I include the Rush Limbaugh video above because I want to be fair. I'm not going to paraphrase Rush Limbaugh here. I want you to hear his own words. This is extremely important, because you see, Rush Limbaugh is wrong about some things here, and he's making some pretty profound judgements against not only Pope Francis, but Catholic social teaching in general, going back over 120 years!
Worse than that, Rush Limbaugh has the largest talk show following in the United States, with at least 15 million regular listeners. So now that this heavyweight has thrown his hat into the ring, the battle lines are clearly drawn. What this man said will reverberate through other conservative talk show syndications as well, and before the week is done, we can expect somewhere in the neighbourhood of 20 to 30 million people in the United States believing that Pope Francis is a Marxist. Priests and bishops be warned, you're going to have a very serious problem on your hands before 2013 comes to an end. Many of your biggest lay supporters in your parishes and dioceses are regular listeners of conservative talk radio. What this man has done, along with the many who will soon follow suit, is sow seeds of doubt into their minds. They will soon doubt the leadership of the pope, and by extension, that includes your leadership as well.
Now the temptation here is to start "Rush bashing" and condemning conservative talk radio. I suppose some priests and bishops will be tempted to advise the faithful to "stop listening to that stuff." Granted, that's probably good advice in general, but I'm afraid if our leaders become militant about this, it may actually confirm the doubt and end up producing the exact opposite result, with more conservative lay Catholics listening to Limbaugh and the like. This blogger is not going to take the bait, and my suggestion to readers is that you shouldn't either. Rather, I would encourage the Church's spiritual leaders to educate of the lay faithful instead, and I'm afraid the days of "sitting on the fence" are now over. Pope Francis laid down his economic position, which is the Catholic Church's position for over 120 years, and Rush Limbaugh is now leading the charge against him on this. Bishops and priests; you are about to encounter some serious problems on this, and they will start quickly, in early 2014, and if you're not proactive now, you may end up losing some of your best and most dedicated lay faithful as a result. Do not underestimate the power of conservative talk radio. You ignore their influence at your own peril, and at the expense of your parishes and chanceries.
The problem Rush has is the same problem many people have on the conservative Right. They have an extremely narrow view of economics. They see the whole economic paradigm as existing between two extremes. There is the Austrian school of economics, which has a lot in common with supply-side (or "trickle down") on the one hand, and then there is Marxism on the other hand. Period! That's it. That's how they view the world. There is nothing else. You can see this in Rush Limbaugh's monologue above. Rush is a big supply-side (or "trickle down") guy, and like most supply-side economists, he believes anything that isn't supply-side (or similar) is Marxist. Pope Francis is clearly NOT an supply-side (or "trickle down") guy and so therefore, from the Limbaugh point of view, he must be a Marxist. Do you see the thought progression here? It's very simplistic, overly simplistic and wrong, but that doesn't matter, because you see Limbaugh has a huge following, and when you include the other talk show hosts who follow his lead, that following is massive! We are going to lose parishioners because of this, and many Catholics will go over the the SSPX because of this. The Evangelical anti-Catholics will be emboldened by this, as it plays right into their "pope is the Antichrist" motif. Bishops, don't blow this off. Don't dismiss this. This is much bigger than you think. Be proactive now, or you will be sorry later.
The problem with this supply-side and Austrian mindset is that it's just plain wrong. It assumes that economics is just a simple polarity between Austrianism and Marxism -- supply-side and communism. It fails to take into concept a third dimension. The Catholic Church's teaching on economics goes back to 1891, and continues with a steady stream of eight papal encyclicals as follows...
- Rerum Novarum: On the Condition of Workers, Pope Leo XIII, 1891
- Quadragesimo Anno: On the Reconstruction of the Social Order, Pope Pius XI, 1931
- Mater et Magistra: Mother and Teacher, Pope John XIII, 1961
- Populorum Progressio: On the Development of People, Pope Paul VI, 1961
- Laborem Exercens: On Human Work, Pope John Paul II, 1981
- Sollicitudo Rei Socialis: On the Twentieth Anniversary of Populorum Progressio, Pope John Paul II, 1987
- Centesimus Annus: The Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, Pope John Paul II, 1987
- Caritas in Veritatae: Charity in Truth, Pope Benedict XVI, 2009
The gist of the Church's teaching on economics is basically a synthesis of Solidarity + Subsidiarity. In other words, the economy is made for man, not man for the economy. We must have solidarity with all peoples, including the poor, and the economy must be structured in such a way as to maximise the benefit to the most people possible. This in turn is balanced with Subsidiarity, wherein power and production must be distributed to the smallest units possible. The traditional family (mom, pop and kids) is the foundational building block of every economy. Therefore, any just economic model must be structured in such a way so as to benefit the traditional family. Without the traditional family, you have no economy -- period. The fundamental teaching of Catholic social doctrine comes from the first papal encyclical on the topic -- Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII in 1891, and what it all comes down to is property. The popes (including the current Pope Francis) take the exact opposite position of Karl Marx. The papal position is that productive property, in the form of the tools needed for business, should be naturally placed under the ownership of the traditional family (mom, pop and kids). Let that sink into your head for a moment. Karl Marx said the exact opposite of the popes, and advocated that ownership of productive property should be placed into the hands of the state. The popes say the opposite of Karl Marx. Productive property (i.e. the tools of business) belong to families -- not corporate plutocrats or government bureaucrats. I want you stop and re-read this paragraph. Let that sink in.
So the popes' position on economics opposes the centralisation of productive property (the tools of business). It opposes the centralisation of productive property in the form of corporate plutocracy, and the extreme centralisation of productive property in the form of government bureaucracy. In other words, the popes oppose both big business and big government at the same time.
The Austrian school of economics (and by extension supply-side economics too) can't understand this, and neither can the Marxist school of economics. They both believe you can have one without the other. Austrians (and supply-siders) are supporters of big business, and believe you can have big business without big government. While the Marxists are supporters of big government, and believe you can have big government without big business. Both are wrong, for big business and big government are dependent on each other. While it is possible for one to exist without the other, neither does well when left absolutely alone. The best situation for both big business and big government is when they work together, but when they do so, they do so at the expense of the poor and middle class. In recent years we have seen both the rise of the Tea Party movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement. While these movements embody two extremes of the political spectrum, the core of their grievance against the current status quo is identical. They'll never admit that of course, as the political animosity between them seems insurmountable. Nevertheless, we Catholics should be able to see the similarities, if we've been following the popes' social teaching for the last 120 years. Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests the influence of large corporations and big banks over big government. While as the Tea Party (TP) protests the influence of big government over everything else. So who is right? They both are! The TP correctly identifies that government has gotten too big and is now self serving. OWS correctly identifies that big business now influences big government for self serving purposes. In the end, we find that many of the people appointed to serve in big government are in fact the exact same people who previously served big business. What is sad about this whole situation is that both TP and OWS are so heavily influenced by partisan politics and political ideology that they cannot see the plain truth -- which is that they are both two dogs barking up the opposite side of the same tree.
In the wake of Pope Leo's social encyclical 120 years ago, two Catholic theologians and authors (G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc), formulated an economic system that models itself after papal teaching. This economic system is called distributism (read more here). What is it? At it's core, distributism is capitalism, but is is distributed-capitalism. What that means is the economy is structured in such a way, so as to give small (family owned) businesses an economic advantage over large corporate businesses. Recognising that large industry is needed in some areas, distributism compensates with the idea of worker-owned cooperative corporations, rather than corporations owned independently of workers. In other words, when you have a large corporation, the shareholders should be the employee-workers themselves, not some entity that exists apart from the workers. Thus, the employee-workers will have a say in every corporate decision that is made, which insulates them against decisions that are made at the expense of employees. This is the core of distributist economics. It is a capitalist economy that is distributed among as many people as possible. It is a real ownership economy that prevents too much productive property (the tools of business) from falling into the hands of too few people. It is the polar opposite of both Marxism (communism or hard socialism) and Austrian capitalism and/or supply-side ("trickle down"). It takes productive property (the tools of business) out of the hands of corporate plutocrats and government bureaucrats, and puts it back into the hands of local families. That is Catholic social teaching! That is what Pope Francis is advocating. Anybody who understands Catholic social teaching can clearly see this in Pope Francis' writings, and it is consistent with the social encyclicals of six previous popes.
For the last 120 years, distributed capitalism (distributism) has been dismissed and derided by the reigning corporate plutocracy as anything from a "joke" to "naive fantasy" to "impossible." The economic model is frequently mischaracterised as an economy for farmers that is more appropriate to the middle ages then the modern world. Often, G.K. Chesteron's reference to "three acres and a cow" is misapplied here. The strategy of the reigning capitalist plutocracy has been one that's worked for over a century now, which is to laugh and scoff at the popes' ideas. Marxist will sometimes jump on this bandwagon too, realising that distributism poses an even more serious threat to their ideology than the capitalist plutocracy. In this, politics makes strange bedfellows, as Marxists and Austrians, as well as supply-siders, find themselves on the same team fighting against the popes.
In spite of this however, distributed capitalism (distributism) does work, and this has been demonstrated in places such as Taiwan, and throughout the free world, wherein small business, worker-owned cooperatives and credit unions are plentiful, where they have been allowed to thrive. Nobody today, except maybe Rush Limbaugh and gang, would deny the benefit of antitrust laws breaking up monopolies. These laws were inspired by distributist thinking. Most people think worker-owned cooperates are a good thing, and a whole lot of people prefer to bank at client-owned credit unions as opposed to traditional banks. Most people prefer small family-owned business to large corporations and would like to see more of that. However, what some people, especially Rush Limbaugh and his radio talk-show comrades, fail to understand, is that under the Austrian school of economics, and also under supply-side ("trickle down"), that doesn't really happen. Instead you get a short-term boost in small business, but this is short lived, as larger (more powerful) businesses either gobble them up in acquisitions, or else drive them out of business with unfair competition. What you end up with, in the long run, using the Austrian model and/or supply-side, is something akin to the old laissez-faire school of economics, which is the very abuse that gave rise to Marxism in the first place. The Austrians and supply-siders must learn that too much capitalism, in the long run, result in too few capitalists, and that in turn generates the knee-jerk reaction of creating a whole lot more Marxists.
I began this article with a video, and now I will end it with two more. The first is a video I've used a couple times before, but it does a wonderful job explaining papal economics (distirbutism) in a very short amount of time (about 4 1/2 minutes). Besides that, I love the music that accompanies it! Below this video, is a second video (about 15 minutes) which explains economics in light of the gospel, the social kingship of Jesus Christ, and the Catholic Church's roll in this. Below that, I'll give you two links. The first will be to a Wikipedia article on distributism, and the second will be to The Distributist Review -- an online magazine publication. If you're a Catholic, please watch the video and bookmark the links for further reading. If you're not a Catholic, you might want to do the same.
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