Can the Free Market Adequately Care for the Poor? — Rev. Robert Sirico and Mr. Michael Sean Winters

A debate held at the Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought, University of Colorado Boulder. January 28th, 2013.

68 Responses to Can the Free Market Adequately Care for the Poor? — Rev. Robert Sirico and Mr. Michael Sean Winters

  • Well…the machine I’m no can’t play videos, but I’d argue with the phrasing of the question. It’s too flexible.

    If by “adequately care for the poor,” they mean anything along the lines of “raise everyone out of poverty”– obviously not, the poor you shall always have. (Arguably because “poor” tends to be defined in “bottom portion of whatever,” rather than absolute terms.)

    If they mean, rather, “is the free market the most effective way for people to help the poor,” or possibly “is the free market the best way for people to help the poor,” or “is the free market the best way for THE GOVERNMENT to help the poor… wildly different questions.

  • I can’t sit through a two-hour video. I watched the opening statements and its the same old debate. I trust Fr. Sirico more than adequately defended markets and addressed some of the wild fallacies and inaccuracies in Winter’s opening remarks.

    I’ll be posting a great deal on this topic myself as I review a few books in the coming weeks that deal with these questions.

  • As for the question of the night, the answer is no. Markets don’t care for the poor – they eradicate poverty as a permanent and widespread social condition.

    In those pockets of society that, for one reason or another, do not benefit from economic growth, the Church and other private organizations are more than sufficient to care for the poor.

  • Large amounts of actual, historical experience proves that collectivist, comand and control, centrally planned political/economic schemes have always magnified mankind’s miseries, and made slaves of the victims.

  • I do not have the patience to sit through the video either. I cannot see that the question is fruitful. Markets are merely the best practice for allocating goods and services and factors of production given a particular distribution of income, provided you are able to police property rights and ensure a wide distribution of salient information about choices available to parties in the market. When all is well, its workings tend toward pareto efficiency, not caring for anyone. Like any tool, it is useful for some purposes and not others. The thing is, that markets are not omnicompetant does not justify any of the tar babies (commercial and industrial cartels, public housing, rent control, open-ended doles for working aged women, compensatory education boondoggles, ever escalating subsidies for medical care and higher education, ever escalating subsidies for groceries and rent and utilities, job-training cum public employment boondoggles, patronage distribution to the non-profit blob) cooked up by elements within the Democratic Party since 1933, one of which MSW puts some effort into defending here.

  • Fr. Sirico is my pastor. Love his homilies. Good good man.

  • T. Shaw says:
    “Large amounts of actual, historical experience proves that collectivist, comand and control, centrally planned political/economic schemes have always magnified mankind’s miseries, and made slaves of the victims.”

    And on the global scale, governments take care of governments. Only the missionaries make sure that the poor are cared for.

  • A significant point made in the debate by Fr. Sirico, and denied by Mr. Winters, is that the free market is morally neutral. The market consists of the choices made by billions of people, using God’s precious gift, free will. While the choices may be either good or bad, the gift itself is good, and the market only records what choices are made.

    On the other hand, government interference in the market under the pretense of helping the poor, is anything but neutral. The social pathologies noted by Fr. Sirico are one of the obvious bad results. The taxation, often without constitutional authority, which makes the interference possible, may be properly viewed as theft. Acceptance of tax funds by Catholic Charities and welfare organizations run by many bishops, viewed in this manner as stolen
    funds, is a seriously ignored scandal in the Church.

    Mr. Winters can deny whatever he wishes, but he cannot change the fact that government involvement is on the wrong side of the moral argument. His blinders on this issue undercut all of his arguments. Cheers to Fr. Sirico!

  • The taxation, often without constitutional authority, which makes the interference possible, may be properly viewed as theft.

    The tax law as composed makes for wretched policy. It is, however, in accord with constitutional provisions.

  • I am afraid I must quibble here. Taxes can be unconstitutional if they are used to fund activities which are outside of congressional authority. I believe food stamps, Medicaid, and aid to dependent children, to name but a few programs nominally intended to help the poor, fall into this category.

    To Catholics, they violate the principle of subsidiarity as well, but they are first of all unconstitutional.

  • No. The tax collections are constitutional. There is explicit constitutional warrant for every kind of tax levied by the federal government with the possible exception of gift and estate taxes, which are contextually unimportant accounting as they do for < 1% of federal revenues. The uses to which taxes are put do not alter the character of tax collections.

    You can certainly make a valid argument that erecting and providing for a program of food subsidies is not a power delegated to Congress. I think Robert Bork has written that that sort of contention would not be adjudicated in your favor due to the principle of stare decisis. Whether or not it would violate a principle of subsidiarity is a murkier matter.

  • Can the free market adequately care for the poor?

    Pray that it can for what is the alternative but the slave market and we know that has failed each time it has been tried.

  • AD: I think JD’s comment is two-fold.

    One, the government is not empowered to tax we the people and then spend the money on porgrams that are not listed in the Constitutional.

    Two, the government should not coercively tax some and give the money to others. Government programs, projects, and works should benefit every citizen, not take from producers and give to democrat voters.

    The Corporal Works of Mercy are done with your personal time and treasure, not with other people’s money.

  • One, the government is not empowered to tax we the people and then spend the money on porgrams that are not listed in the Constitutional.

    No, the government is empowered to tax; the power to tax is delegated and is not contingent on anything but legislative discretion. The government is also empowered to borrow.

    The spending programs are not invariably in accordance with the delegations listed in Article I (although the point is largely moot now, see Bork). That does not affect the government’s power to tax, just what use it makes of its tax money.

    If I followed the logic of what the two of you are saying, a taxypayer would have a cause of action and could demand a rebate ordered by a federal district judge. Not only would that make the process of appropriation and payments a hopeless mess, it would remove from the legislature the discretion to redeploy the idled funds to some activity within its constitutional warrant. In addition, the standing federal debt would have to be partitioned into portions contracted in support of ‘constitutional’ activities and ‘un-constitutional’ activities, and federal bond-holders given a haircut. That’s going to work real well.

  • AD is correct. The taxing power and spending power are distinct. The only limitation on the taxing power is the apportionment requirement for direct taxes. Congress may spend money consonant with its other powers including the combination of the commerce and necessary and proper clauses. These clauses have been interpreted to give Congress wide latitude on what it spends and regulates. While it is probably true that the Framers never envisioned or intended such latitude, they left us a Constitution with words that are difficult to interpret more narrowly in any principled way. Liberals have a habit of inventing individual rights that are nowhere in the Constitution simply because the think they should be and conservatives have a habit of inventing limits on federal powers that are nowhere in the Constitution simply because they think they should be. As a conservative I have the same temptation, but my knowledge of law and history prevents me from succumbing.

  • I will bow to superior knowledge on the part of AD about how the taxing
    power has been interpreted in the past. However, my point is that it
    should not be that way. There is no point to having authorized powers
    in the Constitution if Congress can ignore them, and then use the
    taxing power to do what it wants. I seriously doubt that the founding
    fathers intended this to occur.

    I appreciate the comment from TS about how the corporal works of mercy
    should be performed.

  • Since only the free market can create captial and capital is what you need to have to support the poor – through taxes, government programs and private charity – it is the sine qua non for assistance to others. Destroy the free market, do harm to the poor.

    Let’s remember that no government has ever created capital; it consumes capital and because power and politics motivates government, it works against the needs of the poor who have no power (unless they are being manipulated for votes through government handouts).

    Confiscating private capital with the intention of re-distributing it, simply destroys the very capital the poor rely upon.

  • The Free Market can’t adequately take care of itself, much less “the poor”. I think the most significant economic event of the past century is Alan Greenspan admitting on television to the House of Representatives that everything he’d thought true for 40 years was false; that Economists Have no Clothes.

    A “Free Market” along the lines Fr. Sirico defends soon becomes un-free — a slave economy. The proof is all around us. There must be limits; a trading economy that serves its purpose must needs be un-free on the definitions of the Free Marketeers. There must be limits on the scale, scope, and geographical reach of any business. There are some contracts that simply must be out of bounds — illegal. This preserves liberty. What Free Marketeers want is license. Every Pope for about 140 years has said it. Hilaire Belloc and GK Chesterton screamed it. The proof is all around us: economic liberalism is a failure in that it fails to support human dignity.

  • Education is what is needed to support the poor. Intelligence is handed down from generation to generation. If a parent does not have the “know how” to teach their children how to manage money, choices and abstaining from choices they cannot afford, then the children will not learn it, even from others. It might be possible for a child to learn these aspects later in life but doubtful.
    “Giving a person a fish will feed them for a meal. Giving the person a fishing pole will feed them forever!”

  • Deacon Ed Peitler, you are very correct, thank you. One point that should be added is that critics of the free market are very aware that free market activities CAN (not will) allow for acts that are in some way corrupt. Most such acts need not and should rise to the level of that requiring government intervention, rather they are at the level requiring properly formed moral consciences for persons engaged in such activities. Further, replace free market entities with the government (either de jure or de facto through intrusive regulation) and now the government becomes embroiled in these activities. Who then has a higher power to keep the corruption out of the government? Elected democratic oversight will not be enough.

  • Phyllis Poole, unfortunately in the modern Western world the poor are poor largely due to disabilities, either absolute (such as severe physical and mental illness) or relative (inability to deal with the increasing complexity of modern life, including the growing regulatory structure). Most poor people will not be able to fill out the forms for healthcare that the ACA Act requires of them, for example. You can teach someone to fish, but what if they cannot remember where they left their pole? That is the fundamental problem we now face. Free markets cannot meet the needs of such people, nor can government unless it grows to monsterous size.

  • Tom Leigh, I’m sorry, but you are making stram man arguments. No one today seriously argues in favor of totally free markets. Everyone is aware of the extreme situations you cite and so we all agree that government is necessary to aviod them. The issues are that all government actions impose a cost, and such costs can ultimately rob from those who need them. Impose a luxury tax on yachts, and boatbuilders get laid off. Demand that stockbrokers be denied their bonuses in hard economic times, and government loses millions in income tax revenue (it happened in NY a few years ago: one brokerage bowed to public pressure and cancelled the “exorbiant” bonuses, and the govenor announced that the state lost $80 million in taxes that could have been used for the poor). Economic fetters must be the absolute minimum necessary.

    Here is more proof: the international trade liberalization of the last few decades has lifted more people out of poverty (mainly in India and China) that in all of the rest of human history. Yes, it came at a cost: some in the West lost their employment in this new competition, including me. Should I have protected my wealth by denying these people a chance to escape poverty? NO! God willing I will do OK, and so will these people.

  • The Free Market can’t adequately take care of itself, much less “the poor”. I think the most significant economic event of the past century is Alan Greenspan admitting on television to the House of Representatives that everything he’d thought true for 40 years was false

    I think if you review his remarks, he was referring to his understanding of mechanisms at work in financial markets and the utility of regulatory regimes surrounding them, not ‘everything he’d thought true”.

    that Economists Have no Clothes.

    The article you link to is by an economist at George Mason, now deceased, referring to some deficiencies in theoretical economic modeling. He was not arguing that economics as a discipline is nonsense.

    A “Free Market” along the lines Fr. Sirico defends soon becomes un-free — a slave economy. The proof is all around us. There must be limits; a trading economy that serves its purpose must needs be un-free on the definitions of the Free Marketeers. There must be limits on the scale, scope, and geographical reach of any business. There are some contracts that simply must be out of bounds — illegal. This preserves liberty. What Free Marketeers want is license. Every Pope for about 140 years has said it. Hilaire Belloc and GK Chesterton screamed it. The proof is all around us: economic liberalism is a failure in that it fails to support human dignity.

    None of this makes the least bit of sense.

  • James Davies, your position on government programs to help the poor and the U.S. constitutional order are correct. The Federal government as designed should not be running these programs. They should be run and financed by the states.

    However, it is obvious that such programs often require some consistancy and coordination across state lines. Arguably, interstate compacts should have been set up so that these programs would be properly administered by the states. Such arrangements would have prevented some of the worst decisions in Washington (such as raiding the social security trust fund for Vietnam War expenses). This gets me back to a point I make to Deacon Ed: if the states mismanage an interstate program the Federal government can step in and force them to end the mismanagement, but if the Feds mismanage them who then steps in? Consider this and we see that Federalist ideals and the Catholic principle of subsidiarity are in accord.

  • Mr. Davis, I agree. While there is no guarantee that those generating the capital -either through entrepreurship or their own labor (yes, they DID build that) – can be counted on to discharge their moral and civic responsibilities toward their neighbor, the fact of the matter is that government is too obese to carry out this responsibility and their interest is in power, not in altruism. Government is no more a guarantee of possessing moral accountability than the producers of capital. The difference lies, therefore, in that one group is generating the capital and the other is not. We all know that if you do not generate the capital, you will necessarily be a poor steward of others’ resources.

  • Tom Leith,

    “The Free Market can’t adequately take care of itself, much less “the poor”.”

    Of course it can. There. One flat assertion for another.

    “I think the most significant economic event of the past century is Alan Greenspan admitting on television to the House of Representatives that everything he’d thought true for 40 years was false; that Economists Have no Clothes.”

    There’s quite an assumption here about economists and free markets. You seem to be under the impression that a) economists are responsible for the state of the economy and b) economists are partisans of laissez-faire markets. Both assumptions are false. The economists have been tied up with Keyensianism and monetarism for the last 100 years. These are not free-market ideologies, but rather interventionist ideologies. Mainstream economists and the Chicago school indeed have no clothes. Try the Austrian school, though. They’re still very well clothed in my opinion.

    “A “Free Market” along the lines Fr. Sirico defends soon becomes un-free — a slave economy. The proof is all around us.”

    The fallacies are all around you, perhaps. Free markets don’t make themselves un-free; interventionist policies do. There’s no proof whatsoever to substantiate your claims, though I understand why you think there is.

    “There must be limits; a trading economy that serves its purpose must needs be un-free on the definitions of the Free Marketeers. There must be limits on the scale, scope, and geographical reach of any business.”

    There will always be limits, determined by free competition. We don’t need bureaucrats who will never have enough information to make suboptimal and even disastrous decisions.

    “There are some contracts that simply must be out of bounds — illegal. This preserves liberty. What Free Marketeers want is license.”

    What contracts? If you mean contracts that violate basic natural rights, I agree. If you mean contracts that result in something that you just don’t like personally, you have no grounds to object.

    “Every Pope for about 140 years has said it. Hilaire Belloc and GK Chesterton screamed it. The proof is all around us: economic liberalism is a failure in that it fails to support human dignity.”

    Economic liberalism has fed and cured more people than any system in human history. If the existence of poverty is a failure, the entire human race and all of its civilizations were miserable failures for most of their existence until economic liberalism came along and virtually eliminated it in several societies and is on the way to doing so in others.

  • Bonchamps, that was Tom Leith who posted that, not me. I am in agreement with your post.

  • The economists have been tied up with Keyensianism and monetarism for the last 100 years. These are not free-market ideologies, but rather interventionist ideologies. Mainstream economists and the Chicago school indeed have no clothes. Try the Austrian school, though. They’re still very well clothed in my opinion.

    1. I wouldn’t drink the Austrian Kool-Aid. If you rummage through the papers of the prominent Austrians, you see they do very little empirical research.

    2. You are not distinguishing between microeconomic and macroeconomic policy when you categorize economists as ‘free market’ or ‘interventionist’, nor between the various elements of macroeconomic policy, nor between economists’ preferences about the social order and their assessment of economic behavior. The net effect is that you are classifying as ‘free market’ only economists associated with the von Mises Institute. That is fallacious and misleading.

  • Tom Davis,

    My sincere apologies.

  • AD,

    1. I don’t drink Kool-Aid. I study and contemplate. And I don’t see a lack of empirical research as a strike against them, since they explain why they don’t emphasize it theoretically. I am in agreement with their approach.

    2. “You are not distinguishing between microeconomic and macroeconomic policy when you categorize economists as ‘free market’ or ‘interventionist’”

    It is only your opinion that these are relevant distinctions. I hold a different opinion. Do your policy proposals infringe upon private property rights? If the answer is no, you are a free market economist. If the answer is yes, you aren’t. The free market is nothing but a social state in which individual property rights are recognized and respected culturally and protected institutionally. To whatever extent these conditions are met at any particular time or place, there is a free market.

    “The net effect is that you are classifying as ‘free market’ only economists associated with the von Mises Institute. That is fallacious and misleading.”

    I don’t rule out the existence of non-Austrian free market economists. Your net effect is the only fallacy here.

    No Fast Times references this time? Don’t let me down with your next reply. Its been far too long since someone compared me to Sean Penn.

  • If we don’t come up with some cool rules ourselves, we’ll be bogus too.

  • > No one today seriously argues in favor of totally free markets.

    Sure they do.

    Every time some regulation on scale, scope, reach, mere transparency, allowable contracts, environmental impacts or literally anything else is proposed, the howls go up across the land “ButButBut!! That’s interference with the Free Market!”

    What does this mean? I say it means that the howlers think The Totally Free Market is normative — that any regulation on it is evil. A necessary evil perhaps, but evil all the same. And that, friends, is a real howler.

    There is one exception I know of: when economic liberals want to outlaw one particular kind of contract and call it “Right to Work”, that’s just hunky-dory. A better name is “Right to Divide and Conquer”.

    > Do your policy proposals infringe upon private property rights? If the answer
    > is no, you are a free market economist. If the answer is yes, you aren’t. The
    > free market is nothing but a social state in which individual property rights are
    > recognized and respected culturally and protected institutionally. To whatever
    > extent these conditions are met at any particular time or place, there is a free
    > market.

    A classic and all-too-typical example of question-begging. You see, Mr. Bonchamps assumes that “Private Property Rights” are absolute by nature and then defines “Market Freedom” in terms of what he just assumed. For him, there is no connection between government and morality, and so the only political consideration is whether or not absolute rights in and to property are “respected”.

    Maybe Mr. Bonchamps is not a Catholic, I don’t know. But I presume most readers here are. I quite understand the attraction a Catholic might feel towards this way of thinking about social organization, but it is completely irreconcilable with the Gospel, and indeed with the whole Western Tradition.

  • Every time some regulation on scale, scope, reach, mere transparency, allowable contracts, environmental impacts or literally anything else is proposed, the howls go up across the land “ButButBut!! That’s interference with the Free Market!”

    How does it follow that opposing certain regulatory efforts translates into being a free market purist?

    A better name is “Right to Divide and Conquer”.

    This makes no logical sense. Conservatives are the ones arguing for workers to have the freedom to not join a union shop if one chooses not to.

    A classic and all-too-typical example of question-begging.

    Considering the strawmen you’ve erected I would steer clear from accusing others of committing logical fallacies.

    I quite understand the attraction a Catholic might feel towards this way of thinking about social organization, but it is completely irreconcilable with the Gospel,

    Yes, yes, we have been informed of our supposed heresy on economic matters before. It doesn’t make it any truer the more it is repeated.

  • Every time some regulation on scale, scope, reach, mere transparency, allowable contracts, environmental impacts or literally anything else is proposed, the howls go up across the land “ButButBut!! That’s interference with the Free Market!”

    If the regulation promotes rent-seeking or inhibits considered decisions, of course they do.

    I have a suggestion less complicated to formulate and enforce. ‘Ere we enact legislation to strangle enterprises so they remain of appropriate size, why not a character limit on the length of the Code of Federal Regulations and its state counterparts like the New York Codes, Rules, and Regulations? Add a line, delete a line. It might just promote Strunkian concision if nothing else.

  • Every time some regulation on scale, scope, reach, mere transparency, allowable contracts, environmental impacts or literally anything else is proposed, the howls go up across the land “ButButBut!! That’s interference with the Free Market!”

    What does this mean? I say it means that the howlers think The Totally Free Market is normative

    Does not follow. It’s far more likely that they believe a free market is a good that shouldn’t be interefered with without a really good reason.
    As a general principles go, “don’t make rules unless there is a reason that outweighs the cost” is an important one.

    There is one exception I know of: when economic liberals want to outlaw one particular kind of contract and call it “Right to Work”, that’s just hunky-dory.

    False. Right to work does not outlaw unions, it outlaws unions being able to force people to join.
    It makes the contract voluntary.
    That so many union supporters dislike that speaks volumes about what value they believe membership brings….

  • AD,

    Touchy touchy? That’s it? Come on. I know you have more in you than that.

  • Tom Leith,

    “Every time some regulation on scale, scope, reach, mere transparency, allowable contracts, environmental impacts or literally anything else is proposed, the howls go up across the land “ButButBut!! That’s interference with the Free Market!”

    What does this mean? I say it means that the howlers think The Totally Free Market is normative — that any regulation on it is evil. A necessary evil perhaps, but evil all the same. And that, friends, is a real howler.”

    I don’t howl. Usually. I offer reasons for the things I believe. Regulations often cause more harm than good, and have the opposite effect than what was intended. This is because there are almost always too many variables to measure and control for, and because people involved in voluntary transactions are in a better position to know their interests than government bureaucrats.

    Opposing regulation, however, is not the same as opposing the rule of law. A laissez-faire economy is not anarchy. It depends upon a body of law that upholds individual natural rights, punishing and prohibiting the use of force and fraud.

    ” You see, Mr. Bonchamps assumes that “Private Property Rights” are absolute by nature”

    I don’t know what you mean by “absolute.” But I do know that Pope Leo XIII considered them inviolable. Please read Rerum Novarum, paragraph 9.

    “and then defines “Market Freedom” in terms of what he just assumed”

    Yes, I do use the understanding of individual natural property rights outlined by Pope Leo XIII. Based on that understanding, I further develop the definition of a free market. What is wrong with this process, exactly? If you reject Leo’s definition of private property rights, please offer an alternative one. Otherwise, I’m not sure what your objection really is here.

    ” For him, there is no connection between government and morality”

    False. I certainly believe it is immoral to violate a person’s natural rights, and that governments exist to protect natural rights.

    “and so the only political consideration is whether or not absolute rights in and to property are “respected”.”

    That is a moral issue.

    “Maybe Mr. Bonchamps is not a Catholic, I don’t know.”

    Not only am I a Catholic, I’m one of those rad-trads you hear about whom wild horses couldn’t drag to a Novus Ordo if there is a Latin Mass within a hundred miles. Maybe even then, depending on how sacrilegious the options are.

    All of my opinions are based upon the political philosophy of Pope Leo XIII, who was amicable to the best strands of classical liberal thought (while rightly condemning its excesses, as I also do).

    ” but it is completely irreconcilable with the Gospel, and indeed with the whole Western Tradition.”

    Classical liberal economics arises out of the Western thought and is as much a part of it as anything else.

    As for the Gospel, there is no incompatibility at all. Jesus did not call for a welfare state or a regulatory regime. A society in which everyone followed the Gospels would not need such things, it ought to go without saying, so it seems absurd to propose that they are called for by the Gospels. Even a society that doesn’t shouldn’t have them, since the violate natural rights and limit human potential.

  • > Conservatives are the ones arguing for workers to have the freedom
    > to not join a union shop if one chooses not to.

    It would make sense, Mr. Zummo, if you had the fact of the matter straight. Nobody was ever forced to join a Union or a Union Shop, and certainly not “forced” in a way that Libertarians would consider unjust. Nevertheless, Political Conservatives in many States have made Union Shops illegal, in the name of “freedom” and “rights”, of course, and “Jobs! Jobs!! JOBS!!!” – at least that’s the public reason. It boggles the mind that American Conservatives would make it illegal for a business owner to have an exclusive contract with a corporate supplier of mere inputs to a production process, but there it is.

    > How does it follow that opposing certain regulatory efforts
    > translates into being a free market purist?

    It isn’t the fact of opposition to this or that, it is the grounds of the opposition that gives away the objector’s underlying assumptions about the Common Good, or (as Lord Acton put it) “the highest political end”.

  • It would make sense, Mr. Zummo, if you had the fact of the matter straight. Nobody was ever forced to join a Union or a Union Shop, and certainly not “forced” in a way that Libertarians would consider unjust.

    You are flatly incorrect.

    My husband, my mother (when she taught), all of my uncles who are not retired, my nurse aunt… all are required to be members of a union.

    If you are required to give them money and to use their services, you are forced to be a member; I am aware of the misleading claim that someone is “not a member” because they, in theory, they are entitled to a refund of dues that would have gone to political actives.

  • Well, Mr. Rad Trad Bonchamps, the political philosophy of Pope Leo XIII, upon whom all your opinions are based, says quite explicitly that the role of government extends far beyond suppressing force and fraud. If we’re doing the Protestant Proof-text thing, I’ll point you to 45 & 46 and hope you will contrast Leo’s meaning with what a Libertarian means when he uses very similar words.

    There is more to being a Rad Trad than praying in Latin. Look also further back into the tradition, indeed to the 12th & 13th centuries especially. Look at the traditional condemnation of usury, even when agreed to by the parties involved. And look especially at the confiscation of monastic property, enclosure of common lands in England and Scotland, and and at the way these lands were used before that. Then look at the violent suppression of the Guilds, which was finally completed about the time of the French Revolution. I don’t claim there was no sin during the Middle Ages, but the ideals of the Middle Ages point to a Catholic understanding of property and mutual duties of men under a bond of charity. What would all this kind of understanding look like today?

    Read Catholic interpreters of Leo — Chesterton, Belloc, Penty, McNabb, Dorthy Day and Peter Maurin, every pope after Leo (I’m expecting great things on this from Francis), the list goes on. As much as I hate recommending anything from Remnant Press, read Christopher Ferrara’s book-length reply to Thomas Woods. This is all good stuff and comes from the heart of the tradition. A Catholic Rad Trad could become truly rad — an American Political Conservative who reads integrally will retch. I hope you read integrally and don’t retch.

  • No, Ms. Foxfier, they weren’t required to be members of a union, at least not on grounds a Libertarian would regard as “coerced”. If they wanted to work in a company that had an exclusive labor contract with a union, then a condition of employment was participation in the union. In a way, the company has outsourced some of its HR functions to the union — the union is an extension of the company in some ways. But as nobody forced them to work there, nobody forced them to join a union.

    I don’t know whether you’re a Catholic, but if you are you may be interested to learn Pope Leo XIII considered union membership something of a duty for workingmen. It is true he had in mind something more like a Guild (many of today’s construction unions operate something like Guilds) than like (say) the UAW, but a union is what its members make it and any union can make itself more Guild-like when its members learn the value to themselves of doing so.

  • Tom L,

    ” the political philosophy of Pope Leo XIII, upon whom all your opinions are based, says quite explicitly that the role of government extends far beyond suppressing force and fraud”

    It isn’t explicit about that at all. It is explicit about freedom. Let’s examine the text (unless that’s too Protestant for you)

    “Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages”

    Free. Freely. That is explicit. Yes, I know what it says next. Continuing:

    “nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner”

    This is a relative standard that varies from time to time and place to place. It is clear that this is not something that can be arbitrarily determined by the state. Whatever you decide is sufficient today may be insufficient tomorrow. Moreover, arbitrarily tampering with wages can and often does lead to unemployment. Is it a satisfactory outcome if raising wage rates leads to unemployment? What do you tell the workers who had to be let go so that the rest could obtain a higher wage? What do you tell their families?

    All actions have consequences, and every economic intervention has a cost. This is not the equivalent of handing out candy, and you aren’t simply inconveniencing the evil capitalist, but other workers and consumers as well.

    “If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice.”

    I don’t disagree with this. Paying someone less than what they need to live is exploitative. This does not happen in a truly free market, for reasons I will be happy to explain in detail if you like.

    As for paragraph 46, I have no problem with it whatsoever. Leo makes it clear that this is private initiative which the state might support. Given what he sets down about the inviolability of private property, this cannot include expropriating legitimate property owners and redistributing property. It clearly means that individual workers should save – they should practice frugality and good behavior so that THEY THEMSELVES can become capitalists. There is nothing here about the state imposing a Distributist regime.

    “And look especially at the confiscation of monastic property, enclosure of common lands in England and Scotland, and and at the way these lands were used before that. ”

    This has nothing to do with free markets. That was theft, plain and simple.

    “Then look at the violent suppression of the Guilds, which was finally completed about the time of the French Revolution.”

    The guilds, like the modern unions, rely upon the use of force to restrict the flow of labor and keep wages artificially high. Do you ever stop to think of the effect that this has on poor consumers, who have to pay higher prices for basic necessities? To promote policies that benefit skilled workers at the expense of poor consumers is not to promote the common good or the interests of the poor. I accept that such policies were adopted with a sincere desire to do both, but the objective reality, apart from good intentions, is that more poor people suffer from higher prices than they ever have from lower wages.

    “I don’t claim there was no sin during the Middle Ages,

    You’d be insane if you did.

    ” but the ideals of the Middle Ages point to a Catholic understanding of property and mutual duties of men under a bond of charity. What would all this kind of understanding look like today?”

    It would be great. I have nothing against the ideals of the Middle Ages, if they are implemented voluntarily by people who really care about them. If you try to impose them, however, you will court disaster, meet legitimate and justified resistance, and lose all credibility with the very people you intend to help.

    “Read Catholic interpreters of Leo — Chesterton, Belloc, Penty, McNabb, Dorthy Day and Peter Maurin, every pope after Leo (I’m expecting great things on this from Francis), the list goes on. ”

    I am a Catholic interpreter of Leo. And I have read them. I disagree with them. I believe their understanding of free market capitalism is flawed and fallacious, and I can demonstrate this via reasoned argument. Unfortunately most people are only interested in self-righteous bluster and condemnations.

    “As much as I hate recommending anything from Remnant Press, read Christopher Ferrara’s book-length reply to Thomas Woods.”

    I’ve got it on my bookshelf. Needless to say, I believe it is a deeply flawed work.

    “A Catholic Rad Trad could become truly rad — an American Political Conservative who reads integrally will retch. I hope you read integrally and don’t retch.”

    Cute. I consider myself a paleolibertarian, though. Probably worse from your point of view.

    I’m happy to debate facts and logic and discuss these issues amicably. Unfortunately, you seem to be of the sort of temperament which presumes bad will on the part of those who disagree with you. I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong by a substantive, fact-based, well-reasoned rebuttal to the points I have raised here.

  • Mr. Zummo,

    You can call me Dr. Zummo.

    I don’t know whether you’re a Catholic,

    Your propensity to question the Catholicity of everyone who disagrees with you is rather tiring.

    In a way, the company has outsourced some of its HR functions to the union — the union is an extension of the company in some ways. But as nobody forced them to work there, nobody forced them to join a union.

    Get it Foxfier – you’re not really forced to join a Union, you’re just forced to join a union if you want to work. That’s just absolutely fantastic logic.

  • Tom Leith

    As regards the dissolution of the guilds during the French Revolution, Had the Le Chapelier Law of 14 June 1791 been seen as a way of protecting the rich against the poor, or the propertied against the property-less, it would have met with strenuous opposition by one of the Assembly’s defenders of the poor. But the law was passed without opposition because it seemed evidence to the entire National Assembly that the reconstitution of corporations in any form was a fundamental threat to the nation and its free constitution. The law made it clear that no intermediary body could stand between the individual – now armed with his natural rights – and the nation – now the guarantor of those same natural rights.

    As Le Chapelier himself put it, “The guild no longer exists in the state. There exist only the particular interests of each individual and the general interest. No one is permitted to encourage an intermediate interest that separates citizens from the common interest through a corporate spirit.”

    In addition, the Allarde Decree of 17 March 1791 had already provided that “every individual can freely engage in any trade or carry on any occupation, business activity or craft of their own choosing,” subject only to police regulation.

  • 1. Any regulatory scheme incorporates compliance costs. If the costs have a threshhold value or they can be finessed with the aid of sophisticated legal counsel, the regulatory scheme will cause more injury to smaller enterprises than larger.

    2. You want the regulation to contain collusion among producers, contain the despoilation of common property resources, contain the imposition of costs on third parties, to promote transparency and contain exploitation derived from asymmetric information between contracting parties, to contain exploitation derived from the differences in the effective freedom of action of the several contracting parties, and to contain the injuries done principals by agents with divergent interests. The point here, if done correctly, is to attempt to shape actual social conditions in a way such that economic decisions are made in a matrix that better approaches the ideal typical free market. Of course, the devil’s in the details.

    3. One can also impose regulation to embody certain social norms. (The penal code would be an example). Habituated violations of these norms is also injurious to economic development; not many people wish to do business in Detroit. There is a sociological as well as an economic dimension to commerce and labor, and satisficing as well as optimizing decisions. (I think you do see this in the labor market as regards customary working hours and leave times and also in the disinclination which appeared in the 1920s to ever cut anyone’s nominal compensation).

    4. Trade and industrial unions in our time are as often as not associations of public employees organized to extract resources from taxpayers (with the connivance of sociopathic politicians like George Pataki or Marion Barry). The fat broad who runs the Chicago teachers union is the exemplary contemporary union boss. Others organize state-regulated natural monopolies (e.g. gas and electric companies). Still others organize capital intensive industries vulnerable to strikes; if you seek their monument, look at General Motors: a vast welfare agency (> 900,000 legatee beneficiaries) with a loss-making commercial subsidiary (< 100,000 workers). Still others are run by gangsters (the longshoremens' union, and, until fairly recently, the building trades unions). What you seldom see are mutual aid associations battling industry standards which incorporate godawful working conditions – what the Teamsters and the Mineworkers were about 90 years ago.

    5. The financial sector is a special case, inasmuch as the effects of ill-considered decisions do not tend to be contained to a discrete set of contracting parties and their dependents.

  • To Tom Davis and Deacon Ed

    I sense you recognize the danger in expecting politicians at any level to be responsible for charity. They can never be trusted to care about anyone’s interests except their own. The state level is no better than the federal, only nearer to the recipients of charity. We should not give any government
    officials an excuse to interfere in charity, as it is none of their business.

    Coordination across state lines is not necessary. The individuals are different, and have unique needs that are best handled by church members in parishes. This is precisely what subsidiarity requires.

    To the rest of you concerning “regulation”.

    We have gone much to far down this road. We should know by now that
    government regulators are not omniscient. Their decisions are no better than the mass of free people making their own choices, and often worse since their motives are suspect. I always trust my neighbors to make better decisions for themselves than bureaucrats do.

    I think all of us need to re-read Pope Leo’s encyclical. It clearly indicates that human freedom is the norm. It is mandatory reading for all in government and the news media.

  • James Davies, there are 1.8 million people resident in nursing homes. That aside, there are the clientele of state and county welfare departments in various sorts of custodial arrangements: asylums, day programs, orphanages, foster care, group homes, supervised apartment buildings, halfway houses, &c. I am not sure of the collective census of these programs, but I think it might be in the range of 1 million. In addition, you have around 45 million youngsters registered in the public schools. Then you have your local public defenders’ office, responsible for the bulk of the man-hours the legal profession in any area devotes to the task of representing accused criminals. Did I mention that a third of the country’s medical expenses are met by public purchase? One could attempt in short order to replace this edifice with voluntary philanthropy. The transition costs would make for interesting times for us all.

  • Yes, I agree the transition would not be easy. We did not abandon our freedom to government agencies overnight, and we cannot recover it quickly either. Christianity took many centuries to impact the pagan world too, but it did succeed.

    It would be a significant change in direction if our society recognized that government is not the answer to these problems, and the news media got on board as well. The free market always does a better job. We have an opportunity to go in that direction, since the welfare state has become so unwieldly it is starting to collapse of its own weight.

  • I have no illusion that the return to a market driven structure in our society will be a conscious, concerted effort on the part of ‘rational man.’ For the most part, ‘rational man’ has disappeared from the scene. Rather, his place has been taken by ‘emotional man’ – those who make economic, social, moral and poltical decisions based on ‘how they feel.’ It is the only plausible explanation for how our country could elect as president an incompetent.

    No, the transition away from government-regulated life will be because it collapsed from its own weight and inefficiencies. Man was created by God with freedom as his natural birthright. It is the only possible means by which love can be exchanged between persons i.e. in the context of freedom. Government and large bureacracries intrude on man’s freedom and hence will disintegrate because they are ‘unnatural states.’

    “Rational man’ will then find ways to allow market forces to work because the market allows man maximum opportunity to express himself freely – in soial and economic terms – but never outside of the natural moral law. That is why we are hearing more and more in civic discussion about the importance of freedom and why, too, we need to not shy away from promoting what we know is natural moral law as well.

  • Tom Leith -
    You are wrong– to a level which is dangerously close to dishonest. If I hold someone under water, I cannot say that I did not force them to breath it and drown because they could have simply not breathed. You falsely imply that the company had a choice in the matter of employing the union, and you keep making claims that are not only unsupported but actually directly counter to easily noticed facts. Most obvious is the continued claim about what Libertarians can’t say, in the face of at the very least one on this very post who not only can but does say.

    I’m sure that your tactics work wonderfully face to face, but they’re just rather sad when force of personality isn’t a factor to overcome what you actually say.

    I would suggest that someone so fond of questioning the Catholicism of others for disagreeing with himself should do a bit of soul searching, though I’m fully aware that’s unlikely to happen. Everything’s a hammer to the guy fixated on a nail.

  • Trade and industrial unions in our time are as often as not associations of public employees organized to extract resources from taxpayers

    Most of the folks I listed were exactly that.

    Not to try to make an argument from sympathy, but my husband didn’t have a lot of choice about taking his DoD civilian job; I suppose he could have decided to let our family go hungry and depend on gov’t programs and the charity of family, but it’s as much a “choice” as the infamous company store that is trotted out as justification for forced unions.

  • No, the transition away from government-regulated life will be because it collapsed from its own weight and inefficiencies.

    Deacon Ed., I believe near on the closest the occidental world has come to a political economy of laissez-faire in the modern period was in the British Isles between the repeal of the Corn Laws and the first tentative steps toward constructing social insurance programs in the Edwardian period (that would be from about 1846 to about 1909). I think you still had in Britain an edifice of statutory corporation law, bankruptcy law, commercial law, banking law, insurance law, labor law, admiralty law, and patent and copyright law; commercial and civil codes; and the common law in contracts, estates and trusts, and torts. You are not going to get away from a ‘government-regulated society’ unless you live some place like the frontier west, ca. 1875 (which is to say in circumstances where there is little in the way of government or society).

  • Yes, I agree the transition would not be easy. We did not abandon our freedom to government agencies overnight, and we cannot recover it quickly either. Christianity took many centuries to impact the pagan world too, but it did succeed.

    Why not work out in your own head the steps one might take to get from here to there, figuring costs and benefits and what not.

  • “Get it Foxfier – you’re not really forced to join a Union, you’re just forced to join a union if you want to work”

    what’s the issue with one company in a field using union labor and another one not

  • Foxfier, I do not think collective bargaining is a sustainable institution without mandatory dues and membership or mandatory agency fees. The process by which the union is voted in has to be clean and transparent and reversible at some later date. The difficulty you get is that the public sector unionism effectively delegates discretion properly housed in the legislature to a negotiating process and that the transactions can be rendered less than arms length by the political activities of the public-sector unions. As a rule, Democratic pols are their bitches, and few Republican pols challenge them. Another difficulty you get is unions like the UAW which loot the companies they organize for the benefit of those of their members who get to keep their jobs or benefits. I think company unions have a different incentive structure, but they have been prohibited by federal law since 1935. If we limited collective bargaining rights to all-encompassing company unions in the private sector only and did away with allowing federal regulators to gerrymander the bargaining unit, we would be better off.

  • JDP-
    Depending on the field, it may not be legally allowed. In those places it is allowed, the unions work very, very hard to get them unionized– the grocery worker’s union (can’t remember the actual name) paid protesters to stand around the local WinCo for over a year, because that company is employee owned and thus not union. Once a company is unionized, it’s not going to be un-unionized.

    Tellingly, when I asked the ladies at the checkout counter at WinCo what they thought of the protests, they got really heated about how they’d chosen WinCo because the union had screwed them over so badly.

    More to the point, the companies don’t get to choose if they are going to use a union– a small number of people can decide that they will form a union, then every employee of that company is forced to be a member.

    The theoretical perfect “right to work” situation would be that any people who work for a company who wish to form a union would be able to join, and those who did not wish to use the union to make their deals would not be bound by them. Union as a bargaining group, rather than a monopoly on labor. (The employers would be free to choose if they would wish to only hire union or not.)

    The “non-union members” that I mentioned who are theoretically entitled to a refund are still forced to use the contract that the unions make, even if both the employee and employer do not want that contract.

    As it is, forced unionization is a monopoly on labor.

    Oh, if someone wonders why I keep calling a theoretical right– here are a couple of posts about someone trying to get that right respected.

  • Foxfier, I do not think collective bargaining is a sustainable institution without mandatory dues and membership or mandatory agency fees.

    I agree that people would not voluntarily hire unions to do the job they are currently doing unless they had no other option.

    That a monopoly can’t survive unless people are forced to both provide for it and buy it is also not an argument I’d support for keeping it.

  • “The theoretical perfect “right to work” situation would be that any people who work for a company who wish to form a union would be able to join, and those who did not wish to use the union to make their deals would not be bound by them”

    don’t you get the problem in this situation though of some people benefiting from any successful collective bargaining without paying any dues. maybe i’m misreading you

  • “Everything’s a hammer to the guy fixated on a nail.”

    Good way to sum up Chris Ferrara and his nauseating book too.

  • don’t you get the problem in this situation though of some people benefiting from any successful collective bargaining without paying any dues.

    How do I benefit if that group over there makes a contract for their own members, to which I am not party? If an employer wants to only hire from a single group of negotiators, that would be fair enough.

    Look at Hostess. The folks who may have exercised their right to not pay for the political actions of the union were still charged for the “benefit” of the union demanding a deal that put everyone out of work, even though there were many people who wanted to make a deal and keep the company going.

    If a bargaining group offers benefits to membership that are worth the cost– including “I just don’t want to bother with all this stuff, YOU set up the contract!”, which is not to be sniffed at– then people will join.

    To drag Catholicism into it, I believe there’s a parable about people complaining to the boss about someone being hired on different terms than themselves?

  • More to the point, the companies don’t get to choose if they are going to use a union– a small number of people can decide that they will form a union, then every employee of that company is forced to be a member.

    Not what happened at my work site. Enough people signed cards to force an election. There was some back and forth between the personnel office, the union and the National Labor Relations Board and it was decided by the last (quite ironically) that the bargaining unit would not include the people who initiated the union drive. The remaining set voted in the union in a perfectly forthright way, and it was a union that represented other slices of the workforce there. What happened was that after a mess of negotiation the bargaining unit ended up with the same benefits package the personnel office offered as a matter of course to company employees. The one thing that changed was that annual evaluations were eliminated, merit pay was eliminated, and future wage increases were to be negotiated rather than subject to system-wide policy. The folks who voted in the union were real embarrassed by it all.

    It was all perfectly democratic and a big waste of time and effort.

    I think if there is a value in unions it is to set up some systematized lines of communication between wage earners and management and come to some sort of mutual understanding about working conditions and some of the specs on fringes. Of course, if management does not care to listen (and where I worked, wage earners were cosseted in some respects but not taken seriously), it does not do much good. The personnel office was never a problem and had , regularized procedures for hearing from people, but of the four vice presidents in charge of that section of the company over the years, I think only one gave much thought to people not of the professional-managerial stratum and the institutional politics swirling around them. The last chap was particularly disgusting. One wretched manager had her multi-year contract renewed in spite of all the people waving red flags in front of his face and his predecessors face about her incompetence (as well as the outflow of skilled people getting away from her). Not his problem. The union does not help with that type of thing.

  • The problem you get with grocery stores is that they have quite slim signature profit margins. I cannot figure how the United Food and Commercial Workers thrive in an environment where no one can mark up their costs that much. The airline unions have survived in that environment, but they covered most of the industry and were established within it when airline travel was still a federally supervised cartel. Cannot figure about grocery stores.

  • The free market cannot adequately care for the poor because it is neither designed nor equipped for that. But we know the church from its inception made it their business to remember the poor. Diaconal caritas drew many people in the direction of the church and lent it great credibility.

  • Art-
    I would guess the answer lies in answering the question of why they’re willing to spend so much money to hire protesters

  • “The free market cannot adequately care for the poor because it is neither designed nor equipped for that. But we know the church from its inception made it their business to remember the poor. Diaconal caritas drew many people in the direction of the church and lent it great credibility.”

    While it is true that the free markert wasn’t designed specifically to care for the poor as such, the wealth created by it make resources more widely availible to the diaconal caritas’ to do just that. Furthermore, caring for the poor must include ways to lift these people out of poverty. And the free market is by far been proven the best, imperfect though it may be, economic system to do that.

  • Mr. Mockeridge,

    You are absolutely, 100% correct.

    The government cannot give to poor people unless it has taken from producers.

    This government could not increase poor people’s wealth. It decreased nearly everybody’s (except guys like Warren Buffett, Jon Corzine, Jamie Dimond, Al Gore) wealth.

    The government has been hindering the free market at least since 1913.

    Since late 2008, the government bailed out large, Wall Street banks, GM and Chrysler; the Fed printed about $2 trillion and flooded it into the economy (well Wall Street . . .); the Federal government spent $5 trillion more than it should have.

    And yet, the median household income has declined, in real terms, almost 8% from 2000; 47,000,000 Americans need food stamps to eat; the propaganda unemployment rate is 7.7%; millions of fewer Americans are in the job market; about 8,000,000 more Americans are on disability pensions; etc.

    While Main Street languishes, the Dow daily hits historic, all-time record highs.

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