Poverty & Human Destiny

edited by Doug Bandow and David Schindler.
ISI Books (Wilmington, Delware), 350 pp., $29.95 cloth, 2003.

book cover imageFor religious believers, the complicated issue of reconciling
the free market with traditional morality is one of increasing
importance as the ideology of capitalism gains unprecedented
public support and globalization becomes unavoidable. The
prospect of material triumph appears omnipresent, and the
justifications for advancing the cause of wealth unmoored
from traditional notions of the common good are finding allies
in unlikely places. In this collection of essays, editors
Doug Bandow and David Schindler bring together an eclectic
mix of thinkers to discuss the morality of free-market systems.
While the essays are not deliberately set in conversation,
they naturally form a flowing dialogue.

The poor will always be with us, teach the Gospels, and
how governments make policies to minimize, rather than eliminate,
the number of people suffering economic hardship is at the
center of this debate. Peter Hill’s contribution raises
important questions regarding the political inequality which
arises from an increase in economic equality. It is only
when coercive government policies, restricting the freedoms
of its citizens, are put into effect that a forced distribution
of income can occur. This requires a drastic reorganization
of the social and political infrastructure, and would necessarily
result in the concentration of political power. Thus, for
Hill, economic leveling is accomplished at the expense of
relinquishing political power to a few central planners with
almost absolute control. When the rule of law and individual
rights are protected, however, economic inequality is almost
always the result. To force economic equality upon a culture
is to force it to abandon its equality before the courts
and its property rights. For Hill, the remedy for poverty
does not lie with a radical redistribution of private assets,
rather he suggests that the most effective remedy is overall
economic growth. Encouraging the creation of new wealth,
rather than redistributing what already exists, is the most
effective way to battle poverty. However, the production
of new wealth necessitates astrong respect for property
rights and the rule of law. When legal protections are broken,
and property rights are abandoned, the poorest members of
society are vulnerable to immense exploitation, and the creation
of new wealth is impeded by a lack of civil stability. For
Hill, the “government ought not to be engaged in redistributing

Adrian Walker’s essay, “The Poverty of Liberal
Economics,” is an exposition detailing the shortcomings
of a liberal economy in light of the teachings of the Second
Vatican Council. Although economic activity possesses its
own teleology, “what liberalism misses…is that the
market’s legitimate authority, like that of everything
else in creation, is itself constituted by relation to God,
not in separation from him.” Walker argues that poverty
is not the problem, but rather our true crisis is formed
by the spiritual poverty which exists in our society to a
high degree. We cannot begin to address economic concerns
when our own spirits are separated from the reality of Christ.
There is a certain freedom which exists in economic poverty,
and a richness that occurs in having our souls properly ordered
to God. Materialism in the form of liberal economics does
not work, writes Walker, because it “is not formed
in Christ’s poverty of spirit.”

Consciously written in the “spirit of John Paul II,” Michael
Novak’s “Catholic Social Teaching, Markets, and
the Poor,” is a skilled defense of free-market systems.
When combined with democratic government, free-markets offer “a
better hope to the poor of the world than do socialist or
traditionalist systems.” While open markets and the
growth of democratic regimes are not the highest aims of
a Christian society, the Catholic Church looks favorably
upon them, argues Novak, when they “conform to the
rule of law and subject themselves to sound moral criteria.” Clearly
rebuffing the term liberal in its revolutionary sense, Novak
embraces a liberalism that is committed to limited government,
religious liberty, human dignity, and an economy driven by
enterprise and free cooperation. Novak details the Catholic
position on materialism, and delves into the teachings of Rerum
on solidarity—not a revolutionary socialist
movement, but rather an understanding that human beings participate
in one humanity, “living in communio with all other
humans in God.”

The natural extension of Novak’s argument is globalization,
which he embraces as the “natural ecology of the Catholic
faith.” Having the poor of the world enter into cooperation
with major economic systems coincides, he argues, with the
Catholic idea of a universal brotherhood of man. He stresses
the call of John Paul II for wealthy nations to welcome third-world
countries into economic relationships. This not only would
allow for cooperation in engendering the growth of new capital,
but it further allows for local institutions to become less
corrupt through the necessary transparency that follows from
international cooperation. Solidarity is, then, at once a
matter of individual moral responsibility placed in cooperation
with a universal call to live in communion with all human
beings in the light of God’s love. It is incumbent
upon all human beings to respect the integrity of the each
person, for as Novak writes, “without communio, there
is no whole human subject.”

Mr. Novak stresses that human capital is the primary economic
entity, and that, in the modern world, education is required
if the markets are to flourish. “The chief cause of
the wealth of nations is human wit—discovery, invention,
the habit of enterprise, foresight, skill in organization,” he
writes. Thus, man’s primary resource is himself, and
if he is to participate in the global economy, he must have
the skills to do so. Not only must this breed of economic
man be skilled in scientific knowledge, he must be aware
of the basic needs of his fellow man. The market is “a
social instrument,” and this concept is at the center
of Catholic economic thought. The markets are not closed
systems, and every individual action has a reaction, which
in turn, has an impact on the wider social organization.

In one of the most important contributions to this
book, Samuel Gregg explores the moral dimensions of free
choice. Positive laws, he argues, should facilitate the fulfillment
of a moral good. The proposition of an unchanging good, as
opposed to the moral philosophy of liberal theorists John
Rawls and Ronald Dworkin, is necessary to defend against
ridiculous assertions of individual prerogative and the arbitrary
exercise of power. If every opinion warrants the distinction
of possessing its own moral truth, then proponents of slavery
are as entitled to exert their ignominious claims as its
most outspoken adversaries. Apologists of slavery, under
this system, possess as legitimate an argument to institute
laws protecting this institution as its most outspoken opponents.
As Gregg writes, “If all opinions are equal, then we
must conclude that Edmund Burke’s views, for example,
are only as valuable as those of Joseph Stalin.” This
principle has far reaching consequences in terms of individual
morality, the institution of positive laws, and in the formation
of economic policy.

For Gregg, it is imperative to regard the market as an institution
bound to the human aspects of civilization. The economic
order is not a distinct, insular abstraction that is capable
of being divorced from the greater reality of culture. While
the markets are not a sufficient enough basis to establish
the claims of truth, it is an entity capable of reflecting
the moral dimensions of a culture. Gregg fully understands
that being a Christian means sometimes rejecting the more
advantageous economic choice in favor of the less attractive,
but morally right, position on the side of eternal Truth.
He does not shun the proposition of capitalism, for we are
all capitalists, to some degree. He does, however, recognize
its limits and stresses the importance for Christians to
not isolate themselves from the realities of the material
world. Christ’s sacrifice upon the Cross demonstrates
God’s love for humanity, and the human person is more
than the temporal embodiment of pure spirit.

Similarly to Gregg, Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First
magazine, argues that claims of moral neutrality
are logically impossible. Fr. Neuhaus profoundly rejects
the notion of perfection in the city of man. The temporal
order is incapable of reaching the utopian heights imagined
by naive, dreamy aspirants. The coercive state is no exception
to this, because it is only when humans act as free, moral
agents, that they are able to realize their potential good.
In a free society, the state is only an instrument, accompanied
by a chorus of other players, in the cultivation of whole
culture. The foundation of culture, however, is the dynamic
character of individuals living in free cooperation with
each other in the grace of God.

The editors of this volume respond to the arguments of the
contributors. Beginning with Paul Johnson’s observation
that the 20th century was “the age of politics,” Doug
Bandow thrusts himself into a defense of the need for a market
economy. If wealth is to be created the use of free markets
must prevail. There are, however, limitations to the successes
of global capitalism. Capitalism is not exempt from scrutiny,
no matter how successful or beneficial it may be to the cultivation
of a free society. Like any social institution, the free-market
system has serious flaws, and there are always people willing
to exploit it for personal gain. Furthermore, the vocabulary
employed in the discussion over economics must be clarified,
especially when it comes to poverty. In the modern, seemingly
benign welfare-state, there is a strong undercurrent of class
envy which is the necessary result of a culture focused on
economic entitlements. Thus, the conversation about how to
relieve poverty focuses upon the redistribution of wealth
as opposed to finding ways of creating new wealth. Additionally,
the idea of poverty is not a relative term. Middle class
Americans are in dire economic straights if one is to compare
their financial worth with that of Bill Gates. The middle-class
person, driving a new domestic car, is not in a state of
poverty because he doesn’t own a Jaguar. Poverty, for
Bandow, is something beyond a term of comparative wealth.
Real poverty exists when people are unable to eat, possess
clothing, or maintain shelter.

The alleviation of poverty is an important task in the life
of any Christian, but the extent to which state coercion
participates in the realization of this goal is a matter
of serious question. The assertion that every Christian need
be a socialist, for Bandow, must be viewed against the idea
that persons who depend on the government to forcibly remove
property from their richer neighbors, purely for their own
benefit, are just as enamored of the things of this world
as the die-hard capitalist of the Marxian caricature. Bandow
defends the free-market, not as the embodiment of Christian
idealism, but with John Paul II, as a tolerable alternative
to the enslaving ideologies of collectivism.

David Schindler, on the other hand, proposes an alternative
view to the pro-market vision proposed by Bandow and Novak.
While he does not embrace a state-run socialism, nor any
of the coercive collectivism shunned by Bandow, he suggests
that “wealth and poverty must be understood [finally]
in terms of the destiny that defines the nature of man.” Schindler
maintains that the vision of the economists in this volume
differ in their vision of Christianity, and not in the more
topical vision of economics. In other words, Schindler and
his opponents differ in how they understand “communio,” and
the implications of the Church’s vision of the person
for economics. While Bandow favors a more market-based environment
for the poor to attain a reasonable standard of living, Schindler
attempts to understand the problem of poverty in broader
terms—“the human person in his or her totality.” He
rejects the idea that economics is a system to be viewed
in its own terms and on its own grounds.

Mr. Schindler elegantly explains that the divisions in this
book lay along the fault line of authors selected by Bandow
(Peter Hill, Michael Novak, Samuel Gregg, Jennifer Roback
Morse, Daniel Griswold, and Richard John Neuhaus) and himself
(Adrian Walker, D. Stephen Long, William Cavanaugh, David
Crawford, V. Bradley Lewis, and Arthur Davis). The essential
break has to do with Bandow’s group believing that “Christianity
has made its peace with liberalism on its best reading.” Schindler,
on the other hand, maintains that liberalism is perhaps the
greatest threat to Christianity in the contemporary world.
He believes that liberalism has hijacked certain terms and
cloaked them with benign connotations—“tolerance,” “compassion,” “freedom,” “rights.” The
violence of liberalism, he contends, takes as its victims
the most defenseless and unfortunate members of society—the
unborn, the sick, and the elderly. The loss of community,
of familial love, and of the meaning of what it is to be
human is the result of liberalism’s seemingly harmless
desire for freedom of choice and rights.

The collective synergy of the essays selected for this volume
prevents the creation of an academic dogmatism to which an
inquiry such as this can so easily degenerate. This type
of dynamic at once ensures that the subject is given a thorough
and fair treatment, and is a testament to the importance
of this discussion as a central component of our cultural
outlook.St. Augustine’s two cities, running parallel
in history and touching at various points, come into direct
contact with one another in this debate. The function of
economics as a material science is inextricably linked to
the larger moral structure that is attached to human affairs,
and it is through the application of eternal principles to
the temporal world by which we create a tolerable, balanced
order. If we fail, as a social community, to achieve a fusion
of our material circumstances and our eternal moral obligations,
we fail to fulfill our natural teleology. The essayists in
this group, though possessing different visions of how to
accomplish a unity of high moral standards with the markets,
are keenly aware of our responsibility to those things that
lay beyond the domain of material quantification. Each of
these contributors struggles to find a system that satisfies
our moral obligations and views the material world, not with
a Manichean vision, but rather, as an object of God’s
creation that must be loved, but loved with limits.

The unique dynamic of Wealth, Poverty and Human Destiny is
due to its varied cast of contributors, each bringing his
or her own perspective to this important discussion. Bandow’s
critical defense of the market-economy, and Schindler’s
critique of liberalism combine to form a nuanced discussion
of the role of free-market economics in the modern world.
Intelligently organized and elegantly written, Wealth,
Poverty and Human Destiny
lays out the pros and cons
of a market-based economy in clear, simple language that
many similar books of its kind could never do.

Glen Austin Sproviero is currently a Richard M. Weaver
Fellow doing graduate studies at St. Andrews University in

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