Markets and Morality

Bishops should rethink their line on government intervention in the economy


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The tax and benefits systems are particularly harsh on single-earner couples

Press Release

Secure private property rights needed to encourage investment

Christians should celebrate entrepreneurship and business
In a new book published by the IEA* an international team of authors** provide a fresh Catholic-Christian perspective on the role of the government and the market in the provision of welfare, education and aid to developing countries. The authors also look critically at the role of government in regulating business and the perceived problems of the consumer society. The book criticises long-held interpretations of Church teaching on foreign aid and the minimum wage and argues that Bishops in the UK have taken too little account of official Church teaching in giving advice to Catholics on political and economic matters.

US author Thomas Woods argues that the minimum wage, which many theologians believe is justified by Catholic teaching, harms the very people it is meant to help. Similarly, in a chapter by Philip Booth documents such as Populorum progressio (whose 40th anniversary is being marked this year) are put under scrutiny. In a number of Catholic Church documents, strong arguments have been made for increased levels of foreign aid. Yet aid programmes have often harmed the very people they have been intended to help. This is because aid proponents make the fundamental error of seeing development as a “top down” rather than a “bottom up” process. Aid proponents, it is argued, ignore strong Church statements on the importance of good governance for economic progress.

The book criticises a number of statements by the England and Wales Bishops’ conference on tax, the environment, the family and the EU. It analyses economic evidence and official Catholic teaching and finds them incompatible with the status quo of a large welfare state that local Bishops seem to accept. The authors argue that the Bishop’s line is out of tune with the best of Catholic teaching on economic matters. The principle of “subsidiarity” would suggest that the state should help as a last resort and that the government should merely help people fulfil their legitimate aspirations – not take nearly 50% of family incomes and spend it on their behalf. Official Church teaching has often criticised high levels of tax, bureaucratic welfare states and the state supporting government schools when it does not give the same support to parents whose children attend private schools.

The authors argue that Christians should celebrate entrepreneurship and business. The problems of consumerism and materialism are not best solved by government regulation but by the building of an appropriate culture. Government must give space, it is argued, for culture to breathe. Whilst market economies give rise to certain problems they do at least allocate resources by mutual agreement between buyer and seller. When political systems allocate economic resources, those with the loudest voices and who campaign the hardest obtain the greatest benefits.

Catholic Social Teaching and the Market Economy provides a practical re-appraisal of how Christians should think about economic and political issues.

*Catholic Social Teaching and the Market Economy, edited by Philip Booth, Hobart Paperback 34, The Institute of Economic Affairs, £15.00.

**Philip Booth, Samuel Gregg, Robert Kennedy, Denis O’Brien, Dennis O’Keeffe, Anthony Percy, Robert A. Sirico, Thomas Woods and Andrew Yuengert.