Friday, December 01, 2006

Holy Economics

I just received the latest from Touchstone magazine, which I thought all of the Distributists here would be interested to read. There is an article on Solidarity, which they've been kind enough to put on line here.

There is a short article, though, not on-line, which I thought worthy of writing up here.

Title: Holy Economics
Author: S.M. Hutchens

I have never been excited about the "capitalism versus socialism" paradigm, for it appears to me that much of what is called capitalism is simply what one might call the natural economic order--what people do when they trade in relative freedom--and much of what is called socialism is an attempt to correct the injustices that arise within it. (A notion with which I think Chesterton would be comfortable.)

Christians, I believe, need to be careful to distinguish between, on one hand, "capitalism" as a natural order fueled by human desire for prosperity (which is itself benign, but subject to evil through human sin) and the apparent "socialism" that is in fact charity working upon it over the objections of the capitalist, and, on the other, capitalism and socialism as economic theories encouraged or enforced by civil power. We should be very careful about appearing to endorse one or the other of the latter, for as theories they are both flawed and in earnest practice inhumane.

The Christian, I believe, should be working critically on these matters, but keep his feet fixed firmly on pre-theoretical ground, on the conceptual background of "mere economic activity" and the goods and evils that arise from it, never becoming a partisan of any theory or school, but always remaining at arm's length from them.

Just as many evils can be laid at the door of one as of the other, when viewed in the light of the same strength, the problem with socialism is its tendency to harm the individual in favor of the common good, and with capitalism its tendency to harm the common good for the enlargement of the individual. Both--as theoretical and practical systems--are to be avoided.

The historian Phillip Schaff said of Calvinism and Arminianism that the Bible was more human than the first, more divine than the second, and more Christian than either. Of capitalism and socialism as economic theory and practice it might be similarly said that holy economy is more selfless than the first, more interested in the individual than the second, and kind than either.

Naturally, I think distributists will agree with this, and maybe you will feel distributism is that "mere economic" way. But I think something holds over, too. I believe "mere economic activity" is a good idea, but if we need to be "working critically on these matters" then we must talk about economics as it applies to our society, too. Naturally, economics begins at home. But our world needs to run, and it will run in some way, and if we are not involved with how it runs, it will run away from us with, usually, either form which Mr. Hutchens describes as capitalism or socialism. Some people are called to be those "working critically on these things" and so they should.

1 comment:

  1. I am glad Touchstone is getting involved in these issues, because the economic aspect has been largely missing in their otherwise excellent choice and variety of topics.

    Mr. Hutchens is probably reflecting the views of Centesimus Annus, which is certainly one of the key documents that need to be studied and elaborated upon in this respect.

    ( )

    A few interesting observations, article 40 distinguishes between “primitive” and “new” capitalism:

    40. ... Just as in the time of primitive capitalism the State had the duty of defending the basic rights of workers, so now, with the new capitalism, the State and all of society have the duty of defending those collective goods which, among others, constitute the essential framework for the legitimate pursuit of personal goals on the part of each individual.

    One would have to elaborate about the meaning of those “collective goods.”

    Also, it may seem like endorsment of capitalism, but

    42. Returning now to the initial question: can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? ... answer is obviously complex.


    43. The Church has no models to present; models that are real and truly effective can only arise within the framework of different historical situations, ...

    Mrs. Brown is correct, economics starts at home, yet this is not what the Distributists should consider to be the final goal of Distributism. We need to work on all aspects of how Distributism will work within the whole framework of society:

    48. These general observations also apply to the role of the State in the economic sector. Economic activity, especially the activity of a market economy, cannot be conducted in an institutional, juridical or political vacuum. On the contrary, it presupposes sure guarantees of individual freedom and private property, as well as a stable currency and efficient public services. Hence the principle task of the State is to guarantee this security, so that those who work and produce can enjoy the fruits of their labours and thus feel encouraged to work efficiently and honestly....

    The State has the further right to intervene when particular monopolies create delays or obstacles to development. ...

    In recent years the range of such intervention has vastly expanded, to the point of creating a new type of State, the so-called "Welfare State". This has happened in some countries in order to respond better to many needs and demands, by remedying forms of poverty and deprivation unworthy of the human person. However, excesses and abuses, especially in recent years, have provoked very harsh criticisms of the Welfare State, dubbed the "Social Assistance State". ..."

    I think this leaves the doors wide open to Distributism as a better alternative all those flawed models.

    Wild Goose


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