Rush Limbaugh versus Pope Francis

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...
  1. Rerum Novarum: On the Condition of Workers, Pope Leo XIII, 1891
  2. Quadragesimo Anno: On the Reconstruction of the Social Order, Pope Pius XI, 1931
  3. Mater et Magistra: Mother and Teacher, Pope John XIII, 1961
  4. Populorum Progressio: On the Development of People, Pope Paul VI, 1961
  5. Laborem Exercens: On Human Work, Pope John Paul II, 1981
  6. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis: On the Twentieth Anniversary of Populorum Progressio, Pope John Paul II, 1987
  7. Centesimus Annus: The Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, Pope John Paul II, 1987
  8. Caritas in Veritatae: Charity in Truth, Pope Benedict XVI, 2009
It's a pretty hefty reading list, but one that every bishop (and priest) should be familiar with.  Sadly, many are not, and even worse, most lay Catholics have never even heard of them!  What Pope Francis has written in his recent apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, is just a synthesis of the above papal encyclicals written by six previous popes! If you can't see that, you need to go back and do your homework on Catholic social teaching. Nothing Pope Francis said is new in this regard, and everything is consistent with the previous teachings of the popes. The only difference is that Pope Francis doesn't say these things softly. He says them with gusto! That, and the fact that the mainstream news media has wrongly labelled him as a liberal-modernist "hippy pope," has made him a lightning rod of speculation and accusation.

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.

Please share this article with family and friends.


Click Image to Learn More
Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of Roman Catholic Christianity as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is concise and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!



Matthew M said…
Don't know about all this politically correct stuff and don't really care.

Did the Anglican Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter begin using the new liturgy this First Sunday of Advent?

That's the only important thing I want to know!

Please advise.
This is a very good post. The problems of the modern economy was predicted by Hilaire Belloc 100 years ago in the Servile State. We don't have free enterprise or socialism but rule by the plutocracy and its oligopolies......all in collusion with the two major parties. The whole system is a sham - this is getting noticed now by the shrinking middle class - and is due for a big collapse in the very near future. I stopped listening to Rush Limbaugh decades ago who despite his protestations is a cheerleader for the Wall Street dominated GOP. Real conservatives avoid war but Rush is a country club republican, albeit with a south Florida spin, and 3 failed marriages behind him.
The Lab Manager said…
You are wrong that the 'conservatives' support Austrian economics.

If that was true, there would be no federal reserve system and a lot less regulation. Rush Limbaugh is no Austrian.

Also, you clearly do not understand Austrian economics. There is nothing 'supply side' about this school of thought. You are putting them together with the likes of quasi free market Keynesians like Larry Kudlow.

Austrians are for private property and free market in money and other areas of business. They believe there is a role for limited government to protect property rights and enforce private contracts. has a good library of books explaining it.

The former Congressman Ron Paul has always been an Austrian and voted accordingly.

If Catholics really want to do something, they should supporting the abolition of the Federal Reserve, the federal income tax and a number of other taxes, and a number of other areas where government has over regulated to the benefit of corporations.

Steve Dalton said…
I see your still pushing distributism. It's sad that you think a system that was promoted by two men, (Belloc and Chesterton)who had no training or experience in the real world of business or economics, is going to create a more equitable social order. They were just as incompetent as Karl Marx in understanding the real world. And if a distributist government was set up, it would cause the same kind of disasters that other forms of utopianism did in the 20th century. Because once the founders of such a government started to realize human nature would undermine their undertaking, just like it undermined the socialist Worker's Paradises of the last century, they would be forced to make it work, just like the communists, Nazi's and Fascists had to do years ago. How well did that work out?
Shane Schaetzel said…

Chesterton and Belloc may have been the first high profile advocates of distributism, and they may have named it, but they certainly didn't invent it. The concept was invented by Pope Leo XIII in his social encyclical Rerum Novarum. Kindly redirect your criticism of distributism in the proper direction please, and level it at the pope. It's a papal idea.

There have also been highly trained economists who subscribed to Distributism, of which E.F. Schumacher was one. Perhaps you would care to take on his economic theories instead. Then there is Australian economist Race Matthews. Maybe you can take him on too.

Then of course there is the current president of the Catholic Lawyers Association, Christopher Ferrara, who I assume probably knows a thing or two about law. He's an avid Distributist too, and you can read his book if you like, entitled "The Church and the Libertarian." You may want to educate yourself on these matters a bit.

Of course, there have been some within the Republican Party seeking to revive and reform it using distributism. "Grand New Party," by Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam,is described as "a book written in the distributist tradition."

Lastly, your comparison of Distributism to socialism, communism and fascism (even Nazism) is a bit insulting and clearly demonstrates you have no idea what you are talking about. Distributism is the very opposite of all these things.
Steve Dalton said…
Pope Leo XIII didn't invent distributism. He used the phrase "distributive justice" a few times in his encyclical, but he didn't expound any detailed program in it. The Chesterbelloc and their friends were the ones who did that. And as far as papal authority and wisdom go, the pope is only infallible in matters of faith and morals. Judging by the history of Vatican financial dealings, especially the Vatican bank, infallibility is not evident here.

You mentioned that many highly trained economists subscribe to distributism. An appeal to authority doesn't impress me one bit. Many highly trained people have embraced really dumb ideas. The books "Intellectuals" and "Intellectual Morons" gives the history of such individuals. And I doubt the wisdom of people who take up a system of economics pushed by folks who had no training in that field.

And lastly, my comparison of distributism to the various forms of socialisms of the last century is hardly insulting. Many of the early distributists came out of a socialist background. The langauge used by both groups are amazingly alike. The earlyist articles advocating it were published in radical or socialist journals such as The New Age. So I'm hardly being "insulting" because I tell the truth.
Shane Schaetzel said…
Steve, have a look and see for yourself. The pope says the following...

“Hence by degrees it has come to pass that Working Men have been given over, isolated and defenseless, to the callousness of employers and the greed of unrestrained competition. On the one side there is the party which holds the power because it holds the wealth; which has in its grasp all labor and all trade; which manipulates for its own benefit and its own purposes all the sources of supply, and which is powerfully represented in the councils of the State itself. On the other side there is the needy and powerless multitude, sore and suffering, always ready for disturbance.

Just as the unity of human society cannot be built upon “class” conflict, so the proper ordering of economic affairs cannot be left to the free play of rugged competition. From this source, as from a polluted spring, have proceeded all the errors of the `individualistic’ school. This school, forgetful or ignorant of the social and moral aspects of economic activities, regarded these as completely free and immune from any intervention by public authority, for they would have in the market place and in unregulated competition a principle of self-direction more suitable for guiding them than any created intellect which might intervene. Free competition, however, though justified and quite useful within certain limits, cannot be an adequate controlling principle in economic affairs. This has been abundantly proved by the consequences that have followed from the free rein given to these dangerous individualistic ideas. The demands of competition, which is a normal consequence of human liberty and ingenuity, cannot be the final norm for economics.

Such a society ["a society of free work, of enterprise and of participation"] is not directed against the market, but demands that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the State, so as to guarantee that the basic needs of the whole of society are satisfied. It is the task of the State to provide for the defense and preservation of common goods such as the natural and human environments, which cannot be safeguarded simply by market forces. There is a risk that a radical capitalistic ideology could spread which refuses even to consider these problems, in the a priori belief that any attempt to solve them is doomed to failure, and which blindly entrusts their solution to the free development of market forces.”


These statements do come from the pope. I promise you they do... just not Pope Francis. What we have above are quotes taken from papal encyclicals (of much higher authority than Pope Francis' recent apostolic exhortation), starting with Pope Leo XIII, to Pope Pius XI, to Pope Pius XII and finally Pope John Paul II. What was that about Distributism being Marxist?

What I hope to demonstrate here is that there is nothing about Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, that is the least bit unusual or out of the ordinary practice for Catholic popes. In fact, what Pope Francis said was 100% consistent with previous popes and he even said them in less forceful language than previous popes, though perhaps with a bit more clarity.

I'm sorry to disappoint my Capitalist friends out there, but in light of these historical quotes, there really are only two possibilities. Either the popes are Marxist, or else they are Distributist. Take your pick. Since the Church has definitively spoken against Marxism, that only leaves one economic model left.

I feel for you Steve. You're not alone. Many more have fallen into the trap of following the political ideologies of the world rather than the teachings of Christ's vicar on earth.