Getting Religion Back into Our Economic Lives
Freedom depends on it.

Fr. Robert A. Sirico


LOPEZ: Can you unpack this assessment a little: that “the breakdown of trust, integrity, and responsible freedom#…#contributed mightily to the continuing financial crisis, which began in 2008”? What’s responsible freedom? Where did the breakdown start?

FR. SIRICO: I wrote those lines in my book to indicate that while the creation of systematic moral hazard throughout the economy resulting from massive government intervention in various segments of society and the economy (the housing market being just one notable example) was certainly responsible for much of the crisis, the economic explanation of woes is only a partial explanation. The cultural and moral decline, in my estimation, goes hand in hand with the economic (which is the whole point of my book) erosion.

When we lose touch with human vulnerability and service to those in need, when we confuse means with ends and having with being, everything goes awry because our values become distorted. The Left is right in pointing out the dangers of greed and consumerism (not that they enjoy a monopoly of such warnings or are free of it themselves) — but they are sadly wrong in their analysis of the causes and especially the remedies.


LOPEZ: How do we rebuild? Are we rebuilding? 

FR. SIRICO: We rebuild by understanding. No one builds anything (whether a house or a program) without first understanding what they want to do and how it needs to be put together and what resources they have at their disposal or can obtain. As to whether we are learning our lessons, I am afraid the jury is still out on that. Maybe.

LOPEZ: How troublesome is Ayn Rand? Does Paul Ryan have a problem here?

FR. SIRICO: I believe it was Chesterton who said something to the effect that “heresy is truth gone mad.” This is certainly the case with Rand. Few writers describe more dramatically, clearly, and, at times, hysterically the evils of collectivism. She knew how to get the reader’s attention. Whatever happened in her life before she escaped the USSR enabled her to see down to the root of the danger of socialism, but not until it scarred her deeply. From all reports, she was as bright as she was cruel. She could vehemently denounce Communism in one breath and exercise a slave driver’s control over her followers in the next.

All of this is to say that one can find some good things in Rand (her appreciation of Aristotle, grudging respect for Aquinas, and high regard for America). Yet she was also contemptuous of religion (especially Christianity), people who were religious, the poor, and the vulnerable, and she had an utterly irrational contempt of unborn human life. This means that Rand inspires contradictory thought among many. Obviously Rand has an appeal, especially to the young in search of heroes and idealism. Rand gives this to them in spades. Are there other places to find these things? Of course, but not everyone finds them early on. Is she troublesome? Yes. But most of the people I know who read her when younger have outgrown her and moved on.

I certainly do not think that Congressman Ryan has a problem with anyone he would not already have a problem with. His descriptions of what he liked about Rand are all references to what some might call the “Good Rand.” Besides, all you would have to do is imagine what Ayn Rand would think about Paul Ryan to know just how far removed he is from her core philosophy. She would, for one thing, utterly despise his Catholic faith and his solid pro-life record. If you know Rand, it would not take a great imagination to construct what she would say about him. That, I should think, would establish the moral and philosophical distance between them.

So, no, I do not think Congressman Ryan has a problem with any reasonable person.

LOPEZ: How can you get more greed with socialism than capitalism?

FR. SIRICO: To the extent that socialism holds back creativity and thus productivity, it increases poverty. When people become desperate, even good people can become self-centered. Few of us are at our best in crowds where everyone is trying to get out the same exit, or when trying to grab for the last remaining sale item. Socialism begins with the material world (the redistribution of pre-existing things); capitalism begins with ideas and dreams (the creation of things). Socialism increases the hoarding instinct and often places power in the hands of petty dictators (wait in line in a governmental office to see what I mean). We all know where that leads.

Of course, I am not saying that a system of free exchange will abolish greed. But even here, free markets and competition tend to temper greed, subordinating it to the service of others, which is the only way you are going to be successful in the market.

LOPEZ: How is government-run health care uncompassionate?

FR. SIRICO: As in most institutions dominated by politics and bureaucracy, a gap grows between those being served and the ones doing the “serving.” This is especially the case when the bureaucracy is far away from the need and the principle of subsidiarity is ignored. The latter do not know the former and it is difficult to have real compassion without personal relationships. Human beings are lost sight of in politics and bureaucracy.