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  • Justin Haggerty | The Daily Knight

Debating Distributism & Capitalism - How about Virtue based Socio-Economics, Virtuism?

Justin Haggerty | The Daily Knight

Steel Worker (Barry Kidd Photography)

Last Thursday evening, I tuned into a live debate on Restoring the Faith Media, where John Médaille (author of The Vocation of Business: Social Justice in the Marketplace, and Towards a Truly Free Market; A Distributist Perspective) and Jeff Cassman argued whether distributism or captialism is the more beneficial and efficient socio-economic theory. I couldn't help but contemplate, what if neither of the theories can make that claim?

It's a fitting debate to have near Labor Day, especially as the nation gears up for the 2020 General Election; an election where it appears that capitalism and socialism, Christianity and marxism, rule of law and anarchy are on the ballot.

After listening to the opening dialogues by Médaille and Cassman, and recognizing the historical and philosophical cons to both distributism and capitalism, I posted the following comment to the live video on Facebook:

"We need to get back to the virtuous work ethic, when workers and craftsmen understood their labor as not only a means to support and provide for the family, but also as a form of charity to society and the nation/kingdom. The aesthetic and quality of work was much more profound, experienced longevity, and illustrated a grand beauty. Just look at the buildings, bridges, and Cathedrals of old. Working men also understood their role and responsibility in the larger economic machine. The coal miner in Western PA understood that if he didn't perform a quality and productive job, then the furnaces in Ohio won't ignite, steel workers won't meet their KPIs, the auto workers in Detroit won't build cars and tanks, and America can't compete internationally or defend itself. Men and women used to have pride in how they supported and contributed to the economy and to each other, (their neighbors). Perhaps a more virtuous understanding of economics is what we need to adopt."

The Catholic Missal, 1954 (Catholic Press)

For some time I have held this opinion and observation about the condition of our socio-economic system, and it has only become more clear after transitioning from the military to being a leader in American manufacturing and steel fabrication. The good thing is that people are having these debates and conversations. In my conversations with others, both blue and white-collar alike, I've discovered that I'm not alone in sharing my concerns about this degradation, but other workers often identify the counter system as a nationalistic or populist form of capitalism.

This may explain why President Trump's economics, in addition to it's performance and achievements, has earned much support from lower and middle-class workers, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I wouldn't identify the the counter system in the same fashion, because nationalistic and populist forms of capitalism still foster some disparity and an over emphasis on the accumulation of wealth.

To provide a better analysis, let us start by looking at the ends and means to labor. Labor is a necessary, but not always required, means to provide for oneself and family. A laborer can successfully provide for oneself and family by accumulating earned foodstuffs, goods, livestock, land, assets, and currency; all of which are individual means to bargain for and purchase another. Furthermore, each are means to coordinate security.

It is an important distinction to recognize and understand that land and currency are a means like the rest. Distributism and capitalism, in their over emphasis on the earning and accumulation of land and currency, pervert the means to be a glorified end, losing sight that the ability and responsibility to provide for oneself and family was the original end. For the Lord said to His Apostles, "lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also." (Matthew 6:19-21)

Socialism and marxism are no different in the perversion of the means to provide for oneself and family. Not only does a laborer no longer have the freedom to conduct his or her own labor at a market determined wage (means), but the wage (means) is no longer diversely available and it is constrained by regulation and the shortcomings of the economy. For example, we can look at the Soviet Union's prohibition of private land and assets, businesses, and currency. In fact, without those means being diversely available, the other means of foodstuffs, goods, and livestock became in limited supply, causing worse disparity, poverty, and famines in many regions.

In the past two scenarios, as the perversion between means and end occurred, the quality and aesthetic of labor deteriorated. As servant leadership is the supreme form of leadership, the highest form of labor is found in serving others. A servant, dedicated to the end goal of providing for oneself and family and contributing charitable work to their fellow man, will conduct a labor with invested care, aesthetic beauty, professional quality, and timeless longevity. Having this in mind, we need to change the connotation of a "servant worker."

The Catholic Missal, 1954 (Catholic Press)

The free-market economy, where the availability and diversity of means are not restricted, is most effective in providing the conditions for workers to provide for themselves and families. Adam Smith had this understanding in mind when he published Wealth of Nations in 1776; however, his work lacked the fundamentals to encompass both sociological and economic theory, and did not delve outside of macro and microeconomics.

Perverted by greed, toxic individualism, and class based collectivism, free-market economics, which existed in some societies prior to Adam Smith, degraded into darwinist-capitalism and marxist-communism. An in-depth analysis on the causation and process of that degradation would require additional research; nevertheless, an initial review can clearly determine the correlation between the decline in Christian virtue and the rise in social disparity and economic inequality.

The principals of Adam Smith and the free-market economy, in order to function and be maintained, require a social fabric that is governed by morals and ethics, both by the collective and the individual. In the advent of liberalism and modernism in the past two centuries, the ability for governments and societies to retain the characteristics and benefits of a free-market economy have become increasingly more difficult as man continues to degrade his nature to that of the animals.

One does not need a sermon to recognize the animal behavior illustrated by man in the arenas of fashion, entertainment, public conduct, sexuality, consumption, greed, etc. This brings us to an eloquent observation of the "hierarchy of creation" between the Divine, sentient beings, creatures, and substance within the universe; and, it may be an assistance in understanding the current state of socio-economics.

The Catholic Missal, 1954 (Catholic Press)

The late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, speaking on his televised show Life is Worth Living in 1956, provided an analysis on "The True Meaning of Christmas" where he discussed the "hierarchy of creation." Discrediting stoicism and the freemasonic notion of the internal will and powers of the individual man, Archbishop Sheen asserted that "we have to recognize that we cannot lift ourselves by our own bootstraps." He continued, that "barbarism is not something that is behind us, it is something that is beneath us."

Archbishop Sheen recognized that the modern era, technologies, and systems are not attributes that define our society above that of barbarians. It is our adopted nature, virtues, and conduct that make the distinction. Barbarism is certainly beneath us; and yet, so much of modern society and economics embrace it.

As sentient beings, divinely created, we cannot lower ourselves to the animals, embracing the modern-day barbarism of darwinism and animal-spirits exemplified in unchained capitalism. The same stands for marxism and class based collectivism that is evident in progressive socialism.

We must remain true to the segregation of power and nature within "the hierarchy of creation," as defined by Archbishop Sheen. In explanation, the Archbishop identifies that "running through the universe is this law [that] nothing ever amounts to the higher level [by it's own power]...except, the higher thing comes down to it."

The Catholic Missal, 1954 (Catholic Press)

Hunter-Gatherer Economy

Clarifying the law, he stated "for example, if the chemicals, phosphates, moister in the air, [or] sunshine are to be living things, the plant must come down to them. If the plant could speak, the plant would say, unless you die to your lower existence you cannot live in my kingdom; but, if you die to the lower existence that you have, you will begin to be a living, palpitating thing."

Patron-Client Economy (Feudal)

Expanding to plants, the Archbishop said "if, for example, a plant were to ever live with the animal, the animal must come down to the plant. And, if the animal could speak, it would say to the plant, unless you die to the lower existence that you have, unless you were torn up from your roots in the earth, unless you were ground in the jaws of death, you cannot live in my kingdom; but, if you surrender your lower existence and be responsive to me, then you will be not just a living thing, you will be sentient. You can see, you can hear, you can touch, you can move."

Capitalist and Communist Economies

The Archbishop moved on to animals, claiming "if the animal were ever to live with man, man must come down to the animal. [Man must] lift it up, say to it, you can live a higher life, but you must be responsive; submit yourself to the knife, to the fire, and then you will be a thinking, willing creature that knows science and art; and, with a mind, can scan the universe and read the secrets of the stars."

Free-Market Economy....or, Virtuist Economy?

He questioned, "shall evolution stop here in progress?" No, for that would place man outside of a law that governs the rest of creation. Asserting further, Archbishop Sheen affirmed that, following this law, "chemicals have no right to say that there is no life above them, [and that] plants have no right to say that there is no life above, there is a higher life above man, and that higher life is God." In accordance to that inherent truth by the "hierarchy of creation," he concluded that "if man is ever to be lifted up, God in some way must come down to man," and man must die to their lower existence.

In closing, Archbishop Sheen stated that God "came to make us new men, to change our be children of God, so that the divine nature began to pulsate within us, [and] so that we were lifted up [temporally and spiritually]."

We must orient our society and economics by this guiding truth and the virtues, gifted by revelation and tradition, that are required to form, keep, and defend that system which we desire. By offering our human nature, in an attempt to relinquish our lower existence and embrace the divine nature of our Savior, we can be lifted to build a society that rids itself of greed, toxic individualism, and class based collectivism, and enjoys a truly free-market economy with more freedom to provide, plentiful opportunities to earn a diversity of means, and an elevated quality, aesthetic, and charity of labor.

The Catholic Missal, 1954 (Catholic Press)

Throwing off the weights and constraints of past systems, hunter-gatherer, patron-client (feudal), capitalism and communism, "servant workers" can enjoy a system where malicious usury and corruption have now ground, and every family is provided for equal to the labor committed and the means earned. For our Lord said to His Apostles:

"Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they? And which of you by taking thought, can add to his stature by one cubit? And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin. But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. And if the grass of the field, which is today, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith?

Be not solicitous therefore, saying, What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore solicitous for tomorrow; for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof." (Matthew 6:26-34)

The Catholic Missal, 1954 (Catholic Press)

Although this analysis has been provided from a hundred foot view, it offers a critique of current structures and presents an idea for a more beneficial, effective, moral, and ethical socio-economic theory. Adam Smith, among others, have studied and written about this system, or at least certain aspects of it; and, combined with the support of Christian virtue and the faculties of the Church, if such a system existed it would be called Virtuism.

In Christ Crucified and the Most Victorious Heart of Jesus.

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