Confessions of a Catholic convert to capitalism

The greatest conversion story of all time began at daybreak on Dec. 9, 1531, on a hill outside Mexico City. The ruthless Spanish conquest of the indigenous peoples was proving an uncompelling advertisement for the Catholic faith. It had produced a meager stream of voluntary converts up to that point.

That morning, according to tradition, an indigenous, Mexican peasantnamed Juan Diego reported an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her message was simple. “Dear little son, I love you,” she told him. “I want you to know who I am. I am the Virgin Mary, Mother of the one true God, of Him who gives life.”

That message might sound a little anodyne, but the political significance of the apparition was anything but. In the midst of a violent campaign that attributed little human dignity to the indigenous communities, Mary appeared as a mestiza, an ethnic mix of the Spanish and native peoples. And she appeared to an indigenous man, speaking in his native tongue. In this deeply transgressive act, Our Lady showed that the Catholic Church, despite the mistakes and crimes of those who had introduced it to Mexico, represented the radical equality of God’s love.

In the seven years after this apparition, eight million natives were brought into the church. The tilma of Juan Diego, a cloak that was miraculously imprinted with an image of Our Lady, became the spiritual symbol of an entire people. Even now, the image is reported to convert thousands of onlookers each year.

I know something about that last data point. I am one of those converts.

At age 15, I visited the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe as part of a school band trip to Mexico. I had no connections to the Catholic Church at the time; I am not sure I knew any Catholics at all. But from within a crowd of teenagers on a forced march through a boring old church, I looked up at the image of the Blessed Virgin on the famous tilma, which still hangs in the shrine. I did not fall into a rapturous trance. I was not overcome by sweeping emotion. But a simple observation captured my imagination and lodged in my memory: Mary was appearing to me.

"This is how I became an unlikely warrior for free enterprise."

“People often mistake their imagination for their heart,” wrote Blaise Pascal, “and so often are convinced they are converted as soon as they start thinking of becoming converted.” It is true that Mary did not convert me in that singular moment. But the image stuck in my mind. A few months later, I started the conversion process at my local parish in Seattle. My Protestant parents were mildly chagrined but quickly recognized that if this was my teenage rebellion, Catholicism was probably better than drugs. I entered the church at 16 and began the great spiritual adventure of my life.

“The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Prov 16:9). God puts the truth before us in unexpected places,I have learned. Our job is to look hard and remain open-minded.

Sometimes that open-minded search has counterintuitive steps. I found that out in my short and ill-fated run at college. As the son and grandson of academics, I should have been a successful student, but I was an aspiring classical French horn player with little interest in studying. This led to academic probation. So I followed my heart and launched an era that my long-suffering parents would affectionately term my “gap decade.”

The first six years, spent touring with a chamber ensemble, sound more glamorous than they were. Imagine driving a van around the country with four other guys, earning $14,000 a year, and you get the idea. But this nomadic lifestyle had its rewards. In my early 20s, on a concert tour of France, I met a Spanish girl studying in Dijon for the summer. Shredding Pascal’s maxim and mistaking my imagination for my heart, I moved to Spain in hot pursuit, took a job with the City Orchestra of Barcelona and started working on my Spanish.

Big bets sometimes have big payoffs. Shortly thereafter, we married and commenced our journey of faith together. Twenty-five years later, as our children grow into adulthood, we find ourselves worrying they will do something crazy like drop out of college or move to Europe in pursuit of young love. We ask Our Lady of Guadalupe to pray for them.

Poverty on the Run

The next conversions were professional and ideological. As a Seattle-born bohemian living in Barcelona, my political views were predictably progressive. But my thinking began to change in my late 20s upon returning to college, which I did by correspondence while working as a musician.

I fancied myself a social justice warrior and regarded capitalism with a moderately hostile predisposition. I “knew” what everyone knows: Capitalism is great for the rich but terrible for the poor. The natural progression of free enterprise is that the rich and powerful accumulate more and more of the world’s resources while the poor are exploited. That state of affairs might be fine for a follower of Ayn Rand, but it is hardly consistent for a devotee of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Right?

Our ancestors had no concept that mass poverty was an acute social problem. Deprivation was simply the background condition for everyone.

As with most people of my generation, for me the symbol of world poverty was a starving child in Africa. I remember a picture from my childhood—I think it was from National Geographic—of an African boy about my own age. He had a distended belly and flies on his face, and he became for me the human face of true deprivation. As I grew up, I assumed, as do most Americans, that the tragic conditions facing the starving African boy had gotten worse. Today, more than two-thirds of Americans think global poverty has worsened over the past three decades.

This assumption and the attendant beliefs about capitalism hit a snag when I studied economics for the first time. In reality, I learned, humanity has starvation-level poverty on the run. Since 1970, the fraction of the global population that survives on one dollar or less a day (adjusted for inflation) has shrunk by 80 percent. Since 1990, the number of children who die before their fifth birthday has collapsed by more than 50 percent. Life expectancy and literacy rates have steadily climbed.

When faced with suffering, we often ask a conventional question: “Why are some people poor?” But grinding material poverty was the norm for the vast majority of people through the vast majority of human history. Our ancestors had no concept that mass poverty was an acute social problem that cried out for remedies. Deprivation was simply the background condition for everyone.

In just the last few hundred years, that all changed for a few billion people. So the right question today is: “Why did whole parts of the world cease to be poor for the first time in history?” And further: “What can we do to share this ahistorical prosperity with more people?” Economics taught me that two billion of my brothers and sisters had escaped poverty in my own lifetime. This was a modern-day miracle. I had to find its source.

St. Patrick's Cathedral stands amid the bustle of midtown Manhattan (iStock)
St. Patrick's Cathedral stands amid the bustle of midtown Manhattan. (iStock)

My search for the “why” of this miracle required almost no detective work. Virtually all development economists, across the mainstream political spectrum, agreed on the core explanation. It was not the success of international organizations like the United Nations (as important as they are) nor benevolent foreign aid that pulled billions back from the brink of starvation. Rather, the responsibility lay with five interrelated forces that were in the midst of reshaping the worldwide economy: globalization, free trade, property rights, the rule of law and the culture of entrepreneurship. In short, it was the American free enterprise system, spreading around the world, that had effected this anti-poverty miracle.

Again, this is a mainstream scholarly finding, not some political cliché. Informed people from left to right agree on these basic points. As no less an avowed progressive than President Barack Obama put it in a 2015 public conversation we had together at Georgetown University, the “free market is the greatest producer of wealth in history—it has lifted billions of people out of poverty.”

None of this is to assert that free enterprise is a perfect system—but more on that in a moment. Nor is it to claim that free enterprise is all we need as people. But it has unambiguously improved the lives of billions. It became my view that if I was truly to be a “Matthew 25 Catholic” and live the Lord’s teaching that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” then my vocation was to defend and improve the system that was achieving this miraculous result.

That is how an unlikely Catholic became an even more unlikely warrior for free enterprise.

The Inequality Trap

My new mission gave meaning to my growing disenchantment with music. I was hungry for work that served vulnerable people more directly. Now I had a roadmap to point me toward that future. I graduated from correspondence college shortly before my 30th birthday. Traditional graduate work in economics followed, and I left music for good to pursue a Ph.D. in policy analysis. That sparked a career as a university professor, teaching economics and social entrepreneurship.

As I taught about the anti-poverty properties of free enterprise, a common objection—especially among my Catholic friends—remained. “Okay,” many said, “I see that markets have pulled up the living standards of billions, and that’s great. But they haven’t pulled people up equally. In fact, capitalism has created more inequality than we have ever seen.” This spawns ancillary concerns about the rich getting richer at the expense of the poor, and the rising inequality of opportunity. My challenge as a Catholic economist was to answer these questions in good faith.

The evidence on income inequality seems to be all around us and irrefutable, particularly in the United States. From 1979 to today, the income won by the “top 1 percent” of Americans has surged by roughly 200 percent, while the bottom four-fifths have seen income growth of only about 40 percent.Today, the share of income that flows to the top 10 percent is higher than it has been since at any point since 1928, the peak of the bubble in the Roaring Twenties. And our lackluster “recovery” following the Great Recession likely amplified these long-run trends. Emmanuel Saez, a University of California economist, estimates that 95 percent of all the country’s income growth from 2009 to 2012 wound up in the hands of the top 1 percent.

Taking this evidence on its face, it is easy to conclude that our capitalist system is hopelessly flawed. Digging deeper, however, produces a more textured story.

To begin with, we should remember that inequality is not necessarily a bad thing when the alternative is the equality of grinding poverty, which was the case in previous centuries. Few would prefer a nation of equal paupers to modern-day America. But in any case, the notion that global income inequality has been rising inexorably is incorrect. From 1988 to 2008, a key era in the continued worldwide spread of market systems, economists have shown that the worldwideGini index—acommon measure of inequality—at worst has stayed level and has most likely fallen.

The real concern is capitalism’s purported tendency to create radically and unfairly disparate economic outcomes. In reality, however, most of the places with sky-high inequality are not bastions of unfettered free enterprise. According to the World Bank, while the United States has the 63rd highest level of income inequality in the world, communist China is higher (57th place). Pope Francis’ native Argentina, characterized more by government edict and economic planning than by free enterprise, is higher still (53rd).

If capitalism per sedoes not cause income inequality, what does? One part of the answer becomes clear after spending just a few days in China or Argentina. It is impossible to miss that prosperity in these places depends largely on political power and privilege, much more so than in the United States. While the United States is not perfect on this score by any means, our relative success at decoupling non-merit-based clout from economic success goes a long way toward explaining why so many people are so eager to relocate here.

Most of you have a family like mine. You are probably the descendant not of nobility but of ambitious riffraff who risked everything to flee poverty, oppression or both. Initially, they knew, poverty and inequality would also greet them in America—but here those conditions would be mutable, and some measure of prosperity could be achieved through hard work and personal responsibility. All this is doubly true for American Catholics, who were long viewed by the elite as the very archetype of impoverished and unpolished immigrants. Generations of Catholic immigrants—perhaps Juan Diego would be one today—showed up on our shores and at our bordersstarving for jobs and opportunity. Our country’s attractiveness to immigrants has persisted to this day, belying the idea that the United States is now some kind of plutocratic dystopia.

What about the worry that rich people are benefiting at the expense of the poor? It is ill-founded. All income groups in the United States have seen dramatic increases in their standard of consumption—not just since colonial times but also over the past few decades. Today, government data show, conveniences such as air-conditioning and color television—once literally inconceivable—have become ubiquitous all across the income distribution. Forty-five percent of Americans with incomes below the poverty line today live in a house with three or more bedrooms.

This is why many economists suggest that data on household consumption spending offer a better gauge of families’ daily realities than pretax earned income. Many households lose significant funds when they pay their taxes; many others gain meaningful resources through government transfers and benefits. Yet all of this is lost in the conventional income statistics. This is an especially noteworthy omission for Catholics, since our preferential option for the poor and corporal acts of mercy aim at concrete, specific improvements in actual living conditions. Eliminating poverty should mean fighting to raise living standards to a satisfactory threshold and eliminating acute material insufficiency. Mathematically, there must be a bottom 10 percent and 20 percent of earners in any society. The morally relevant issue is not this mathematical truism but rather how these people are actually living.

There must be a bottom 10 percent of earners in any society. The morally relevant issue is how these people are actually living. 

So what happens when we turn to consumption statistics, painting a more holistic picture with the data on what households actually spend? The allegations of recent runaway growth in inequality evaporate. Measured this way, the gap has not grown meaningfully in decades.

In other words, the zero-sum fear about our economy is mistaken. True, the rich are doing plenty well in the United States. Should they pay their tithe and then some, devoting resources not only to their government through taxes but also voluntarily to their churches and charities to help those who are less fortunate? Of course. But there is no real sense in which their success is directly stolen from the poor or middle class. In material terms, all these groups are unimaginably better off today than before free enterprise entered their lives.

A bigger concern is inequality of economic opportunity. The waves of immigrants drawn to this country did not expect to exchange impoverished lives in their homelands for instant wealth and luxury in the United States. But they did believe—accurately—that they were exchanging ossified lives in permanently stratified societies for one in which hard work could more directly yield a measure of prosperity.

Unfortunately, the best data available today suggest that absolute economic mobility is, in fact, declining. A recent study led by Raj Chetty, a Stanford economics professor, shows that the percentage of children who earn more than their parents has rapidly decreased. Their research shows that at age 30, about 90 percent of children born in 1940 were earning more than their parents had earned at that same age. Only half of children born in the 1980s were able to accomplish the same feat. And Americans’ expectations are trending downward to match this reality: According to a survey from mid-2015, only one in eight Americans believe their kids will have more disposable income than adults today.

Of all the concerns about inequality, this is the most legitimate. Unfortunately, it is also the hardest to solve. For example, it is a dubious propositionat bestthat forcibly redistributing wealth to decrease inequality would necessarily reinvigorate opportunity. After all, the approximately $20 trillionin transfer payments that have resulted from the War on Poverty have purchased a lot of welfare programs to make poverty a little less unbearable, but they have failed to do anything meaningful to make poverty more escapable. Even education spending, which is meant to level the playing field, has failed to do so. It has doubled per child (in real terms) since 1970, yet the achievement gap between students at the top and bottom of the income distribution has increased, not decreased, by a third.

The bottom line is that income inequality is not rising worldwide or, when properly measured, in the United States. Income inequality is not a unique product of capitalism, and it does not itself create impoverishment of the poor or the diminution of opportunity. Income inequality is the wrong focus for our anxieties about free enterprise. Opportunity inequality is the crisis we face today, and weakening the free enterprise system will not solve this problem.

Capitalism for the Soul

Once I climbed over common Catholic criticisms of inequality, I realized that I had summited only a small foothill in the debate over free enterprise. A much bigger mountain loomed: the effects of capitalism on the soul.

The critics’ argument goes something like this: Capitalism makes us into materialists, into money-making automatons. Capitalism focuses us on greed and acquisition at the cost of our families, our faith, our friendships and even our planet. It sucks the life out of life.

The great G. K. Chesterton voiced this objection in his classic essay “Three Foes of the Family.” “It cannot be too often repeated,” he wrote, “that what destroyed the Family in the modern world was Capitalism.” He charged that the ethos that accompanies free enterprise had “broken up households and encouraged divorces, and treated the old domestic virtues with more and more open contempt.” Pope Francis put forward a similar point in his 2013 apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”: “In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”

These critics claim that market-based societies destroy real human flourishing because they inevitably make their participants more acquisitive and selfish, and therefore more unethical and unhappy. The evidence on the happiness question is especially evocative. In 2009, for example, researchers from the University of Rochester conducted a study tracking recent graduates’ progress at achieving goals they had set for themselves. Some of the 147 alumni had set out toward “intrinsic” goals, such as developing deep, enduring relationships. Others aimed at “extrinsic” goals, such as achieving wealth or becoming famous.

The results brought good and bad news. The good news is that, by and large, the subjects did achieve their stated goals. But be careful what you wish for, because it was only the alumni who had set intrinsic goals for whom success translated into actual happiness. The people who had successfully attained extrinsic goals, many of which boiled down to indulging avarice or pride, experienced more negative emotions, such as shame and anger. They even suffered more physical maladies such as headaches and loss of energy.

For Catholics, this is a potentially lethal criticism of free enterprise: As capitalism fixates us on wealth, it weakens the family, fragments the community and leaves us miserable. Is this not the very essence of idolatry?

The answer to this has occupied me for the past decade. I have lain awake worrying about the coarsening materialism of our society and American popular culture. Turn on the television, go to the movies, glance at practically any advertisement, and you will learn that the formula for a happy life is simple: use people, love things, worship yourself. Is capitalism to blame?

My conclusion is that it is not. Systems are fundamentally amoral. The forces that make up the free enterprise system are fundamentally content-neutral. Free enterprise could be used for purely evil ends if capitalism produced only pornography and poison gas, or for purely virtuous ends if man were not fallen. In reality, like basically every human endeavor, capitalism as currently practiced contains a mixture of praiseworthy and damnable behavior. At root, then, what matters is the morality of those who participate in the system.

Capitalism is a mix of praiseworthy and damnable behavior. At root, what matters is the morality of those who participate in the system.

Confusion about this point is the reason for one of the most frequent misquotes in all of Scripture. St. Paul is often incorrectly cited as saying that “money is the root of all evil.” On the contrary, his indictment was of inordinate attachment to money: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Tm 6:20).

The problem is not money; it is attachment to money. Why else would God himself enter the world in complete poverty? More precisely for the topic at hand, the big problem is not free enterprise per se. It is the choice by many men and women to prioritize the struggle for riches ahead of higher goods such as faith, family and friendships.

Still, doesn’t the free enterprise system’s relentless efficiency at creating wealth make it a special offender at incentivizing selfishness and avarice? Even if humans tend naturally toward greed until we are corrected, doesn’t capitalism just slam our feet down on the accelerator?

In a word, no. Anyone who traveled behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s (or China and Argentina today) has seen every bit as much human selfishness and greed on the part of the powerful and privileged. And there is little doubt that kings, princes and even popes throughout history fell to pecuniary idolatry. Greed was a deadly sin long before the invention of capitalism. Free enterprise—which has brought so much good to billions of people—is not the culprit.

Why is this particular flaw woven so deep into our postlapsarian humanity? From the perspective of armchair evolutionary psychology, it makes intuitive sense that we have an appetite for material security. Had one particular caveman not stored up enough food or acquired enough animal skins, they might either have perished prematurely or failed to find a mating partner, and you would not be here to read America.

This is why it is imperative never to forget that biology is not our loving Father. Unlike God, natural selection does not particularly care whether we are happy or whether we live flourishing lives that build up our communities. Our DNA certainly does not care how long we have to spend in purgatory—if we are fortunate enough to arrive there in the first place. This means the quicksand of materialism is one way in which we Catholics are called to mortify and purify our impulses. This is not made any easier, incidentally, by the pervasive popular advice that “if it feels good, do it.” Our Father gives us rational souls and inspired consciences for a reason. We must put them to use in our financial decisions and our careers, no less than in any other arena of our lives.

Catholic faith instructs us in a moral program that we can implement under any economic system, including our own. Our recipe for a better life simply inverts the world’s mistaken formula and renders it virtuous: Love people, use things, worship God.

As St. Josemaría Escrivá reminded us, earthly goods are “debased when man sets them up as idols, when he adores them” instead of the Lord. But they are not inherently bad. In fact, worldly goods can be “ennobled when they are converted into instruments for good, for just and charitable Christian undertakings. We cannot seek after material goods as if they were a treasure. Our treasure is Christ and all our love and desire must be centered on him.”

The bottom line, in my view, is that Catholics have no cause to reject free enterprise. We must acknowledge the limitations of any economic system, and avoid fashioning false idols out of our wealth or the markets that make it possible. But those tempted to consider different economic systems must remember that only free enterprise (accompanied by necessary regulation and proper social safety nets) has helped fulfill the noble antipoverty goals of our faith for billions of people all around the world. Meanwhile, capitalism’s collectivist competitors, such as state socialism or communism, have left a long trail of misery, tyranny and atheism.

Catholic faith instructs us in a moral program that we can implement under any economic system, including our own. 

In the United States, practically no one advocates a complete overthrow of capitalism. But among many Catholics who are laudably dedicated to social justice, there remains a reflex to militate against market forces and advocate for more state control of the economy. Our prudential analysis of key issues, from education to taxes to corporate regulation, should not begin with hostility to free enterprise. We must conduct an honest accounting of market failures, to be sure—but we should rely wherever possible on market concepts of competition and choice, which have consistently transformed industries and improved living standards.

American free enterprise has imperfections that must be mended. But at root, we should cultivate it widely, share it with everyone and celebrate its fruits with enthusiasm.

The Privilege of Work

Earlier in this essay, I outlined my religious conversion to Catholicism, followed by my vocational conversion from French hornist to economist. Let me close with a few words about how they are related.

In “Gaudium et Spes,” the Second Vatican Council gave laypeople a clear teaching on the importance of our secular work. “Let Christians follow the example of Christ who worked as a craftsman,” the document declares. “Let them be proud of the opportunity to carry out their earthly activity in such a way as to integrate human, domestic, professional, scientific and technical enterprises with religious values, under whose supreme direction all things are ordered to the glory of God.” In short, the church teaches each of us with an honest profession to sanctify our work, no matter what it may be.

During the years when my work was music, my favorite composer was Johann Sebastian Bach. The master of the High Baroque published more than 1,000 works over the course of his 65 years. From keyboard études to church cantatas for every Sunday in the lectionary, Bach’s incredible compositions seemed to fall easily from his pen.

But music was not the most important force in Bach’s life. Before music came family. He was the father of 20 children. And before everything else came his love for God. Bach finished each of his scores with the words “Soli Deo gloria,” or “Glory to God alone.” When asked one time why he wrote music, his answer was simple but profound: “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”

I first read that quotation when I was still playing the French horn. It inspired me, but it also sank in like a knife to the heart. I wanted to be able to sanctify my secular work as the church instructs; to be able to confidently say that my work glorified God and served my fellow men and women. In the orchestra, frankly, I was feeling that way less and less often. A lot of nights I was refreshing no one, and I began to crave a new profession that would offer a more direct path toward serving others.

To switch from music to economics might sound like moving from the sublime to the dismal. Yet as paradoxical as it seems, economics is what enabled me finally to deliver something like Bach’s answer about my own work. As a Catholic dedicated to the welfare of those at the periphery of society, I am an expert witness to the fact that there has never been a better system than free enterprise for empowering real people to pull themselves out of poverty. There has never been a better system to allow people to unlock the unique sense of dignity that comes with earning their own way, deploying their talents to serve their community, colleagues or customers, and taking home justifiable pride in—and rewards for—their efforts. And there is no reason, if we are serious about our Christian apostolate, that free enterprise should become an idol in itself, impoverish anyone or capture our souls.

In sharing this truth, I can finally sanctify my work. Not on the level of the great Bach, to be sure, but in my own little way. What a privilege it is. Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for me.

Tim O'Leary
3 months 2 weeks ago

Thank you Dr. Brooks. Really important article. I have shared the link with my three young sons, as part of mandatory reading. I am pleasantly surprised to see it published in America. I hope all the writers and bloggers here read it (maybe even the pope :). You are also a great advertisement for a "gap decade."

Best line “It became my view that if I was truly to be a “Matthew 25 Catholic” and live the Lord’s teaching that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” then my vocation was to defend and improve the system that was achieving this miraculous result.”

Mike Evans
3 months 2 weeks ago

This article is a complete misstatement of the gospel and a crude and totally wrong defense of default capitalism as we know and live it. No system of economics has more victims, unmet needs, lack of resources and justice. It is so wrong it would take 200 pages to refute. But what can be expected of an entrenched supporter of the "dismal science."

SayRah Greed
3 months 2 weeks ago

Mike, I hope you can re-examine this article and stretch your faith. The author is correct about the societal gains in consumption across the world and across generations. He does need to recognize that there is no such thing as free enterprise!! Rather we have always lived in a Regulated-Market Economy, where human values are expressed alongside of the value of profits. Recognizing our acceptance and desire to regulate the economy, we can continue to craft and direct market forces to better offer greater and greater good. Please, keep your faith and read Brooks' work once again.

Tim O'Leary
3 months 2 weeks ago

Mike - democracy (free elections) is similar to capitalism (free markets), in that both systems offer the broadest opportunity for involvement of people's creative problem-solving. Of course, there are flaws with any human freedoms, and that is why the cynic often says democracy (or capitalism) is the worst system - except for all the others. Much of what Dr. Brooks says is already in Pope St. John Paul's Centesimus Annus, so it is certainly consistent with the Catholic Church's understanding of the Gospel.

An excellent example is the lesson of Obamacare - where a well-meaning ideological attempt to remove market forces from health care, and cover the uninsured 10% by disrupting the 90% insured and ended up hurting nearly everyone. Of the 20 million who went onto Obamacare, 11 million just ended up on Medicaid, which could have been done without the complete disruption of everyone's insurance. A free market approach to healthcare would reduce regulations, increase transparency and competition, and provide a safety net for those who fall through the cracks (which Medicaid is in any case).

Obamacare and all the big-government politicians have opposed tort reform (limiting the legal awards to 10% to the lawyers, using a health expert panel rather than juries, etc) , regulatory (FDA) reform ("Right-to-Try" for the terminally ill, more accelerated/provisional approvals, etc.), price transparency, competition (they oppose insurance across state borders, and savings accounts). They want the government to run healthcare, like Canada (where people die on waiting lists for life-saving procedures - 52,000 Canadians came down to the US in 2015 to pay for their health care - 100% out-of-pocket) and yet nearly all new treatments advances (e.g. the current immuno-oncology revolution) have been invented in capitalist America (that Canadians pay very little for the R&D).

Mike Evans
3 months 2 weeks ago

Go ahead and buy that catastrophic care policy from mutual of wherever. Then read the fine print. That's why most states have very strict standards on insurance written for policyholders in their state. Do not allow these fraudsters to sell an empty shell of a policy. Force them to comply with well-designed state insurance rules that actually protect people.

Alaksandar Michnievič
3 months 2 weeks ago

>No system of economics has more victims,
>unmet needs, lack of resources and justice.

Sorry, Mike, as someone who was born in USSR, I can say this statement is as far from being truth as I am from being saint.

Stuart Bintner
3 months 2 weeks ago

Two failed economic forms are (1) Marxism and (2) unregulated capitalism. If we have learned anything from economic history it is that a mixed economy with a proper balance of "free market" capitalism that is closely regulated--and a dash of socialism-- provides the best chance for mankind. The questions arise when the amount and nature of regulation is discussed.

SayRah Greed
3 months 2 weeks ago

Beautifully stated, Stuart!! Thank you! Now along with all the efforts of regulation we are managing, how do we #RegulateGreed ?

Vince Killoran
3 months 2 weeks ago

This is a VERY long article that mostly restates Michael Novak's case for capitalism from four decades ago. In the mid-1980s Novak and his merry band of conservatives tried again with their "Lay Commission" response to the U.S. Bishops' ECONOMIC JUSTICE FOR ALL. Their redefinition of "subsidiarity" was flawed and the veneer of respectability they put on Reaganomics embarrassing.

I agree with Mike Evans: free-market capitalism is not compatible with Catholic social teaching. There are many other systems closer to this teaching.

Joshua DeCuir
3 months 2 weeks ago

"I agree with Mike Evans: free-market capitalism is not compatible with Catholic social teaching. There are many other systems closer to this teaching."

And those would be?

I consider myself a capitalist by default. That is, in the present situation & this side of Eden, there seem to be no better alternative, even as I admit & agree that capitalism has its fault & is in constant need to healthy challenge & oversight. Nonetheless, the most viable alternative gave out of its own accord some time ago. And please spare me the argument that socialism in its purist form has yet to be tried; I'm not sure the the lives of the poorest can be much more spared such bloodshed in the name of justice - or socialism seeking purity.

Vince Killoran
3 months 2 weeks ago

Then please spare me the "capitalism isn't perfect but it's the best we've got" line! It isn't. Try, for example, Scandinavian-style democratic socialism. It lines up a lot closer to Catholic social teaching. Plus the people are happier, productive, have lower crime, infant mortality rates, etc. etc.

But this is an old, tired debate. I'm sure we're not going to convince each other.

Joshua DeCuir
3 months 2 weeks ago

On the contrary, I am a big fan of Scandi democratic capitalism, & I would gladly take more of that paradigm (I'd also happily take Scandinavian abortion regimes, as well in a happy trade - but that's a conversation for another time, perhaps).

Nonetheless, Scandi capitalism is facing increased strain & stress currently from the refugee crises in Europe. The cohesion of most Scandinavian societies has been one of its strong points, which is presently being challenged. It also largely relies on oil & gas extraction in the North Sea - something under increasing criticism,

Stuart Meisenzahl
3 months 2 weeks ago

Vince
This is not intended to change your mind.
"Social Justice" can only be achieved by using the tools at our disposal, rooted in the context of the society we live in
If you consider "capitalism" antithical to "Social Justice" your only choice is to sponsor a political revolution that eliminates capitalism. In as much as free market capitalism is part and parcel of our Consitutional freedoms,you are talking about wholesale amending of the Constitution to achieve your goals.
We both know that is not going to happen!
The Prime Minister of Denmark Rasmussen has rejected your characterization of the Scandinavian model as "social democracy" . Responding to Bernie Sanders repeated references to that effect he said "We are a free market economy....with as much freedom to pursue your dreams and live your life as you choose".
As to the Scandinavian welfare benefits, note that Sweden has a 57% personal tax rate to which you add a 7% social security tax rate. Then with your remaining 36% you get to do what ever you want but pay a 25% sales tax. Norway pumps non social justice conforming oil from the North Sea which it uses to maintain its welfare benefits while the rest of the it's economy is less tax burdened than in Sweden. Further, each of the Scandinavian countries have populations smaller than New York City
Do you think there is a political chance that a Scandanavian tax structure will ever occur in the United States?
If not, then social justice goals had best be served by using the system we already have and start focus onchanging hearts and minds at the individual level and skip the governmental top down solution.

You may not like it, but Arthur Brooks is irrefutably right about Capitalism; that there is no other economic system that has lifted so many out of poverty.

Charles Erlinger
3 months 2 weeks ago

It is amusing to read impassioned rhetoric supporting the “so-called” free market capitalism philosophy at the theoretical level, as though the theory were the issue among social justice advocates. The theory is just a straw man when everyone knows that the problem that drives many crazy is the practice which is usually justified by the theory. The unjust practice is often just legally protected predation pretending to be free market economics at work. Look at this Saturday’s front page Wall Street Journal article headlined “Old Drug Gets Big New Price Tag.” The article states:

“A drug to treat muscular dystrophy will hit the U. S. market with a price tag of $89,000 a year despite being available for decades in Europe at a fraction of that cost.

“Marathon Pharmaceuticals LLCs pricing of the drug…is the latest example of the business model that has drawn ire from doctors, patients and legislators in recent years: cheaply acquiring older drugs and then raising their prices.”

Mike Evans
3 months 2 weeks ago

But the Trump boosters and the old hard rock conservatives will continue to hide behind their condemnation of all things that might be good for all and hence "socialism." No universal, affordable health care, no progressive taxation or regulations that impose limits, no prohibition against speculative gambling with depositors' money, and especially, no philanthropy which might make poor folk feel "entitled" or welcome and cared for.

Stuart Meisenzahl
3 months 2 weeks ago

As I indicated above...."social justice" is not achievable by just working from the top down through laws and government.
Social justice is granular.....it only really works from the bottom up. That is hard work and not susceptible to short cuts.
Pounding the drums for government action is futile, and frustrating. Change enough individual hearts and minds and the politics will follow.
But what does your hit on "Trump boosters and old hard rock conservatives" have to do with Arthur Brooks point that free market capitalism has lifted more people out of poverty than any other economic system? I believe it was your initial reaction that capitalism is per se antithetical to the gospel and Christianity, Assuming lifting tens of millions out poverty is not anti Christian, that is a hard argument to maintain. Simply coupling it with "Trump supporters"and "old hard rock conservatives" does not strengthen it.

Mike Evans
3 months 2 weeks ago

Sorry if you are insulted. But we have millions of homeless, drug & alcohol addicted, disabled, children going hungry living in hovels, schools that are so cruel and underfunded with toilets that won't even flush and roofs full of leaks and mold, greedy corporations buying and selling each other for no one's common good except that of the executives' board salaries and stock bonuses, rotting infrastructure, and unregulated everyday poisonings and destruction of our living space... The current and most recent GOP mindset is to fail to alleviate suffering in our own country while raining down $630 billion in defense spending on refugee women, men and children fleeing for their lives. We all have to take responsibility for our failure to condemn this approach and work for justice, respect, and peace.

Robert Capetola
3 months 2 weeks ago

Vince, my supposition is that if you were to transplant the Statue of Liberty to the North Sea, in a channel leading directly to Oslo, your gleefulness for Scandinavian-style democratic socialism would be reduced greatly ten years hence.

James MacGregor
3 months 2 weeks ago

RE: "In the United States, practically no one advocates a complete overthrow of capitalism." How about Bernie?

Michael Barberi
3 months 2 weeks ago

Finally, an article about the real causes of income inequality, poverty, unhappiness, et al. As mentioned in this article, our individual and societal ills are not caused by our free enterprise system or capitalism, nor are they caused by those in the 1%. They are caused by the idolization of materialism and selfishness and the misalignment of our goal, or lack thereof, to love of God and neighbor. This means to seek and do good and avoid evil, and to share our blessings of time and money to help those who carry heavy burdens and are in need.

I will share this timely article with my son and daughter.

Stuart Meisenzahl
3 months 2 weeks ago

I am "surprised" that the Editors published this excellent opus.
The concept that capitalism is the most successful system for attaining "social justice" is news if not outright heresy to any number of contributors to America Magazine.
This article is excellent and based on a real economic analysis from a trained economist. It politely suggests that "the social justice warriors" in the Catholic clergy should be instructing hearts and minds on the moral implications of decisions and not commenting on or recommending specific government and business methods as cures.

The work of the clergy is to deal with individuals on moral issues on a granular basis not proscribe the grand government programs they believe are required. They generally have little or no expertise, education or background for recommending specific action. Adam Smith's "invisible hand" as the generator of economic policy is made up of a synthesis of individual goals motivations and desires. If the social justice warriors want to effect a more just and equitable system they must counsel, lead and convey the moral implications of goals etc to the individual. Skip the grand pronouncements and demands for governmental action.
Capitalism imbued through the "Smith invisible hand" with morality is the social justice solution.

MaryMargaret Flynn
3 months 2 weeks ago

Yes a capitalist, well defined, loud and clear; the question is can one remain a Christian at the same time.

MaryMargaret Flynn
3 months 2 weeks ago

Yes a capitalist, well defined, loud and clear; the question is can one remain a Christian at the same time.

Robert Killoren
3 months 2 weeks ago

I agree with my brother, Vince. I would add that I have a very dear friend who believes just as you do. He is a Catholic convert. We do not agree on this question you bring up, except to disagree. In a way we both end up a a similar place, faith in Jesus. I understood you completely when you quoted St Escrivá. My friend is Opus Dei. I, on the other hand, am Benedictine. Still Jesus warns us that it is so very hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom.

Chuck Kotlarz
3 months 2 weeks ago

“Inequality is not necessarily a bad thing when the alternative is the equality of grinding poverty.”

That’s too bad. If competition strengthens the free market, perhaps an economic system competitive with capitalism would strengthen society. Mr. Brooks notes the World Bank ranks US inequality nearly on par with communist China. Perhaps today’s US capitalism is no longer a far superior economic system.

SayRah Greed
3 months 2 weeks ago

Chuck, this is insightful!! Yes, when American Capitalists were afraid of the Communists, they may have allowed for greater opportunities for those earning less. Once the threat of Communism disappeared, did the Capitalists become Plutocrats, vowing to never allow themselves to fall from their economic heights? Are they abandoning the lower economic classes all the more and separating themselves into a different society?

Bruce Snowden
3 months 2 weeks ago

Mr. Brooks, you have written not only an essay as you call it, but a true masterpiece explaining what Capitalism is and is not, seen and lived through the strength of Gospel teaching,. Yours the best step, by step, presentation ever I dare say!

“Confessions Of A Catholic Convert To Capitalism” is alo, in fact, “Encyclical-like!” Popes often get help from others when writing important documents, so I’d like to see Pope Francis publish you work as “his” Encyclical on Capitalism. With your permission of course. Maybe not so wild a thought! Not just as a buttress to his “Laudato Si” which focused on an out-of-controlled Capitalism with subsequent harm to the environment, our “Common Home” but also because your work goes from “ life to Gospel and from Gospel to life” effectively, and because it’s so darn good!

I also loved your Lady of Guadalupe connection and that incredible tilma image some claim the result of nuclear fission, as at Hiroshima, where nuclear explosion caused leaf-imprints on walls, God using a natural force used miraculously to effect supernatural reality, so in sync with the way God seems to manifest Himself, nature serving as instruments in His Hand. Thanks for the great submission to AMERICA!

Mr. Brooks, you have written not only an essay as you call it, but a true masterpiece explaining what Capitalism is and is not, seen and lived through the strength of Gospel teaching,. Yours the best step, by step, presentation ever I dare say!

“Confessions Of A Catholic Convert To Capitalism” is alo, in fact, “Encyclical-like!” Popes often get help from others when writing important documents, so I’d like to see Pope Francis publish you work as “his” Encyclical on Capitalism. With your permission of course. Maybe not so wild a thought! Not just as a buttress to his “Laudato Si” which focused on an out-of-controlled Capitalism with subsequent harm to the environment, our “Common Home” but also because your work goes from “ life to Gospel and from Gospel to life” effectively, and because it’s so darn good!

I also loved your Lady of Guadalupe connection and that incredible tilma image some claim the result of nuclear fission, as at Hiroshima, where nuclear explosion caused leaf-imprints on walls, God using a natural force used miraculously to effect supernatural reality, so in sync with the way God seems to manifest Himself, nature serving as instruments in His Hand. Thanks for the great submission to AMERICA!

Joseph J Dunn
3 months 2 weeks ago

This is a brilliant piece, worth reading more than once. The depth of Brooks’s conviction comes through, backed by reference to economic figures and historical realities. His essay brings to mind Paul VI’s words in Populorum Progressio, “…the individual who is animated by true charity labors skillfully to discover the causes of misery, to find the means to combat it, to overcome it resolutely.” No doubt, if an equally elegant essay opposing this view were to be offered, the Editors would accept it. Meanwhile, America has clearly upped its game. Thank you!

J Cosgrove
3 months 2 weeks ago

The so called Scandinavia economic model is based on free market capitalism. What they have done is institute high taxes to provide a safety net for those in need. This only works in a small homogeneous society where social pressure will prevent abuse.

This is being sorely tested in the last couple years with the influx of refugees who are not contributing anything to the economy and causing social unrest.

The only moral way for a society to distribute goods is through free market capitalism. Free market capitalism is where both parties to a transaction enter it freely without coercion. Any other form of economic system favors certain groups versus others and invariably hurts the poor. There are many forms of capitalism and many do not understand the differences.

Free market capitalism does not preclude substantial safety nets for the people. The problem is if they are too generous they will de-incentivize a large part of the population.

SayRah Greed
3 months 2 weeks ago

J. Cosgrove, I admire your way of stating the truth about market economics. Not only is there no coercion to enter the market as seller or as buyer, but markets also have a history for both sellers and buyers to expect benefits from each transaction! That is why buyers and sellers keep returning to the markets and the institution provides for greater society. The term you may want to actively eliminate is "free market." We have always lived in a Regulated-Market Economy. Because the market does not always correct itself, human values are expressed in our regulations and laws and social oversight of the markets. Human values can not be eliminated. Those values must be allowed to be expressed alongside of the mutual benefits of markets, and the profits that sellers seek. Look at our economy again, and at our history and you will see that we have always had regulations and will always want regulations. Once we accept that economic reality, then we can even ask how to #RegulateGreed within our world? http://AuntieGreed.blogspot.com

J Cosgrove
3 months 2 weeks ago

The word " free" means that each participation in the transaction does so freely and that new alternatives in terms of buyers and producers can enter the market freely. Theoretically such a situation does not require regulation but in reality in certain situations some regulation is necessary to ensure freedom of movement into the market place. Certainly laws protecting private property and other rights are necessary and this is a form of regulation.

Neither of the participants should feel coerced and when one of the two participants has too much economic power to make the other feel coerced then some form of regulation should be considered. People interpret free markets as Wild West situations and that is not what is meant.

And as said elsewhere free market capitalism does not preclude a system of programs for those who are affected negatively by exogenous forces or internal afflictions beyond control. All of us are susceptible to such and should be willing to provide for others.

Jack Rakosky
3 months 2 weeks ago

This article just seems another form of the prosperity gospel. Anytime you see people prospering (having money) whether Americans, capitalists, or rich people just assume they must be blessed by God, The rich must be good people: the poor must have done something wrong.

Ignore the tough questions of the Gospel, about the impossibility of worshiping both God and money, about rich people entering the Kingdom of God, of selling all you have and following Jesus, and about helping the poor beggar, or the victim of robbery, of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc. Capitalism will eventually save everyone if we just give the rich more tax breaks.

Do cultivate an interior religiosity, Pray that God will take care of these things. Worry about really important questions such as are we “detached” from our money? I hear sermons about consumerism but rarely any that suggest that pursuing money is the problem. Like the prosperity evangelists those sermons seem also to suggest that giving the money to the Church is a solution. Catholics feeling guilty about consumerism are joining Protestants in succumbing to the prosperity gospel.

Chuck Kotlarz
3 months 2 weeks ago

Mr. Brooks conveniently omits US capitalism’s 1865 to 1929 norm of spending half its time growing the economy and half its time in devastating economic contractions. Bush 43’s 15% capital gains tax rate returned capitalism to its historic norm with the 9th worst economic contraction since -1865. Mr. Brooks fails to note that in the twenty years of highest GDP growth since 1930, all but three had top marginal income tax rates over 70%.

Vincent Gaglione
3 months 2 weeks ago

After reading Arthur Brooks extensive piece I asked myself why he felt compelled to write it. With perhaps the exception of some of the socialists among the founders and early members of my labor union, I find it hard to believe that there is any citizen, even less any Catholic, in the United States, including in a cloistered monastery, who does not recognize the benefits of capitalism. So his argument that the capitalist system must be encouraged to all as part of the obligation of Matthew 25, while something of a stretch to my mind, does not disturb me. I understand and share his goodwill.

I think Brooks does not pursue the issues far enough.
While capitalism “lifts all boats,” there are some “boats in the water” who do not participate or benefit in the capitalist enterprise. To whom does the surplus created by capitalism belong? Solely to the person who earned the surplus?

What is the moral obligation in the pro-life position? Are we bound in Christ to make that surplus work to the benefit of all human beings…the disabled?.... the socially challenged?.... the prisoner?.... even the perceived undeserving? Do we take it solely from the very wealthy for whom surplus is obscenely excessive? Or even from the merely comfortable with enough surpluses to splurge for things not necessary to survival?

Barry Fitzpatrick
3 months 2 weeks ago

If I could model Pascal's quote, used by Brooks, people often mistake their certainty for truth. And that is exactly what Brooks has done in this mixture of conversion story (complete with hyperbole - Juan Diego's being the "greatest conversion story of all time" - what would Saint Paul think?) and smoke and mirrors with selected statistics that serve to obfuscate some of the real issues at stake, not only for individuals but also for the American economy.

In running us through the apologia for capitalism, Brooks cites percentages and not numbers of people, pointing out that one group (those who survive on less than $1 a day) has shrunk by 80% and that literacy rates have climbed. But what are those percentages in real numbers, in real people. He insists the "right question" is why did whole parts of the world cease to be poor for the first time in history?" Right according to whom? Him? He then goes on tot say that only by digging deeper, rather than "taking the evidence at its face," can we "produce a more textured story" about the key role capitalism has played in lifting the poor up by their bootstraps. What his digger deeper has done is to produce more escape clauses for the 10%.

He is fond of China and Argentina since both countries allow him to say that their penchant for paying homage to political privilege and power is much more damaging than that in the United States. By what measure? And damaging to whom? And how can you possibly expect to be taken seriouisly when you say that the FACT that rich people are benefitting at the expense of the poor is "ill-founded?" His continual use of phrases like "satisfactory threshold" make me wonder if he is not a spokesman for Congressman Issa who so proudly pointed out that poor people in this country have it so much better than their counterparts in other lands. Are you serious?

Now Brooks does a very good job of going after recent welfare programs and expensive education programs that have done little to address either the income gap or the achievement gap. But he does so while only pushing capitalism as the cure. Surely that hasn't worked either. How about putting our heads together (AEI think tank types and others, of course) to address both areas in new and effective ways, not simply by sitting back and enjoying our second homes at the beach which we have worked so hard for while others remain homeless.
Income inequality is an obvious by-product of opportunity inequality, not a separate issue.

Brooks is right to say we have an "appetite for material security." That appetite run amok allows people to remain homeless and allows us to ignore the fact that those are God's children just as much as I, in my comfort, am. It is nice to see Brooks afford "necessary regulation and proper social safety nets" a parenthetical nod. But, in fact, they are central to reigning in our appetites which too often go unchecked.

He is right to conclude, as he has, that we should not allow free enterprise become an idol in itself, even if he does so at the end of several pages where he does just that. Not one reference to the Sermon on the Mount, the key Scriptural foundation for how captialism, or any economic system, should establish itself going forward. The Sermon on the Mount, not some apologetic homage to a flawed system with no suggestion for serious reform.

J Cosgrove
3 months 2 weeks ago

The Sermon on the Mount has little to do with how a society organizes and distributes economic goods. It is mainly about how we lead our lives. Religion is not politics so they should not be confused. They have different objectives.

God has provided other revelations besides scripture and tradition. Mainly, human nature or the natural law. Human nature points directly at free market capitalism as the superior way to distribute goods and allow human development. It is certainly not paramount but if one objects to it, then it had better take into account that no other system has helped the poor more effectively.

How we choose to lead our lives is something different. Remember Caesar and God have to be separated. I personally will advocate for a system that is most effective in distributing economic goods while recognizing that it is not material poverty that is the problem but spiritual and cultural poverty.

Mike Evans
3 months 2 weeks ago

So to follow your prescription, all we need to do is pray the rosary and let the beggars starve and die?

Michael Barberi
3 months 2 weeks ago

Barry,

When it comes to Catholic social teaching (unlike sexual ethical teachings) the Catholic Church offers general principles and guidelines that allow faithful Catholics to decide on the issue under consideration. The moral method of Catholic social teaching is significantly different from its teachings on sexual ethics. This becomes a problem because many of the teachings on sexual ethics are moral absolutes, while its teachings on social ethics are not based on deontology or moral absolutes. I raise this point, not to argue whether there should be human actions that are evil regardless of ends and circumstances, but to emphasis that in the realm of social teaching the Church allows room for different conclusions based on the circumstances and moral decision-making of Catholics. Take voting for a member of Congress. Everyone must evaluate the candidate on a host of issues, not merely one of them. We all know that people often are faced with a candidate where they agree with their positions on some issues but not all of them.

When it comes to capitalism and economic inequality, et al, the people vote for their candidates, both Congressional and Presidential, to solve the ills of our society, in particular the poor and marginalized. Often, politicians disagree on the so-called solution. MY POINT: The problem with our US system of governance is not rooted in our free market system or capitalistic structure per se, but in how we tax and spend our money as a society and the process we uses to decide on rules, regulations and legislation. Let's face it, Washington is broken, not because of capitalism, but because of polarization, inflexible positions, and hatred of the other party (in many cases). The RESULT: Nothing gets done to resolve society's ills..

We need leadership that is governed by fairness for all and compassion for the poor and marginalized. This is a balancing act but for the last 8 years nothing was done that benefited all Americans or resolved any of our major ills. Our economic growth has been anemic, ObamaCare has been a disaster, money for social programs are mismanaged and many are ineffective. This is why millions of people are crying for change and a helping hand up. Is the system of Sweden and Canada the answer? Is another form of capitalism feasible? I think not.

We need to stop complaining about the problem and start pressuring our elected officials to stop the partisan polarization, disrespectful language. Most importantly to work hard in good faith to reach a compromised solution for the good of the people. If we can do this, we will be resolving many of our problems.

Chuck Kotlarz
3 months 2 weeks ago

“…Washington is broken, not because of capitalism…”

Washington is absolutely broken by capitalism. With a generous capital 15% gains tax rate and a generous US economy pumping out trillion-dollar stock buybacks, the 400 highest incomes did rather well. In 2007, the 400 highest incomes averaged $345 million. Sixty percent of their income came from capital gains taxed at 15%. From 1990 to 2010 about half of all the capital gains went to the wealthiest 0.1 percent. For comparison, the median male income from 2004 to 2012 declined over eight percent.

Stock buybacks (to boost stock prices) totaled nearly $7 trillion from 2004 to 2014. For comparison, Obama spent $800 billion to pull the world’s largest economy out of the worst recession since the depression.

One major low wage employer tripled its stock buyback thanks to taxpayer benefits for its low wage workers. All of this is made possible with Washington DC’s 10,000 corporate lobbyists. Capitalism has conquered democracy.

Michael Barberi
3 months 2 weeks ago

Chuck,

You are conflating the cause of a do-nothing Congress, the lack tax reform and other necessary legislation, with capitalism. The problem, in part, are lobbyists and the money that influence politicians. This problem was exasperated when the SCOTUS allowed corporations to contribute millions of dollars to candidates and/or their political dupe-packs. It made 'money' far too influential. However, the striation of our capitalism and system of government, also allows us to change this. This problem is not caused by capitalism but polarization and the lack of moral backbone of our politicians.

Poverty and the ills of our society are also not caused by capitalism per se. It is caused by an out-dated and ineffective tax system, poorly designed and managed social programs, and the polarization of Washington.

Our free enterprise system and capitalistic structure are not perfect. We need a fairer and more effective tax system and a dramatic revamping of social programs for the poor and our educational system. One step in the right direction is a voucher system where enormous sums of our tax dollars spent on elementary and high school public education can be used by families for better school choice.

As for stock buybacks, corporations are allowed to do this under current law. If we don't like it we can elect politicians that will pass tax laws that incentivize corporations to invest at least a certain percent of their profits on job creation. However, let's get real for a moment, corporations will only hire more workers and expand their businesses if there is higher demand for their products and services. What we need is to get our economy growing again at a healthy rate (e.g., 3% and more) and not an anemic rate like we have experienced over the past 8 years..

Our highly polarized political system of democracy has made capitalism less effective, not the other way around. We need more compromise for the good of the people, not polarization and rigid positions that result in stalemate, stagnation and more of the status quo that does not benefit most Americans.

Chuck Kotlarz
3 months 2 weeks ago

Michael, whose votes won the election? Voters frustrated with a broken Washington. How many of the 10,000 Washington DC corporate lobbyists represent frustrated voters?

Capitalism is not a democracy, it’s morphed into a stock buyback machine to benefit the 400 highest US incomes. Eight Americans have a much wealth as the poorest three billion people on the planet. In 2014, eighty-people had the same wealth as the world’s poorest 50%. In 2010, it was 388 people.

China’s People’s Daily notes, "Democracy is already kidnapped by the capitalists..." The Democracy Index places the US last on its list of “full democracy” countries. At the very least, US capitalism punishes democracy. Right-to-work states have four times the number of disenfranchised voters (due to a felony conviction) as non-R-T-W states.

Michael Barberi
3 months 1 week ago

Chuck.

You missed my point. Democracy and our Constitution governs our economic and political system. If you don't like stock buy-backs there is a way to reform our tax laws and the actions of so-called capitalists. I agree with you that lobbyists for the biggest corporations have far too much influence on our politicians and what Washington gets done and does not do. This problem became more acute when the US Supreme Court allowed corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of money to political action groups. The law and the SCOTUS decision should be changed. I also agree our nation should do more for the poor. However, capitalism is not the problem per se. If you don't like the rules of the game, so to speak, change them. This is only accomplished by following our Constitution and through the legislation Congress passes and the President signs into law. Lobbyists may have far too much influence in Washington, but lobbyists and Washington are not 'capitalism'. If you don't like R-T-W states, there is a way to change this according to our Constitution.

Finally, if you don't like capitalism why don't you suggest something that will work? I think your frustration is not with capitalism but with our political system that needs fixing. This is, in part, why Trump was elected. Let's pray he fixes Washington, acts in the best interest of our country, our citizens and in particularly the poor and middle class that are screaming for change.

Chuck Kotlarz
3 months 1 week ago

Michael, J.R. Tolkien’s Lady of the Woods perhaps would say, “U.S. democracy’s time has come. Do we leave voters to their fate? Do we let them stand alone?”

As long as 10,000 Washington lobbyists cut voters off at the Potomac, US capitalism cannot sustain America’s legacy as Democracy once did.

Stuart Meisenzahl
3 months 2 weeks ago

Mr Fitzpatrick
Please find the answers to your questions concerning detail in the Brooks essay in the June 12 ,2013 issue of THE ECONOMIST in an article that is entitled "Towards the End of Poverty".
In addition you will note that the major benefit from Capitalism , as described in the article under the subheading "Take a bow capitalism" as follows: "Around two thirds of poverty reduction is attributable to growth within a country"
There has never been a greater economic model for growth as free market capitalism.
Please compare the results of the 8 Obama years of severely regulating a capitalist economy to achieve a redistributionist economy : Massive increases in people on welfare and receipt of food stamps, stagnant wages etc.
Only the Federal Reserve interest rate of 0% kept the economy afloat and as an economic approach that 0% interest rate could only benefit those who already had investments.....not the poor. No government has ever regulated poverty out of existence by controlling the economy.
Arthur Brooks may have summarized the facts underlying the truth of his position, but the details are easily available to support his summary. By the way, the ECONOMIST is a very liberal oriented magazine. A little research will demonstrate its leftist leaning views

Stuart Meisenzahl
3 months 2 weeks ago

Mr Fitzpatrick
Please find the answers to your questions concerning detail in the Brooks in the June 12 ,2013 issue of THE ECONOMIST in an article that is entitled "Towards the End of Poverty".
In addition you will note that the major benefit from Capitalism , as described in the article under the subheading "Take a bow capitalism" as follows: "Around two thirds of poverty reduction is attributable to growth within a country"
There has never been a greater economic model for growth as free market capitalism.
Please compare the results of the 8 Obama years of severely regulating a capitalist economy to achieve a redistributionist economy : Massive increases in people on welfare and receipt of food stamps, stagnant wages etc.
Only the Federal Reserve interest rate of 0% kept the economy afloat and as an economic approach that 0% interest rate could only benefit those who already had investments.....not the poor. No government has ever regulated poverty out of existence by controlling the economy.
Arthur Brooks may have summarized the facts underlying the truth of his position, but the details are easily available to support his summary. By the way, the ECONOMIST is a very liberal oriented magazine. A little research will demonstrate its leftist leaning views

Tom Poelker
3 months 2 weeks ago

Free enterprise is not the same as capitalism as the author conflates them. Capitalism justifies greed and puts faith in an invisible hand to produce purely financial progress. Maximizing, not just acquiring, profit leads to many forms of exploitation: less than living wages, pollution, market manipulation, which the invisible hand encourages. Christianity is a moral system which cannot support a greed-based preference for economics over individuals. Because the industrial revolution and agricultural improvements have been contemporaneous with the rationalizations of capitalism does show that the correlation means causality. Capitalism has no goals, no expectations of making things better. It just describes how greed works, and that is without love of neighbor, the second commandment. Capitalism is not good. It is another temptation to be avoided. Like alcohol or water, capitalism can be pleasurable or useful in small amounts but destructive in large amounts.

SayRah Greed
3 months 2 weeks ago

Tom, your faith I can follow! Thanks and praise to you!

SayRah Greed
3 months 2 weeks ago

A terrific article offering so many points for discussion!! Thanks to the author Arthur Brooks!! The point of departure I want to focus on is when he said, "...a dubious proposition at best that forcibly redistributing wealth to decrease inequality would necessarily reinvigorate opportunity." Let's reconsider how we might #RegulateGreed? We need to understand that industries and trade gropus regulate themselves in ways that do not involve the government: plumbers, truck drivers, medical teams, etc. What could happen if corporate leaders, like through the networks John Munkirs described, relegated themselves to enforce an income cap? What if corporations set an upper limit to income and then within their companies they redistributed the remaining funds into opening the opportunities to employees up and down the income strata? Yes, let's avoid the inefficiencies of government redistribution and disjointed programs and their outcomes. But can we help employers to see how they can fulfill some benefit across generations by redistributing excessive income to greater training and expanding markets to serve more customers, invent greater safety protocols and raise the wages of their employees. Chuck Collins is writing in this vein in his book "Born on Third Base."
The root of the inequality begins in the workplace, where 90 percent of employees earn based upon the cost of their replacement, not based upon the actual value they create and contribute to the employer (Marginal Productivity theory of wages). The value they create beyond the amounts of their paychecks rolls uphill through the hierarchy of the business (as it should) by a process I call Capillary Action. From that extra created-value top executives can claim excessive income, more than the value they create. Since this is happening in the firms, then let's see if the firms can find a way to #RegulateGreed and better manage the inequalities. Attention to market-based economics can provide guides to #RegulateGreed, shore up social mobility and open the opportunities for more and more enterprising individuals to strike out as entrepreneurs.

Michael Basile
3 months 2 weeks ago

The Arthur Brooks’ apologetic on behalf of his conversion to capitalism muddles the real challenge facing the U.S. and the world now. How so? Because it confuses the popular appeal of the entrepreneurial spirit that Weber so admired as the rational extension of the Protestant ethic by diminishing the political and social consequences of globalization. It’s one thing to root for the freedom to profit from the fruits of one’s labor, as the Church and liberal tradition have advocated since the days when mercantilist forms of organization opened the way for colonial occupation, but it’s something else to equate, at least implicitly as his underlying argument does, the ingenuity and innovation of entrepreneurs with the globalized extraction practices of international corporations, which he does not address. In his optimism Brooks instead attributes the world’s decrease of poverty to the diffusion of the American form of “free market” economic organization. By doing so he overlooks the deleterious political and cultural consequences that ensue when massive corporations manipulate the internal affairs of weak nation-states, whose leaders collude in the extraction of national wealth from their disadvantaged station on the periphery of the interlocking international networks that face little national accountability. This is the challenge that Francis has asked people of faith to address through the strengthening of more democratic and participatory forms of governance both nationally as well as internationally.
There is then a difference between the heroic and often risk-taking investments made by innovative entrepreneurs and the globalized extractive practices of multi-national corporations. The compelling logic of capitalism to grow itself beyond borders to secure investor profits needs strengthened oversight by global and national forms of regulation, whose mission it is to recognize when the interests of peoples is sacrificed for the profit of those sitting at the center, who know not or ignore the local and felt negative consequences of capitalist activity when it is unfettered.

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