Can you be capitalist and a Catholic in the age of Pope Francis?


In this week's podcast, Arthur C. Brooks joins hosts Matt Malone, S.J., and Kerry Weber to talk about his provocative article, "Confessions of a Capitalist Convert." Associate Editor Robert David Sullivan joins to contribute his expertise on politics.

In conversation, Father Malone raised Pope Francis' well known critique of free enterprise, and asked if this critique is compatible with Brooks' perspective and moral concerns. "It's mixed, as you'd expect," said Brooks. "I look at a lot of these issues from the point of view of an American.... The greatest exemplar of free enterprise has been in the United States and it has not been in Argentina. So I understand that people come from a background that's not the same as mine that I have to be sympathetic to that. That's a basic question of empathy."


When [Pope Francis] writes about [economics] we have a tendency to go back and forth between matters of faith and morals, and issues of politics and democracy...conflating those two areas can be problematical.

Brooks went on to suggest that Catholics can mix morality and politics in an unhelpful way when listening to Pope Francis. "When [Pope Francis] writes about [economics] we have a tendency to go back and forth between matters of faith and morals, and issues of politics and democracy...Conflating those two areas, I think, can be problematical. So I think that my job—as a Catholic first and as a person who cares about capitalism in a distant second or 43rd place—is to try to work with my church in ways that we can spread the good things that free enterprise brings to other places and the rest of the world [and] clear up misunderstandings about it."

As he does in his feature article, Brooks also shared about his faith journey on the podcast, and commented on how his faith informs his approach to both economics and writing. "When you're getting your PhD in economics, they don't say 'make sure you weave this in with your faith....' When I hear the discourse that's coming out of the church I think there's a big misunderstanding about the goods of the free enterprise system. [That] ultimately becomes a chance to stand up. I have to say I've gotten a lot of feedback about this piece. Part of that is because America is an important magazine—it has a big place in the cultural dialogue—but part of it has to do with the fact that there are a lot of people who are coming out of the woodwork who said, 'Yeah, I think that too!'"

"If we can have a dialogue as people who love the Lord and talk about how everything in the Kingdom should be to glorify God and to serve our brothers and sisters, including the economic system, then I think this is the basis for a productive conversation."

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Patrick D
3 years ago

I feel Dr. Brooks cleared up many ambiguities of the original piece, e.g. making a distinction in passing (that might have been further developed) between free enterprise and capitalism, as well as admission of the necessity of safety nets, the right to organize, and that the current market system is broken.

I question, though, the necessity of the piece in the first place. Who, in reality, opposes a regulated free market system in America? Brooks even says as much in his article. The only people I can think of are far-right laissez-faire capitalists. America is not in danger of an ascendant economic Left -- the Democrats are economically neoliberal.

Dr. Brooks' and his institution's secular agenda are clear enough: scare people into believing there's a surge of Left-wing Marxist economic thought in the federal government.

Stuart Meisenzahl
3 years ago

Judging by the "comments" to the original Brooks essay there was a real need for its publication.
There are a considerable number of "social justice warriors" who believe and insist that Capitalism is antithetical to Catholic teachings and condemned by innumerable encyclicals. The historic and provable benefits of the operation of a capitalist economic system to tens of millions in lifting them out of poverty are either denied or ignored.
In their view Social Justice primacy belongs to elimination of income disparity, enhancement of labor,or the environmental agenda. In their view the existence of these unmet concerns demonstrates that capitalism has failed and must be replaced.
As to your observation on Brooks and his institutions "secular agenda" as a scare tactic to defeat the left, I think that you are ignoring the exact point Brooks was making. The point I believe was to tackle the perception of the many christians that capitalism is per se non Christian and has not been beneficial to the poor and the disadvantaged and compels the sacking of resources for the benefit of a few.
If his institution has "an agenda", Brooks has made it subservient to an essay to reconcile by concrete references that Capitalism and Catholicism are not incompatible ; and that contrary views are misperceptions that ignore economic facts and history. As a point of further comparison see The ECONOMIST , June 22 2013 in an article entitled "Toward the end of Poverty" which credits capitalism with lifting tens of millions out of poverty, complete with graphs and statistics that demonstrate these remarkable results. I reference The Economist because no one would ever confuse its left leaning biases with the right wing bias you impute to Dr Brooks' institution.

Stuart Meisenzahl
3 years ago

Deleted repeat of above

Jerome Riggs
3 years ago

I spent 4 years in high school and four years in college with the jesuits. I felt they had a dim view of Capitalism. I started my own business when I was 40 as a specialty contractor, and had the business for 25 years until I retired and sold the business to a friend of mine. My business grew rapidly, was extremely profitable, and I ultimately employed 35 people. I loved my employees and they loved me. I think Capitalism is a wonderful system for men of "good will"

Chuck Kotlarz
3 years ago

Mr. Riggs, there are two pieces to capitalism. Your piece is not the piece that's failed.

Chuck Kotlarz
3 years ago

Establishment candidates lost the election. Anger had gripped voters frustrated with a broken Washington. Why, because voters for years have lost miserably in the battle for the Potomac. The battle pits “of the people, by the people, for the people” against “of the profit, for the profit, by the profit”.

It’s no mystery what 10,000 corporate lobbyists would do in Washington. After all, the purpose of a corporation is to make a profit.

Look at a recent example, the proposed border tax adjustment. One product sums up exactly how the “border tax adjustment” works. IPhone prices would increase $65. Don’t forget other imported products such as coffee, chocolate, diamonds, socks, shoes, light bulbs, fruits, vegetables, cars, appliances, coats, tools, toys, fish, paper, purses, cosmetics, fireworks, wool, umbrellas, etc. Every US household could see their budget take a $1,700 hit. The $1,700 of course helps pay for a corporate tax cut. Could a $1700 bill from “of the profit, for the profit, by the profit” make voters a tad bit angry?


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