Little more than a gaggle of hacks and geeks.

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  1. I am slightly confused here. What social or economic doctrine are we talking about? Is it that the Pope has the authority to set prices? Or forbid certain forms of commerce? Is he to make tax policy, or mandate spending on social programs?

    Roger Snowden

    August 27, 2008 at 12:38 am

  2. Catholic Social Doctrine is the entirety of Catholic teaching, specifically in encyclicals, concerning social and economic matters.

    No, he does not set prices. In fact, the popes have warned against States mandating a minimum wage (especially federal governments!) due to the difficulties that arise from their distance and lack of intimate familiarity of the conditions of the employer, the local economy, that particular craft, etc. They have, though, sought to promote the expansion of worker/employer associations that would allow workers to participate in business decisions and have some degree of ownership of the means of production over which they labor. The Guild systems (Regulative Guilds) have been praised by the popes, but any trade association meeting these guidlines would be fine. In short, their goal is for an ownership society (rather than the few over the many) that pursues just prices, living wages, and humane working conditions and relations.

    No, the popes don’t give us tax policies, but they do talk about general themes that would be applicable to one’s formulation of a just tax policy.

    Mandate social programs? Not specifically. The general theme is for programs to be localized. Families, labor associations, private sector, etc. But this isn’t to say that the popes have recognized the legitimacy of State programs or oversight of programs.

    Outiside of the encyclicals, Catholic Social Doctrine is at its best in the works of Fr. Pesch, G.K. Chesterton, Arthur Penty, Fr. Vincent McNabb, and Hilaire Belloc. Their philosophy was one of localization, self-sufficiency, a radical disdain for the wage-earning system, a passion for an economy based on Guild principles, and advocacy for the distribution of land to as many people as possible.


    August 27, 2008 at 4:33 am

  3. Dr Woods’ problem is that if the Popes have a right to lay down principles in relation to economic theory, those principles already laid down are fatal to his Austrian Economic theory. So long as he can deny the competence of the Church to lay down these principles, he can hold onto that which is dear to him, Rothbard, Hayek and Mises.

    His “challenge” to you to find even one moral dimension to economics is just a form of sticking his fingers in his ears and shouting “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” The very substance of economics is a moral question; “How then shall we live?”


    September 10, 2008 at 5:13 pm

  4. that’s not what i absorb from dr woods’ piece at all.

    much of the whole point comes down to proofs of economic law and how they need to be recognized.

    from the article:
    Catholic Social Teaching and Economic Law:
    An Unresolved Tension
    “Mises pointed out what should have been obvious: namely, that “this doctrine of [emphasizing only] the ‘economic’ side of human action utterly misrepresents the teachings of the classical economists.” Economics, he wrote, deals with “the actions of real men. Its theorems refer neither to ideal nor to perfect men, neither to the phantom of a fabulous economic man (homo oeconomicus) nor to the statistical notion of an average man (homme moyen). Man with all his weaknesses and limitations, every man as he lives and acts, is the subject matter of catallactics. Every human action is a theme of praxeology.” At no point does praxeology assume that man always chooses with purely economic self-interest in mind; nor does it have anything to say about what goals man should choose. It is concerned simply with the logic of choice itself and the implications that follow from it.”

    excerpts from:
    Morality and Economic Law: Toward a Reconciliation

    “the primary claim I am making is not that there is no moral dimension to the economic order.”

    seeking to “ground economic principles on the basis of absolute truth, apprehensible by means of reflection on the nature of reality”

    “No one with any knowledge of the development of economic thought among churchmen over the centuries would dare to claim that a single view could constitute “Catholic economics.”

    “Only through a genuine understanding of the mechanisms of the free economy, rather than through caricatures of them, can the moral dimension of economics be sensibly discussed.”


    November 14, 2008 at 3:27 pm

  5. Woods writes in Towards a Reconciliation:

    “the primary claim I am making is not that there is no moral dimension to the economic order.”

    Woods writes to me:

    “If anyone can point out to me a_theoretical_statement from economics that contains a moral dimension, then I will listen.”

    He adds to this:

    “As soon as you can find me one principle of economic theory that is bound up with morality, you be sure and let me know.”

    I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt by chalking it up as little more than a bad habit of speaking out both sides of his mouth.

    His problem, as pointed out wonderfully by John Medaille in “Political Economy as a Science,” is in his adhering to the idea that economics is merely a positive science that, as Friedman would put it, is “independent of any particular ethical position or normative judgments.” Woods’ belief that economics is an autonomous, valueless, and secular science is as absurd as it is anti-Catholic.

    Lastly, I know of none who believe that Catholicism advanced but one economic system. This isn’t to say that the Church hasn’t condemned socialism, communism, or even classical liberalism. There is a lot of wiggle room, but it certainly isn’t without its restrictions.


    November 14, 2008 at 3:49 pm

  6. Fair enough.

    One has to keep in mind that there is a difference between being an “Austrian Economist” and being a “libertarian”, of shich Dr Woods claims both.

    Libertarianism as a political philosophy fills in the void that austrian economics cannot explain. Being a value-free methodology, the austrian school of thought cannot tell people what decisions they should make, but can only help to show what the consequences of any actions will or may be. It bases its methodology only upon the axiom that humans act. Libertarianism holds the non-aggression axiom as its first principle. This is the area in which ethics can be truly analyzed.

    They are not the same thing and must be treated as such.


    November 16, 2008 at 2:08 pm

  7. They are equally un-Christian. The libertarian anthropology based in the autonomous individual is wholly and fundamentally incompatible with Trinitarian Christianity.


    January 6, 2009 at 8:09 pm

  8. Jesse, that is not correct. Austrianism is based on a belief that man acts in an hedonistic way. Take these quotes from Human Action:

    love not charity nor any other sympathetic sentiments but rightly understood
    selfishness is what originally impelled man to adjust himself to the requirements
    of society, to respect the rights and freedoms of his fellow men and
    to substitute peaceful collaboration for enmity and conflict.

    What a man does is always aimed at an improvement of his own state of
    satisfaction. In this sense—and in no other—we are free to use the term
    selfishness and to emphasize that action is necessarily always selfish.

    What integrates the individual’s actions into
    the whole of the social system of production is the pursuit of his own purposes.
    In this sense every
    action is to be qualified as selfish. The man who gives alms to hungry
    children does it, either because he values his own satisfaction expected from
    this gift higher than any other satisfaction he could buy by spending this
    amount of money, or because he hopes to be rewarded in the beyond.
    In this sense we speak of the subjectivism of the general science of human
    action. It takes the ultimate ends chosen by acting man as data, it is entirely
    neutral with regard to them, and it refrains from passing any value judgments.

    I could go on like this forever. The book is compendium of the errors of the Enlightenment, and his view of human action is flat contradicted by all the humane sciences. This is third-rate philosophy pretending to be science.

    John Médaille

    January 6, 2009 at 8:45 pm

  9. robert, i am sorry to hear that the idea of individuals as having rights is an un-Christian viewpoint. i wonder if you could help me to understand what being Christian means?


    “The modern concept of pleasure, happiness, utility, satisfaction and the like includes all human ends, regardless of whether the motives of action are moral or immoral, noble or ignoble, altruistic or egotistical.

    The spheres of rational action and economic action are therefore co-incident. All rational action is economic. All economic activity is rational action. All rational action is in the first place individual action. Only the individual thinks. Only the individual reasons. Only the individual acts. How society arises from the action of individuals will be shown in a later part of our discussion. ”

    And your point, John, is…..?


    January 8, 2009 at 11:17 pm

  10. Jesse,

    Be fair here. He wasn’t saying that individuals having rights is un-Christian. You know better.

    Reread what he said. He was saying that libertarian anthropology is inconsistent with Trinitarian Christianity. While I may have wished for him to be more specific about what he meant by Trinitarian Christianity, it isn’t much more than a skip and a hop before you realize that he is talking about the notion of autonomy inherent within libertarian anthropology is incompatible with Trinitarian Christianity.

    I’ll be more specific: A consistent libertarian worldview, and particularly that aspect concerning man’s will as being autonomous, is inconsistent with historical Christianity. This is true, most of all, on account of the Creator/creature distinction, original sin, ethical mandates, etc.

    Hope this cleared things up.


    January 9, 2009 at 11:59 am

  11. umm, no. actually it didn’t really clear anything up.

    what is inconsistent?


    January 9, 2009 at 4:31 pm

  12. is christianity a political theory?


    January 9, 2009 at 4:32 pm

  13. No, but Christianity is a worldview, and one’s worlview impacts ever area of human existence, including politics and economics. Catholicism, of which I speak in particular, has a rather well developed social theory that touches on the state, the family, the market, etc. etc. It is a holistic religion, encompassing all of human life and activities.


    January 9, 2009 at 5:55 pm

  14. i c. so how do you reconcile religious differences? how is libertarianism irrelevant, or incompatible?


    January 9, 2009 at 9:16 pm

  15. please don’t misunderstand me. i see that the issue i ask of has been addressed, but i claim the response is inadequate and unresolved.

    “The libertarian anthropology based in the autonomous individual is wholly and fundamentally incompatible”

    what is libertarian anthropology? how is it incompatible. why is libertarianism not a worldview?

    what does one mean by the notion of autonomy?

    it seems that what is being claimed in the above responses is: because one claims to be libertarian, that one cannot be christian.

    what evidence is there to make such a claim?


    January 10, 2009 at 10:13 am

  16. If you are asking me, then you must be more specific. I cannot speak for any other sect going broadly under the banner of “Christian.” One may be a lesbian Unitarian priestess and still refer to herself as a Christian. But this means very little to those, like me, who are as particular about what we mean by the word “Christian” as we are exclusivist about what we mean by the word “Church.”

    This big mouthful having been said, I will do my best.

    Libertarian anthropology would be, well, the libertarian view of man. Libertarianism traditionally holds man to be radically autonomous and atomistic. Both of these concepts bump heads with the dogmas of historical Christianity.

    Autonomy, at least here, is specifically dealing with the libertarian’s understanding of man’s will as well as the concept of freedom.

    Historical and orthodox Christianity has held that man is born in a state of original sin, and that this has far-reaching ramifications. The will and our understanding of freedom (as opposed to license) is certainly within this category of things affected for the worse.

    Autonomy, to be specific, would be that man should be left to himself, that he has (or should have) no institutional authority over him, and that (for the most part) he is the final arbiter of what is right or wrong, at least for his life.

    As I said in the beginning, we live in a day and age where the lesbian Unitarian priestess who denies the resurrection and the Trinity can identify herself as a “Christian.” But Christianity is not a pick-and-choose religion. As much as one may wish that Christianity is pluralistic, they are horribly in error… at least if one doesn’t play word games and apply a word that once only applied to orthodox believers to those who would, for almost the entirety of Christian history, apply it to any and all who wish to be referred to as such, regardless of how unorthodox they may actually be.

    NOTE: I really don’t know how I got into this. The issue was between you and Robert. Personally, this is a rabbit trail I would have done well not to embark on. Too broad for a guy who can only speak from a traditionalist Catholic position. Sorry…


    January 10, 2009 at 5:32 pm

  17. So still a lot of bluster and no real answer. Woods’ one challenge is too much — “um, um, doesn’t he know the WHOLE THING is a moral question” seems to be the best people can do.

    This goes to show that the question itself is not actually being understood.

    The difficulty involves a confusion over the nature of economics. The phenomena that economics touches upon, which include money, banking, exchange, prices, wages, monopoly theory, and many other topics, are themselves replete with moral significance. But the positive, scientific statements about these phenomena that constitute the discipline of economics are necessarily value neutral. Describing the workings of fractional-reserve banking is a positive task, not a normative one. Discussing whether such a system is desirable is a normative task, and qualitatively separate from explaining the mechanics of that system. One cannot make an intelligent comment about the former unless he understands the latter, and it is the latter with which economics, properly understood, concerns itself.

    Likewise, economic policy may possess a moral dimension, but not a single proposition of economic theory involves a moral claim. For example, Frank Knight conceived of capital as a homogeneous unit whose individual processes occurred synchronously, and therefore could be understood without introducing time into capital theory. F.A. Hayek, as well as the Austrian School of economics to which Hayek belonged, conceives of capital as a series of time-consuming stages of higher and lower order, with the highest-order stages the ones most remote from consumers (mining and raw materials, for instance) and the lowest-order stage immediately preceding the sale of the finished product.

    Nothing in the Deposit of Faith even comes close to deciding this and countless other important economic questions one way or the other. Not even the most uncomprehending or exaggerated rendering of papal infallibility would have the pope adjudicating such disputes as these. Yet misunderstandings or ignorance regarding such seemingly abstruse points are so often at the heart of the policy recommendations that bishops’ conferences propose and papal encyclicals can seem to imply.

    The statements of some bishops’ conferences and even certain papal encyclicals seem to assume that their suggestions will accomplish their stated ends and increase the well-being of the least among us. That assumption, in turn, implies that the only thing standing between today and a more prosperous future is sufficient political will rather than constraints imposed by the very nature of things. That merely assumes the very thing that needs to be proven. And it begs the question yet again to declare that authority has spoken and the matter is closed – the very matter at issue is whether these subjects are of a qualitative nature to be susceptible of ecclesiastical resolution in the first place. If the law of returns, for instance, is an objective fact of nature (which it is), then the pope himself cannot declare it to be false, or expect success from policy prescriptions that ignore it, any more than he can fashion a square circle. It is no insult to papal authority to exclude the possibility of square circles.


    February 2, 2009 at 5:08 pm

  18. “Should we go with profit, value, labor, private property, or any other single principle readily at our fingertips? Maybe next time. I’ll take the hard way.”

    I suppose it would be unsporting of me to point out that none of these things are stated in terms of a proposition of economic theory. As soon as you can formulate a statement of economic _theory_ (i.e., not just something that involves economic concepts in some way) that involves a moral claim, you will have won.


    February 2, 2009 at 5:16 pm

  19. I typically refrain from commenting on this site as we have a new one (, but I will post a few tid-bits here.

    These two are taken from my having posted on this matter for The Distributist Review at

    John Medaille: “The real trick would be to find a proposition NOT connected with a moral dimension. The very balance of supply and demand depends on equity (justice) and where there is no justice, there is no balance.”

    RJP: “Woods asks for a “theoretical statement”. Here is one: Mises states, “It [praxeology] is neutral with regard to all judgments of value and the choice of ultimate ends… Aquinas, on the other hand says, “It sometimes happens that an action is indifferent in its species, but considered in the individual it is good or evil. And the reason of this is because a moral action, as stated above (Article [3]), derives its goodness not only from its object, whence it takes its species; but also from the circumstances, which are its accidents, as it were; just as something belongs to a man by reason of his individual accidents, which does not belong to him by reason of his species. And every individual action must needs have some circumstance that makes it good or bad, at least in respect of the intention of the end. For since it belongs to the reason to direct; if an action that proceeds from deliberate reason be not directed to the due end, it is, by that fact alone, repugnant to reason, and has the character of evil. But if it be directed to a due end, it is in accord with reason; wherefore it has the character of good. Now it must needs be either directed or not directed to a due end. Consequently every human action that proceeds from deliberate reason, if it be considered in the individual, must be good or bad.”

    I would also encourage you to review chapters III and V of Medaille’s upcoming book. Both chapters deal directly with this matter. The links are below.

    Chapter III: Political Economy as a Science

    Chapter V: Justice and the Political Economy

    Beyond this, I would prefer only to reply to comments submitted to our new site. This is my preference.


    February 2, 2009 at 8:55 pm

  20. TWE, thanx for taking the time to further distinguish the disciplines.

    “he is the final arbiter of what is right or wrong, at least for his life.”

    this statement is patently wrong.

    i can see then, if this is the impression that people have, that one could believe it is “un-christian” or even atheistic.

    the political philosophy of libertarianism is just that – a political one, i.e., dealing with the proper use of violence in society.

    if one cannot understand the fact that libertarianism really rests on two ideas. one is the non-aggression axiom and the other is private property.

    aggression is understood as a violation of another’s rights. and rights cannot be understood without recognizing property.

    i think it is broad enough to allow for competition in belief systems. religion is for you and yours to employ in your own lives. if you want institutional religion – go to a church.

    this concept of autonomy is something else, libertinism and anarchy maybe, but it is not libertarianism


    February 2, 2009 at 9:03 pm

  21. Jesse,

    It would do you well to read Medaille’s chapter on Political Economy as a Science. I linked it above.

    The problem with your argument is one of arbitrary compartmentalization. You say that the political philosophy can stand alone, or at least on the two pillars of non-aggression and private property. The problem, and a glaring one at that, is that even these two things are conditioned by one’s espoused worldview. This worldview would be comprised of what one believes pertaining to what man is, how he ought to relate to his neighbors and the created order around him, and the standard by which any judgment on these matters is in any way authoritative. In short, as much as you may wish to compartmentalize, the inescapable truth is that you can’t.

    Axioms have always been intriguing to me. More intriguing is the fact that people assume things to be axiomatic without demonstrating how their worldview provides the necessary conditions for said axiom.

    If consistent, autonomy would work just fine. You may say one cannot always do as he or she wishes to do. The problem is not with autonomy, but with how you, or any other group for that matter, determines the limits of autonomy. The presuppositional underpinnings of libertarianism make this rather difficult.


    February 3, 2009 at 8:36 am

  22. i’m sorry. what is the golden rule again?

    skye gives some scholarly explanations of the proofs and limits in libertarianism.

    as far as economics and axioms are concerned, do you not accept the axiom of human action? of praxeology?


    February 6, 2009 at 10:45 am

  23. As much as one may wish for the golden rule to be the end-all, or even primary ethical and socio-economic principle, it doesn’t work that way. Scripture is holistic, as is Catholic Social Teaching.

    On account of my lack of time (and repeated encouragements to have further comments posted on the new site), I am simply going to copy and paste a number of remarks made by John Medaille under a blog post dealing with Mises. The link is below, if you wish to read it and the comment section in its entirety.

    “Mises did not understand the nature of science, and particularly not economic science. He did not understand the difference between formal and material sciences, and thought economics was about formal relations rather than material ones. Formal sciences, like logic, mathematics, and metaphysics, are axiomatic; material sciences are not; they depend on generalization from observation, not the a priori, as Mises thought…

    …Even human action is contradictory in Human Action. He insists you can’t know motivations, then insists he knows all motivations, but all of his findings are flat contradicted by both all the humane sciences and common human experience. He insists his theory is intuitively obvious in the same way that logic is, and that nobody ever noticed it before. He is full contempt for all the philosophical authorities, and for all the economists as well…

    …But he was at least intellectually honest; he realized the opposition between his theory and Christianity, and said so. I for one am willing to take him at his word…

    … Praxeology: it does make statements about human motivations, and these statements are flat contradicted by the humane sciences. It is does not study action “as such.” It does not study action at all. It makes unprovable statements about human actions and then places these statements beyond discussion by making them a priori. But that is not what an a priori is. The “axioms of action” all stand in contradiction to what we know of humans. Mises is simply ignorant of science; he attempts the methods of speculative science in the realm of practical science. He simply hasn’t a clue.”


    February 6, 2009 at 9:49 pm

  24. hold on a sec. how is it that the axiom of human action is contradictory?

    humans act – is that not an axiom?

    individuals act with purpose do they not?

    each of us are responding to each other. that is an action. before such a response was even possible, each of us must have already acted, and so on….

    just disputing this claim would be a purposeful action.


    February 8, 2009 at 9:44 am

  25. Did you read the context wherein Medaille substantiates the claim? The first and last paragraph are rather specific about what he was getting at.


    February 8, 2009 at 3:38 pm

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