In Hope of a Catholic Economic System: Part I

Before I tell you what is right, I would like to begin with commenting on what is wrong. For us, sadly, what’s good for the political goose is good for the economic gander. Capitalism or communism: often, capitalism is “good” if not “great” while communism “bad” if not “evil.” Fair enough in the latter; I certainly have little if anything good to say about communism, a totalitarian system in frontal assault against the Church, the family, fairness and freedoms of every stripe. But capitalism, sometimes barely a bit better, is often not significantly so. Capitalism: butter-greased slip and slide super-highway for oligarchic monopolies foregoing the concentration of wealth and power into a singular state source in favor of control by a few proprietors. A transnational one percent of the one percent elite who if they fall upon hard times fear not for there is always a government bailout to be found whistling Dixie around the corner. For you, common man, there is the “free market,” actually free, free from safety nets and the security to speculate knowing the losses are covered. “Capitalism for the poor, socialism for the rich,” indeed.

I’m here to tell you a different story. That there is a different way. You may call this economic philosophy I’ll sketch out for you a number of things: distributism, localism, co-operative traditionalism. You can call it “how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck woodism.” But then a few woodchucks would undoubtedly form an invite-only Marmot oligarchy beginning with banning lesser chucks from free discourse on forestfloor media platforms and ending with them seizing the means of production. This would lead to a populist uprising resulting in much strife and sorrow, culminating in one woodchuck trying in vain to proclaim himself king of the grand ground rodent family Sciuridae, claiming for himself direct descent from Punxsutawney Phil and the title Emperor Marmota Monax of all groundpigs, whistlepigs, thickwood badgers and red monk land beavers.

Nobody wants to see these events transpire. So, I propose to call this system, better yet the principles of a system, The Palouse Co-Op Proposal. It even has a neat and easy to remember acronym: PALCOP. Palouse because we live on the Palouse [Editor’s note: the author’s home region in the Pacific Northwest] and so our ground level zero #A economic focus should be here, at home, in our own community. For this great Catholic principle of subsidiarity – that that which can be done on the local level should – partners with the second great principle of the Church’s social doctrine, solidarity, that we, all being God’s children, “all in this together,” form a “Co-Op.” Finally, “proposal” as more disclaimer than titular guide, as I am not an economist. I will not be giving you mathematically interpolated and scientifically proven systems of economic praxis ready to be implemented with turn-key assurance. Rather, I hope this proposal can serve as food for thought, lightbulbs flicked on maybe for the first time, baseline questions and riddlecrack offerings. The proposal itself an invitation for any economists out there to try to put these principles into a coherent system, into action.

Six themes frame this article. With these we can fight and flee from the oligarchy, centralized concentrated wealth, usury, debt, borrowing against our children’s futures, monopolies, and lack of purchasing power matching paucity of consumer choice that characterizes, albeit in different ways, both communism and capitalism. These six principles are, in the order I will discuss them:

  1. That Economics is a distinctly moral science with moral questions at the very center quite unlike the hard numbers only sciences of physics or chemistry.
  2. That Economic philosophy must place the person—never to be seen as simply a means of production or a tool for profit—at the center of its calculations and further still uphold the family, rather than the atomized individual, as the economy’s most important entity.
  3. That Labor is the Source of all real Value.
  4. That private property is an inviolable right, yet one that must work in tandem with the larger and general good of the community.

Points five and six bring us back to the beginning, back to the localism at the heart of this proposal:

5. Subsidiarity. Subsidiarity in harmony with:

6. Solidarity: the Common Good, the dignity stemming from our being made in God’s very image and likeness and so being commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves, demanding furthermore that this love be expressed, as far as is possible for us flawed and fallen people, in economic systems fair, equitable, and just.

Point 1:  Economics is a distinctly moral science with moral questions at the very center quite unlike the hard numbers only sciences of physics or chemistry. A flaw of both capitalists and communists is the attempt to take man and morality out of their equations. For communists, people are but cogs in the machine, replaceable parts wholly material, with no supernatural components nor desires. Give them a few crumbs to eat, some levers to pull at work, and a place to rest their head at night, even if that roof above them is split and leaky, and they’ll be happy. For capitalists, people are but receptacles for credit cards: four in this wallet, two in the pocket, a new one just applied for. Happiness is consumption, an ever-breathless bottomless pit of buying, buying, ad watching, buying. Need creating the non-needed need and then itself via asexual alchemy reproducing into four and five and six new needs not really needed. Swipe, swipe, click, swipe, card denied, wait this one, maybe this one still in the envelope yes, accepted, my life is complete; at least for the next two hours.

Communists and capitalists agree that economics have nothing to do with morality. Whether their respective scientific methods aim at a state enriching planned economy where the enslaved populace’s lowest common denominator needs must be met nothing more, often with the worst possible quality, or if they are aimed at a monopoly-ridden and elite enriching economy where the enslaved population is encouraged to enslave itself to its basest passions and desire for instant gratification so that an ever-growing pile of worthless products may continue to blight the earth, the means and ends are similar: the economy is not about morality, it is not about fanciful concepts like justice or temperance or right and responsible use. It is about moving people like pawns, physically or by way of psychological warfare, so that a few select people can make tons of money before making the insatiably sought after facil cashloot piles of dime-nickel Osaka, mint gallons of gold suscio bullion reduction, best poured directly over the head prior to showering.

Our system proposes a moral economic philosophy. A moral economic philosophy is not utopian dream weaving. It is neither impractical nor impossible to define. I’ll prove it to you right now; private property the example. Communists want property ownership reduced to one; the state. Capitalists want property ownership reduced to the few: look no further than justifications for pressuring allowances, some of them via eminent domain abuses, to bulldoze this or that neighborhood so that some Fortune 500 magnate can build his sixteenth hotel or 32nd apartment complex or 64th casino. Communists offend the right to private property by wanting ownership reduced to one. Capitalists lie about a “free market,” justifying greed as good so an elite few can gobble up whatever they wish. But we believe private property should be as widely distributed as possible. That policies, laws, schools of thought, societal standards and etiquette – that classic “what we are all about” – should encourage this type of thinking concerning property: the proper dualistic balance that private property is both good and necessary, but that one need not have too much of it, and never at the expense of one’s brother. That is points five and six neatly themselves combined into an organic whole: subsidiarity and solidarity bound by the glue of the common good.

Private property distributed as widely as possible agrees with capitalism’s supposed celebration of it. Private property is a noble right, one that should be enjoyed by all: one’s home the very seat of liberty where you can do precisely as you please. If you doubt this, try walking into a restaurant in your underwear and asking to eat your meal on the floor. But you can dine like this in your own home, your own private space, the subsidiarity beacon of localism nothing more local than one’s own little rooms and yard and nooks and crannies too. And yet, because private property distributed as widely as possible is an example of a moral economy, it declares that men and women should practice temperance and restraint and, above all, justice in their appetites out of love for their neighbor and the true common good. The common good is a solidarity-driven and understands—because it is common sense—that a society is most healthy when many of its members are healthy and doing worthwhile work, receiving a just wage and contributing rather than being ripped off and maltreated day after day until revolution seems like a rational option. Or, maybe worse still, told not to work at all, but to take up residence in a dark basement and wait for the government to take care of everything.

I’m not saying everyone has to be equal. That’s communism. And communist equality is always the worst equality imaginable. It’s looking at a room where 25 people sit, six of them with apples, and rejoicing that post-redistribution of goods all 25 people have apples, without reference to the fact that all 25 pieces are the size of one bite, and that one bite was the gross part of the previous whole, and, by the way, we dropped that one bite-size piece on a landfill before handing it to you.

Ensuring equality no matter what is not moral economy. People are born with different talents and different capabilities and will live different lives, materially as well. The problem is that the hyper-capitalist camp perverts this truth to claim there is nothing wrong with one man possessing billions of dollars while his employees can’t pay their electricity bill, nothing wrong with he having seven homes and thirty-one cars while another employee lives in a studio apartment with nine family members. This man is just better at the free market free competition than we are, ignoring the fact that there is nothing free about the tax exemptions, government bailouts, fixed and rigged prices, monopolization of the market and special loans and allowances ad infintum that have propelled this “self-made man” to such financial success.

Rather than the amoral “just following the (economic) science” options of allowing the state or a select few to control everything, why not aim for an economy that—in true co-op fashion, in true homage to the American dream of “no man a king, no man a pauper”—is built upon a network, an archipelago better yet, of a vast number of private property owners for whom their own space is their one space and no one else’s? Yes, that space might be a farmstead in rural Idaho on 100 acres, why not? A space where these co-op Americans forsake the greed, avarice, and rapacious gobbling up of more than their fair share so that others may too have a fair, a just, an authentically charitable – as in caritas – piece of the pie.

Part II will be published next week.

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Author of a novel entitled The Holdout (Adelaide Books, 2018) and a Civil War history Catholic Confederates (Kent State Univ. Press, 2020). Thermonuclear Mirth, a novel, is under contract and forthcoming with Arouca Press. A collection of essays, The Hippo Lectures, stemming from talks given at St. Augustine's, is completed and in circulation. Selected fiction has appeared in Amsterdam Quarterly, Riddle Fence, Nashwaak Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, Eclectica Magazine, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, New English Review, The Southern Distinctive, PILGRIM, Bull: Men’s Fiction, Black Bear Review, Adelaide Literary Magazine, The MacGuffin, The Scriberlus. Selected articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in The Catholic Historical Review, The Polish Review, the Journal of Southern History, the Journal of Southern Religion, and Idaho Magazine. Future research will be concentrated on writing a comprehensive Great War history about people on the Palouse. Earned his PhD in history from Mississippi State University. Currently teaches in Washington State University’s School of Design + Construction, the WSU department of history, and in the University of Idaho's College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences. Previously taught in the history department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has played baseball collegiately, professionally in Europe in the Czech Republic and Belgium, and for the Polish National Team. He is fluent in English, Polish and French with ability in Russian and Italian.

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