‘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.
In Defending the Free Market, Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, has delivered an accessible but sophisticated vademecum of explanations of why “capitalism” — meaning private property, contracts enforced by law, and a price and interest-rate system established by the mutual consent of the parties involved — is not only the best way to meet human needs but also reflects and relies upon the moral and creative aspects of human beings.
Father Sirico’s defense is partly autobiographical. His first chapter recounts his childhood in heavily immigrant Brooklyn and his youthful move to the West Coast, culminating in his becoming part of the leftist circles of Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda. He movingly recounts meeting various individuals outside the circle who challenged his rather fuzzy Marxist beliefs. One of his “aha” moments came while sitting in a cannabis-infused circle of leftists who were taking turns imagining what would happen “when the revolution comes.” When Sirico’s turn came, he uttered something like, “We’ll all be able to shop at Gucci.” To his explanation that Gucci was a metaphor for a society “where everyone will have access to quality goods and services,” a friend replied that he wasn’t “really a socialist.”
From that moment, Sirico continued to think about what kind of society he really did want and what part free markets played in it. He discovered that “capitalism” did have a competitive element surely, but that cooperation played just as much if not more of a role. As Sirico returned to his childhood Catholic faith, he realized a definite compatibility between the vision of humans assumed by free-market economics and the vision he had been taught in the catechesis of his youth. Made in God’s image, man is a free being who is creative and in mutually dependent relationships with others. Unlike the leftists he was leaving, Sirico realized that justice was indeed important — but so were mercy and charity.