Catholics often argue over economic systems - which is best for Catholic life?
- Should we live in community, sharing all things as described in Acts? That is, should we embrace a theistic communism?
- Should we emphasize private property, as Peter did to Ananias and Sapphira and embrace Adam Smith's capitalism?
- Should we live as we fantasize the medieval Europeans did, with small farms and guilds, and become Chestertonian distributists?
- Should we be Locke's democratic republic or Aquinas' gentle monarchy?
Everyone brings forward their favorite encyclicals to debate these questions.
What a waste of time!
The very conversation misses the whole point of what it means to be Catholic. Systems are human-made tools. Tools are not persons, tools are not moral agents. Tools are not Catholic or non-Catholic. They just are.
Persons are moral agents, so persons are Catholic or not Catholic.
The difference between "tool" and "person" is infinite.
There is no Catholic hammer, no papist nail. Saws do not make professions of faith.
There is no difference between an economic system and a hammer - both are tools.
Thus, there is no Catholic monetary system, no Catholic system of governance.
Does my monetary system or my system of governance have to have a preferential option for the poor, does my system have to promote a sense of solidarity in order for me to endorse it as a Catholic?
*I* have to have those things and do those things. So do you. But the system doesn't.
You and I are morally responsible for these things because you and I are persons.
The system is not morally responsible for these things because the system is a rock, a tool, a saw, a hammer. It is a thing. Things do not bear moral responsibility, only persons do.
The system is not a person.
Now, the Church has said that any system which does not recognize subsidiarity and private property, is doomed to failure. Subsidiarity is the source of personal responsibility, and private property is the source of charity - I can't give away something I don't own, I can't steward something that isn't in some sense my responsibility. Insofar as the system doesn't recognize persons and moral responsibility, it will fail. That pretty much sums up what the Church has to say about systems.
Ah, but systems are made up of communities of people, and does not the community bear moral responsibility?
No, it does not.
The grand economic system is not morally responsible or morally irresponsible, any more than a furnace is morally responsible or irresponsible when it makes steel or burns Jews. Both the economic system and the furnace are tools, nothing more.
Now, personally, I have a lot of moral duties, but do systems have moral duties?
If they do, how do they manage that?
How would it go to confession?
What priest has the power to absolve capitalism or communism for its sins?
So, no, economic systems do not have to recognize moral duties because they cannot recognize moral duties. They are not capable.
It's like demanding that fire only burn wood and never Jews - wouldn't it be nice if we could make such demands? But we can't because fire is not a person. It is a tool. It does not take note of our moral demands.
Even human communities are tools, not moral agents.
Pope Pius XII specifically said there is no such thing as collective guilt in reference to German guilt for the Holocaust. The Second Vatican Council has said the same thing in reference to Jewish guilt for the crucifixion. There is no such thing as collective guilt.
That means the community cannot bear collective guilt when moral correct actions are ignored or even actively mocked. Only individuals can bear such responsibility.
I may personally have a lot of moral obligations to various persons, but the system I advocate or attack cannot be advocated or attacked on the basis of the moral responsibilities it bears because systems do not bear moral responsibilities. Neither do communities. Only individuals bear these responsibilities.
I cannot hold a corporation morally responsible for it's actions any more than I can hold all Germans responsible for the Holocaust or all Jews responsible for the crucifixion - in every case, I would be assuming corporate guilt. In every case, I would be violating Catholic teaching.
According to Catholic teaching, the only corporate guilt that exists is original sin.
Nothing else qualifies.
So governments, corporations and the systems which run them, while run by people, cannot be held morally responsible for anything. Only the individual people running them can be.
How can this be?
The Only Catholic Economy
Only one truly Catholic economic system exists.
It is the economy of grace, the sacramental economy.
It is a Catholic economic system because it deals with grace, which is participation in eternity.
Every other economic system is not Catholic because it deals with mere time, that is, it deals with money. Contrary to popular belief, money is not a marker for land, goods or other property. Money is a marker for time.
Time is the only thing everyone has access to, everyone owns. Everyone is equal in part because no one knows how much time anyone has. All we know is the amount of time each person has only decreases, never increases, so it becomes more and more valuable. That's why money works - we each trade time to gain things we would like but wouldn't otherwise be able to get because we don't have enough time.
When I spend my time learning a trade (and notice, it's called a "trade"), I can then trade the time I spent learning that skill for time I would rather not spend learning some other skill. Money allows me to trade my time for someone else's time. I might assist someone who has a talent for creating things by giving him some of my time (money) and asking for a portion of his time (money) as a return on my investment. Whether I'm a guild member or a shareholder, I've invested my time or time equivalents. Time eats away at money just as it eats away at me. Given inflation, money decomposes just like corpses. Jesus laughed at the man who stored up goods, because money is a marker for time, but it isn't time itself. Money can buy everything but time and grace.
Distributism claims land is the basis of wealth, which is just stupid.
Capitalism claims capital is the basis of wealth, which is equally stupid.
Communism claims community is the basis of wealth, which is absurd.
Timeless grace is the basis of wealth.
That's why there can be no overlap between the Catholic economic system and other economic systems - Catholics deal in infinite, eternal grace, all other systems deal in finite, limited time. The sacramental economy is the only Catholic economy. There is no other.
The Economy Gives Birth
The sacramental economy gives birth to the only morally responsible community: the Catholic Church.
It is a morally responsible community not because it is primarily a community, but because it is primarily a person - the Bride of Christ. Grace, the breath of the Holy Spirit, makes Her a Person.
The Church is a Person first and primarily, a community second and consequentially. Because the Church is a Person, the Church can apologize, the Church can be reformed, the Church can bear moral responsibility.
If the Church were merely a community, it could do none of those things. When a Catholic parish calls itself primarily a Catholic community, that parish is, whether it realizes it or not, trying to absolve itself of moral responsibility. It is attempting to distance itself from the Person of the Church and the social doctrines of the Church.
Good luck with that.
Individual people have a LOT of obligations, but if we keep confusing systems with people, how are we going to be any different than the communists or corporatists or whatever-ists that we don't like?
Corporatists think business corporations are real people. They are not.
Corporations are artificial persons, not real persons.
Corporations cannot be baptized, confirmed, anointed, married or given Eucharist.
They cannot be absolved, saved or damned.
They are not persons.
Communists think the same thing of communities.
The Church's social doctrine is not meant for communities or for systems.
The Church's social doctrine is meant for individuals: me and you.
If we think it is meant for systems, we attribute to communities and systems something the Church has always denied. We attribute to them personhood. Personhood is held only by God, angels and men. IBM, Apple, McDonalds, Walmart, Google, Facebook: these do not qualify.
The line between good and evil runs not through the community, but through every individual human heart. Only individual persons are morally culpable for actions. Only individual persons can be absolved for their sins or glorified for their correct responses to grace.
A calculating machine can be made up of gears and wheels,
A calculating machine can be made up of silicon wafers and electronic gates.
A calculating machine can be made up of a series of people who each perform a step in the calculation.
From a moral perspective, there is no difference between these three things because each is a system, and a system is not a person.
Sure, the third system is composed of persons and the first two aren't, but that doesn't change the operation of the system. Systems are not persons, they are not morally culpable.
Systems are not Catholic or non-Catholic - they just are.
A community is Catholic only insofar as the individuals in the community:
(a) participate in the life of grace so that they are
(b) joined to the body of Christ who is a person.
But the Church is the only community which is a person, the only community that can carry grace or guilt. No other community can do this because no other community is a person.
Many people would like you to be confused on this point. They would prefer you to think that many different kinds of communities and systems are persons. It makes the Church seem common. Don't be fooled.
If anyone would like to argue about the merits of individual economic systems, feel free.
Just don't call any of them Catholic, because none of them (except the sacraments) are.
Insofar as a distributist or communist or libertarian or capitalist or anything-ist tells you otherwise, they have a weak grasp of reality.