Defending the Moral Foundations of the Free Market

From David Paul Deveal comes this:

Greed is not good.” Thank God somebody is finally challenging the right-wing defenders of capitalism. Except that this line comes from Father Robert Sirico, an arch-defender of free-market economics.

One of the more tedious but necessary duties of Christians and Jews today is to repeatedly explain to atheists that we do not believe in the same God they do not believe in. No, we say, an inflated oriental despot in the sky is not at all what we mean by God. That would not be a God worth worshiping or defending. Similarly tedious but necessary is the duty of defenders of free-market capitalism to point out to friends on the left that, no, we do not believe in the Gospel of Gordon Gekko, either. The case for a free economy must be made, as Arthur Brooks has recently written in National Review, on the basis of its moral foundations and not simply on its more efficient resource allocation.

Read the rest here.

At Acton last week Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute explicitly argued for BOTH a moral defense of the free market AND a frank assessment and criticism of the deviations from its moral foundations. Profit and the creation of wealth are morally good not just an expedient good. But the goodness of wealth isn’t and mustn’t be divorced from what is good and best for the person, the family and society. Thus as Fr Siricio says greed is not good.

Wealth always should be in the service of love and so it is only in love that I can legitimately pursue profit and the creation of wealth.

As an example of this think about the demands of the Christian life.

The celebration of the Divine Liturgy, the cultivation of a life of prayer and the care for the poor all require an excess of wealth (profit) over what our basic physical needs require. Seen from a strictly materialistic or mere expediency Liturgy, contemplation and even philanthropy are a wasteful use of human, material and temporal resources.

Because we are bodily creatures we can only go so long indifferent to our material needs. Humility and obedience to the truth of human nature require that I admit this in my own life not only theoretically but practically. It is in many ways expensive to be a Christian and so economic considerations are important to my life in Christ.

St Augustine criticized those Christians who without a proper understanding of the subject argued against the science of their day. Doing so he said brought only scorn for the Gospel. So too today those Christians who argue against the free market without understanding economics  confirm the skeptic in his unbelief. But, and to return to Fr Sirico’s observation, so too do those Christians who defended the free market apart from the market’s moral foundation of economic life become a source of unbelief.

At its best, and let’s be clear in a fallen world the best is often more an ideal than a reality, our economic life is not simply about profit and loss but about our ability to create the wealth we need to care for each other and to create in this life a fit home for the human family that points us personally and corporately toward the Kingdom of God.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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