Italian Cardinal Promises “War on Capitalism”

Dogmatic, leftist distortions of Catholic Social Teaching ignore reason and history

By John Zmirak Published on February 19, 2015

The useful church news site Crux reports:

Italian Cardinal Edoardo Menichelli, from the diocese of Ancona, spoke to the Italian site Vatican Insider and promised a fight against capitalism similar to the one against communism under Pope St. John Paul II.

Of course, John Paul II had direct, personal experience of Communism. Neither Cardinal Menichelli nor Pope Francis has ever lived in anything like a free economy; both Italy’s and Argentina’s economies are prime examples of “crony capitalism,” a system in which powerful private interests use government intervention to shackle the market and fleece consumers through a mishmash of cronyism, subsidies, nepotism, and corruption.

Actually, those two countries are so far gone in this direction that it would be more accurate to describe their systems as “crony socialism.” In such a system, entrenched business interests wield populist rhetoric and back-room connections to boost prices and crush competitors — often in collusion with Marxist-controlled labor unions. So judging “capitalism” by their experiences with such countries is about as fair as evaluating democratic socialism based on Ceausescu’s Romania.

It can be hard for those who have never seen a free economy operate to believe that a society with transparent rules and honest, limited government can really exist — much less, that such societies typically prosper and improve the prospects for every class, especially the poor. Such colors are invisible to those born in deeply unfree economies, where the economic math is confined to zero-sum equations: If one man becomes a bit richer, it’s because he has stolen from the poor. In conditions of crony capitalism, outright socialism or feudalism, such an assertion is usually true.

Thus, the fierce anti-business rhetoric of many on the Catholic New Left might well be justified, if applied to oligarchs who manipulate government power via cronyism. But when such language is used indiscriminately to denounce honest businessmen, and blended with muddled versions of Christian warnings against materialism, the result veers between high-toned, harrumphing nonsense and historical revisionist goofiness.

We all remember the long list of capitalist countries that have descended into mass starvation, and the gulags, torture and political trials that marred American, British and Canadian history.  Oh wait, such atrocities happened not in those but in socialist countries. The capitalist countries, for all their flaws, raised the lower classes out of extreme poverty by the millions and now billions.

But with the Catholic New Left such historical facts, and even human reason, are asked to retire back awhile. Leftist economics are now a matter of dogma, imposed by religious authority:

The prelate said that the social dimension is an integral part of the faith, and quoted Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, in which the pontiff warned against ideologies that defend absolute market freedom and financial speculation. [emphasis added]

What is “absolute market freedom?” It’s not defined. One is simply left to look askance at Wall Street, London’s banking center perhaps, and shudder — never mind that both are rife with cronyism and poles apart from market freedom.

This new, “integral” update of Catholic Social Teaching isn’t limited to abstract principles and moral exhortations. It has clear, specific programs and a map for putting them into practice.

“Benedict XVI called for a world political authority for the financial and monetary system to grant credit to workers, families, businesses, and local communities,” Menichelli said.

Benedict XVI did indeed call for some global economic authority as a court of last resort, but only provided it was restrained by “subsidiarity” — that is, local, decentralized obstacles to its exercise of power. What Menichelli demands, instead, is a global credit union, using wealth seized by force through the arm of the state, for global redistribution. And we all know how effective foreign aid has been at solving poverty and jump-starting economies. How else did sub-Saharan Africa become a technological powerhouse, even as the people of South Korea and Singapore went hungry? Oh wait. It’s just the opposite — another one of those pesky historical facts that the Catholic New Left can’t be bothered with.

Pope Benedict warned, “A morality that believes itself able to dispense with the technical knowledge of economic laws is not morality but moralism.” We see in rhetoric such as Menichelli’s a haughty lack of interest in the mere earthly technicalities of which economic systems actually harness human work effectively and produce an increase of wealth for every class of society, from bottom to top. Indeed, paying attention to what has actually happened to centrally controlled economies is often dismissed as a sign of “worldliness” or “consequentialism.”

Many who claim to be partisans of Catholic Social Teaching were drawn to it because they hoped it was a political ideology, one supported not by the Dialectic of History, but rather by the infallible authority of the Catholic Church. But what they preach is something quite different from Catholic Social Teaching, which can be known by natural reason.

If Catholic Social Teaching is valid, it is valid for everyone — including non-Catholics and non-Christians — and can be understood and accepted by those who never received the gift of supernatural faith. In other words, it is part of the Natural Law, “written on the human heart.” We should argue for it based on reason and history, not isolated and distorted snippets of scripture or proof-texts from papal addresses. Instead, we should look at the basic human realities of work, family, incentives, innovation, and ethics — using the insights of economics and the lessons of history as invaluable sources of knowledge about what men do and why.

Infusing our study of all these subjects is the high Christian vision of human dignity, and a Judaeo-Christian concern for the well-being of the poor and vulnerable. That is the method of Catholic Social Teaching. It has nothing to do with easy sneers at businessmen, fashionable appeals to go on increasing the power of unproductive bureaucrats, or a gnostic contempt for the ways of our fallen world.


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