Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 16, 2009
Capitalism needs Catholicism if it is to survive
Economist says social teaching fuels capitalism
BY DEBORAH GYAPONG
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS
OTTAWA — Not only does capitalism have Catholic roots, the Catholic faith remains the only hope for its survival, says a retired economist.
Without a link between capitalism and ethics suggested by Catholic social teaching, capitalism cannot survive, said Richard Bastien, director of the Catholic Civil Rights League in the national capital area.
Bastien, who spent 31 years as an economist advising the department of finance, told a recent Theology on Tap session that capitalism is “a cultural byproduct of a specifically Christian civilization.”
Since the 1906 publication of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, capitalism has been seen as having Protestant roots.
MIDDLE AGES ROOTS
But Bastien said economic historians have traced its beginnings to Catholic monasteries in Italian and German city states in the Middle Ages.
Then, in the first half of the 15th century, St. Bernardino of Siena’s On Contracts and Usury was the first work dealing solely with economics, he said.
It justified private property, and dealt with the ethics of trade and the determination of value and price.
It described the entrepreneur has having God-endowed gifts of efficiency, responsibility, hard work and risk-taking. Bernardino also argued for the legitimization of profit, he said.
In the past 140 years, the Church’s statements on economic and social issues have expressed “ambiguity” towards capitalism, he said.
The popes preceding John Paul II took “a rather dim view of it.”
At the same time, Bastien noted the various encyclicals “unequivocally condemn socialism, even in its softer forms.”
They also support private property as “essential to human freedom,” defend the right to unionize and promote subsidiarity — the principle that “nothing should be done by large and complex organizations that can be done as well by smaller and simpler ones.”
Papal critiques of capitalism were aimed more, he contended, at evils of liberalism or individualism than at capitalism.
Pope John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, Bastien said was a “major breakthrough” in Catholic social doctrine and as a “manifesto for ordered liberty.”
The encyclical condemns socialism “for its denial of human freedom,” that the pope said is “rooted in atheism” and leads to social decline, Bastien said.
“Centesimus Annus then argues in support of a regime that affirms human freedom without ignoring human weakness,” he said. It advocates a regulated form of capitalism not unlike that in Canada or the United States.
John Paul II proposes that capitalism be rooted, not in greed, but in an objective moral law.
“We can have an ethical economy without sacrificing efficiency on the altar of statism, provided economic agents are guided by a moral compass,” Bastien said.
The Catholic Church today stands almost alone in defending the notion of “an objective moral law binding conscience,” he said. “That’s why capitalism needs Catholicism more than ever.”
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