Monday, February 08, 2010

Tempest brewing over Catholic social teaching

Thomas Woods, co-author with Christopher Ferrara of The Great Façade(2002), has apparently defected from traditional Catholic social teaching to the laissez faire “Austrian school” of economics associated with Ludwig von Mises and represented by neo-conservative Catholics such as Michael Novak, author of The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism(1982).

This, at least, is the message couched in no uncertain terms by Christopher Ferrara in his open letter to Tom Woods, "Ludwig von Mises versus Christ, the Gospel and the Church" (Remnant, February 15, 2010), where he writes:
When we wrote The Great Façadetogether back in 2002, I was one of the most ardent supporters of your work. Indeed, I saw you as a big part of the future of the “traditionalist” movement in America. But I did not anticipate your public dissent from the Church’s social teaching in favor of the radically laissez faire “Austrian school” of economics, whose pretensions range far beyond economics to a comprehensive “philosophy of liberty” that cannot be reconciled with the teaching of the Magisterium on the duties of men and societies toward Christ and His Church, or even the duties of men toward each other on the level of natural justice. Nor did I anticipate that you would become a “scholar in residence” for the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a radical libertarian cult dedicated to the thought of von Mises and his “anarcho-capitalist” disciple, Murray Rothbard, both agnostic liberals who utterly rejected the role of the Church and the Gospel in the constitution of social order.

Your dissent from the social teaching has spawned a host of articles against you by reputable Catholic commentators, such as those found here, here, here
, here, here, and here, the last being a just-published five part series in Chronicles magazine under the title “Is Thomas Woods a Dissenter?” At this point, by my count, no fewer than a dozen Catholic scholars have denounced your dissent from Magisterial teaching on such basic principles as the just wage, the moral primacy of labor over capital, the evil of usury and price-gouging, the immorality of the so-called “absolute right” of private property, and the necessity of government, guided by divine and natural law, for the rule of fallen men. (You have even taken recently to advancing Rothbard’s “anarcho-capitalist” fantasy of the abolition of all government and the creation of a “stateless society.”)


Anonymous said...

"He doesn't agree with us. He's going to hell!"

Nota bene - these reds, er, reputable catholic commentators resort to ad hominems, damnations, insults, and stamping their effete feet.

Count me among the dissidents - all you sworn enemies of the private sector.

Sordid, socialist opinions and speculations (don't approach the level of prudential judgments) are canards used by liberal, so-called catholics to justify voting for abortion, class hatred, and Obama. I would need to bleach and double dry clean my conscience if I did that.

You won't go to heaven if you vote Democratic.

If you did you need to get to Confession ASAP.

JM said...


You are harsh but correct. For once.

But unlike the conservatives you deride, you leave no judgment to God. How double-damnable.

Anarcho-Papist said...

Thomas Woods can defend himself. But my reading of his well-reasoned position, he would probably argue the social-teaching zealots are conflating moral theology and economic science when they condemn bankers for charging "excess" interest (i.e., committing usury) and employers paying "insufficient" wages (i.e., failing to pay the minimum wage). The social teachers' hearts are in the right place, but their economic knowledge is lacking. They certainly aren't doing the poor any favors.

Setting an arbitrary ceiling on any good or service--such as oil or money-lending--merely creates a shortage of that good or service. When the government tried to protect the poor from greedy oil companies through price controls in the 1970s, it succeeded only in creating long lines at the gas pump. That's all it does when it passes laws against usury: lenders stop lending to people who would otherwise freely borrow at the higher interest rate.

Conversely, setting an arbitrary floor on any good or service merely creates an oversupply of that good or service. That's why minimum wage laws create an oversupply of labor, i.e., unemployment, among the young and unskilled.

This is a case of the Salamanca School monks'expertise in economic science (but not in moral theology) surpassing that of the popes. There's no crime in that. Popes never claimed to be infallible in matters of economic science, weather forecasting, stock-picking, sports, or astronomy.

Sheldon said...

Anonymous, Ferrara an Obama fan? You've got to be kidding!

Sheldon said...

Anyone who thinks Ferrara is a Democrat is nuts.

Flambeaux said...

Thom Woods "defection" can only be a good thing.

Lots of Traditional Catholics are involved with LvMI and, IIRC, no less a figure than Kuehnelt-Leddihn came to understand the sanity of the Austrian School approach by the end of his life.

Hayek taught K-L economics; K-L helped Hayek to become a Catholic.

Distributism, at best, is wishful thinking and, at worst, is the envy-ridden idiocy of Marxism dressed up in a cassock.

Flambeaux said...

I also agree with Anarcho-Papist's comment regarding what's really being argued here.

Woods hasn't been alone in making these arguments for the last several years.

Anarcho-Papist said...

I also find it misleading to lump Woods in with Michael Novak and the neo-conservatives. The neo-cons are apologists for U.S. "global leadership" and adherents of the Chicago School of Economics. Woods, like all the scholars of the LvMI, staunchly opposes both. In fact, Woods has argued that the central banking advocated by the "free-market" Chicago School is what enables U.S. elites to fund their system of perpetual war and empire, via the hidden tax of inflation. Austrians favor currency competition and free banking as protection against these kinds of elite-directed counterfeiting schemes.

Anarcho-Papist said...

"[B]oth agnostic liberals who utterly rejected the role of the Church and the Gospel in the constitution of social order."

Ad hominen is the last refuge of the scoundrel advancing logically flawed arguments. Who cares if Mises and Rothbard were "agnostic liberals"? What does that have to do with the soundness of their economic analyses? Was I wrong to study calculus in college because Sir Isaac Newton dabbled in the occult? Does that make calculus a flawed and un-Christian branch of mathematics?

Ferrara should know that both Mises and Rothbard were admirers of Catholic civilization. Mises said it made sense the natural law-driven Austrian School would take root in Catholic Vienna. Rothbard credited the monks of the School of Salamanca for laying its intellectual foundations. He was also an avid student of the Baroque architecture of Bavarian churches.

Christopher Blosser said...

Thomas Woods' response to Christopher Ferrara (2/05/10).