Magisterium, under which the Papal Encyclicals to which the Distributivists constantly refer, is as far as I know, non-infallible. Also, they tend to be written in a way that leaves much room for interpretation."

Actually, even if documents are non-infallible, they still require assent.

Catholic Social Teaching is a weight Catholics are bound to carry and cannot ignore.

Ubi Arcano which states,

"“Many believe in or claim that they believe in and hold fast to Catholic doctrine on such questions as social authority, the right of owning private property, on the relations between capital and labor, on the rights of the laboring man, on the relations between Church and State, religion and country, on the relations between the different social classes, on international relations, on the rights of the Holy See and the prerogatives of the Roman Pontiff and the Episcopate, on the social rights of Jesus Christ, Who is the Creator, Redeemer, and Lord not only of individuals but of nations. In spite of these protestations, they speak, write, and, what is more, act as if it were not necessary any longer to follow, or that they did not remain still in full force, the teachings and solemn pronouncements which may be found in so many documents of the Holy See, and particularly in those written by Leo XIII, Pius X, and Benedict XV.

“There is a species of moral, legal, and social modernism which We condemn, no less decidedly than We condemn theological modernism”(Pope Pius XI, Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio §60-61,)

Any serious review of the Catholic social encyclicals makes it quite clear that economics is subject to the higher sciences and under Magisterial Authority.

2:15 AM  
Blogger Paleocrat said...

Coming to the conclusion of Woods, Tucker & Co. regarding the authority of the Magisterium's social teaching really does lead to rather frightening considerations, some of which I mentioned in my audio. The problem, at root, revolves around how the Church has spoken of herself, and what it would mean were it to be wrong. If the Church is in fact wrong, then what? The truth of the matter is that it would be far worse than a mere matter of misdirection; it would be the most abominable of scandals.

Consider for a moment the ramifications. The Church doesn't merely insist that its principles and policies are worthy of consideration. No, the Church has proclaimed competency on social matters and economic activities themselves. More than this, the popes have insisted that the Magisterium's social teaching "be taught as part of the daily curriculum in Catholic schools of every kind, particularly seminaries." The Church has said it would like to see these things taught in parish religious instruction. Going further, the Church wishes that every means be used to spread these teaching. Such means mentioned by John XXIII in "Mater et Magistra" included daily newspapers, periodicals, popular and scientific publications, radio and television. If Woods, Tucker and Co. are correct, then what we have here is one of the most wicked programs of misinformation the world has ever seen!

If only it stopped with education! Adding insult to injury would be the fact that the Church not only demands that such things be taught, but that they also be applied. The Church has spoken of this as a matter of Catholic obligation. It is one thing to require people be taught; it is quite another to demand its application under the guise of something required of the Catholic faithful.

What horrifying considerations! But such is the fall-out, if in fact the Austrian dissenters are correct in their criticisms.

3:09 AM  
Blogger Casey Khan said...

"But the argument that the current system we have is somehow the "free market" is balderdash."

Of course, that is not the argument advanced by Jeffrey Tucker and other Austro-Libertarians. The Austro-libertarians are in agreement with the distributists as far as state interference with the market, but where they disagree, is on what to do in light of such interference.

3:10 AM  
Blogger Paleocrat said...

Some distributists, possibly. Unlike Austrians, most distributists recognize legitimate instances of government intervention and cooperation. The issue, at least here, is how one views the state. I have contended for some time that the Austrian view of the state is, more often than not, at odds with the traditionally Catholic view of the state as described by the social teaching of the Magisterium.

4:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not an economist and I have only a superficial knowledge of Catholic social teaching. I am still fuzzy about how distributivists think their ideas can be implemented.

But the State is scaring me right now because of such rulings that law enforcement can put a GPS device on my car and track me. That they have the right do a virtual strip search at the airport. The libertarians are the main ones addressing these issues.

Faustina

4:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not an economist and I have only a superficial knowledge of Catholic social teaching. I am still fuzzy about how distributivists think their ideas can be implemented.

But the State is scaring me right now because of such rulings that law enforcement can put a GPS device on my car and track me. That they have the right do a virtual strip search at the airport. The libertarians are the main ones addressing these issues.

Faustina

4:26 AM  
Blogger Paleocrat said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:10 AM  
Blogger Paleocrat said...

I encourage you to visit the Distributist Review. Also, I highly recommend the works of John Medaille and Race Matthews. Books such as "Toward a Truly Free Market" and "Jobs of Our Own" are excellent, and would be very helpful for any wishing to better understand distributism and how such ideas have been, can be, and are being implemented.

5:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paleocrat:

It will be along time before I get to all that reading to understand it. The question is how, in general, do its proponents propose such systems be implemented?

Thanks

Faustina

6:02 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Faustina, it's the implementation, not the vision, that worries me, too. I see the mailed fist of the State.

"Republican government, by libertarian means, towards conservative ends," they used to say.

How about distributist ends by Austro-libertarian means? How about Wilhem Roepke?

7:15 AM  
Blogger love the girls said...

Western Confucian writes : "it's the implementation, not the vision, that worries me, too. I see the mailed fist of the State."

The US being a tyranny does not prove the libertarians to not be wrong in principle.

Nor does the lack of not being able to implement Catholic principles (because of the current tyranny), disprove the truth of those principles.

___________

Defrauding a laborer of his just wages is a sin that cries out to God for vengeance, but yet the libertarians defend that sin as if was a non sin.

They are no different than the libs. who likewise dismiss the Church's teaching on unnatural sexual practices. They all know better than the Church, sins of pride in the service of sins of the appetites seeking their gratification.

7:51 AM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

Withdraw the government supports for the current corportist/fascist economic system and a distributionist order will arise within the constraints of the common law and the functioning principles of an actual free market.

It does not require State action for distributionism to arise - it requires State inaction. Withdraw the subsidies, the corporate welfare, the deliberate market manipulations, return the money supply to a solid basis (tied to gold or silver), allow the common law of contracts and traditional principles of agency and partnership to function, limit corporations to functions that are clearly specified in their corporate charters, focus any necessary government regulation of the economy on fair trade rather than the libertarian ideology of free trade, and a good start will be had.

Again, reduce the power of the State, and the power of corporations will also be reduced. Corporations feed off the State, which in turn feeds off the people.

8:13 AM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:14 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Mark in Spokane, perfectly said.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

Thanks!

9:10 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

"Actually, even if documents are non-infallible, they still require assent."

True. But what does "assent" mean? Can we assent to both Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae and Dignitatis Humanae, for example, about freedom of religion? I say yes, but only by adopting a rather "liberal" view of the term "assent." Otherwise, you'll end up a sedevacantist.

"Catholic Social Teaching is a weight Catholics are bound to carry and cannot ignore."

The ends, yes, but the means are open to debate. What if total laissez-faire coupled by generous charity from the Church and society was shown to be the most just system?

10:45 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

"Defrauding a laborer of his just wages is a sin that cries out to God for vengeance, but yet the libertarians defend that sin as if was a non sin."

What about libertarian Henry Hazlitt, who argued (rather convincingly, in my opinion) that minimum wage laws suppress wages in the long run?

A Catholic whose intellect tells him that Hazlitt is right would be duty-bound by his conscience to support the abolition of minimum wage laws.

A Catholic industrialist who, although convinced Hazlitt was right, argued for the maintenance of minimum wage laws because in the long run they allowed him to defraud laborers would be guilty of "a sin that cries out to God for vengeance."

10:56 AM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

Or, how about instead of minimum wage laws there is a guild system for laborers that enables them to hone a craft which eventually leads to them being able to start their own businesses? Wages may be low to start, but the apprenticeship would be a form of education that would wind up providing for the laborer's future as a property and business owner, rather than a wage slave. Embracing distributionism allows us to leave overly-intrusive State meddling in the marketplace behind, while providing for a better future for the working class -- a future where they aren't restricted solely to be laborers, but can become shopkeepers, businessmen, contractors, etc. No minimum wage laws, but no wage slavery either. Perfect answer.

1:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"....focus any necessary government regulation of the economy on fair trade rather than the libertarian ideology of free trade..."

Faustina

9:13 PM  
Blogger love the girls said...

Western Confucian writes : "What about libertarian Henry Hazlitt, who argued .. that minimum wage laws suppress wages in the long run?"

The minimum wage is not the same as a just wage. Especially when the just wage argued against is the concept of a living wage. A concept the libertarians reject.

12:11 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

I'm all for a just wage and even a family wage, but it need not be legislated. I don't think it was in the past. My supervisor, a Buddhist, always hooks me and the other guys with kids with opportunities to make more money.

7:37 AM  
Anonymous Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin said...

Apprenticeship could reasonably considered a living -- the master provides his apprentice with room, board, and education in exchange for his labor. But this arrangement does not have to provide the apprentice with any wage at all! Does that make in unjust?

2:34 PM  

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