Thursday, June 14, 2007


"Neodistributivism" is the subject of Tom Herron's article in the June issue of Culture Wars which arrived in the mailbox yesterday.

He picks up the Acton Institute once again and moves into a discussion of the concept. One passage of the article is pertinent to the discussion here:

...while many Catholic authors during the '20s and '30s adopted distributivism as the preferred economic structure to promote justice for all, this does not mean that the Church has de fide adopted this as its official definitive teaching on the social question. It does mean, however, that Catholic present-day enthusiasts for the free market should seriously examine what these authors were trying to state and to remember that the laissez-faire capitalist system they champion has been condemned by the magisterium of the Church, in its unchecked form, over a century ago.

Meanwhile a book review in the June issue of New Oxford Review discusses the attempt to treat economics as the equivalent of natural science rather than social science--an attempt that doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Economic behavior is socially conditioned, claims Thomas Storck in his review of THE HANDBOOK OF ECONOMIC SOCIOLOGY by Neil J. Smelser and Richard Swedberg. Storck writes:

Economic behavior is always conditioned by society's laws, as well as by cultural preferences and traditions. There is no such thing as purely "natural" economic behavior. This is not to say that such economic dispositions as the desire to maximize gain or the tendency toward price equilibrium between buyer and seller do not exist. But such dispositions exist within the framework of laws, customs, institutions, and other factors that shape how economic motives and tendencies express themselves.

If we accept that this premise is true, the Church has a role to play in economics in any given culture, because no economic justice is possible in a culture that pits every man for himself against every other man. The dictates of charity are probably the only counterforce to greed, and greed is inevitable without the mitigating effects of religion.

So...is it possible to become fabulously wealthy without violating the dictates of charity? Does every very rich man become that way at the expense of others over whom he walks roughshod? And if he does, why do we hold up as role models those who are rich? What values are we culturally enshrining?

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