Libertarianism, economics and Catholic Social Teaching

I’ve picked up a couple of books with opposing sides:

One is called Catholic Economics : Alternative to the Jungle by Angus Sibley

It doesn’t come from a left wing pov, but from a centrist position that seems to say that Catholic Social Teaching teaches neither left wing economics/socialism, nor libertarianism or laissez fair capitalism.

Another is from the Acton Institute’s Jay Richards. The Acton Institute is a free market think tank that tries to steer Christian and Catholics toward libertarianism, conservative or free market economics.

From the little that I have read about Catholic Social Teaching, and if I had to pin it down to economics, I doubt the Catholic Church would fall squarely in line with libertarian economics or anything that is coming out of the Acton Institute.

I kind of agree with the first author that while CST is not socialistic, it’s not totally free market either. I don’t know how people from the Acton Institute would react to that as most libertarians think anything to the left of them is “socialist”, but I don’t know how they reconcile libertarian economics with Catholicism?

What is the position of the Catholic Church on economics, social justice, and such?

The Catholic position is a little hard to define. On the one hand, on social issues Catholic Social Teaching tends to be centre-right to solidly conservative. On the other, its approach to economics, it tends centre- to moderate left (rejecting pure libertarian/free market capitalism, but also extreme socialist, communist, and anarchist positions). I’m using US political terminology, for clarity.

Now, how the major US parties line up with Church teaching is an entirely different discussion…

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The Church has had the same stance since the beginning and it’s very simple.
The Church is the body of Christ and all things should be deposited into the church, like the Holy Spirit puts in Truth and enlightenment, we are to own nothing and deposit all our access into the church for dividing up between the poor and sick.
That is socialism anything more is adding to a system that already works, hence it is broke today.

The US has a distinct tradition of trying to move all religious organizations to the right economically. I used to be Protestant, and those churches are mostly if not all converted to libertarianism/free market capitalism. It was always quite weird because at conferences, or bookstores, or lectures I’d go to, there would be mentions of Milton Friedman, or his books alongside Christian authors.

The Discovery Institute, a conservative right wing think tank that promotes Young Earth Creationism also has a separate wing dedicated exclusively to the promotion of free market libertarianism. On the one hand they promote creationism, then on the other they have material from atheist libertarians. It’s very weird.

The Catholic position is not hard to define. It actually reconciles a lot of stuff. It’s only hard to define from an American context. For most people outside of the US, it’s position makes sense just fine. Most of their positions are in line with Christian Democrat thinking. To people in the US, that would seem totally odd, and almost an oxymoron, but in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America it is pretty normal. In fact, it’s the position of most Christian parties. In my mother’s country of origin the “conservative economic” position is considered “liberalism”, as in economic liberalization, and is usually associated with cosmopolitanism, atheism, and anti-social justice.


The Catholic economic position is subsidiarity. Economic polices should promote the creation of small businesses, esp family run businesses. Policy should encourage family business to remain in the family via inheritance. In other words, it should not be (from a govt point of view) better to sell the business than give it to your kids.

Any person who wants to open their own business should not be prevented from unnecessary govt regulations.

For example: Delaware (the incorporation capital of America) is a state very friendly to corporations but is not friendly to small business. They were recently ranked 48th or 49th for small businesses. One of the silly rules they have in their most populated (and most liberal) county is that all places of business must install water fountains. Water coolers and bottle waters cannot be used in place of the water fountains. Installing one water fountain costs approx $6000. Plus, there’s the fact that almost no one uses them anymore - esp when a water cooler or bottled water is avalible. Buying or renting a water cooler if far cheaper than installing a water fountain - and more hygienic. Regardless, if you want to be a small business - with your own place of business - in that county, you need to install a water fountain, even if you plan to install a water cooler with a filtration.

Having a rule about offereing free water to your employees is well & good. But having a rule that says a water fountain must be installed and that water coolers & bottled water may not count as a substitute is just unnecessary & crippling for small start ups.

Point is there are many policies like this around the country that are silly, and prevent middle class people from opening their own business.

The Church encourages people to use the gifts God gave them to the best of their ability, for the benefit of their families and society. So we should have economic policies that promote that, not stand in the way.

However, with all this said: the Church also recognizes that some regulations are necessary in order to prevent abuses which deprive employees of their human dignity and hurt society as a whole.

God Bless

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The Catholic position supports private property and it’s free use within the bounds of the objective moral order and common good. Likewise, labor and capital should work together justly and harmoniously. The state’s role is to both defend the moral order and the right to private property and the freedom of its owners, but also to ensure that their use of their property serves, rather than harms, the common good. It also has a role in ensuring peace, justice, and harmony among the economic classes.

Pure libertarianism or laissez fair capitalism is problematic because free competition often destroys itself, as the strong dominate the weak, leading economic activity to no longer benefit the common good. Things like socialism and communism are problematic because they deny the right to private property and encourage enmity between the economic classes.


I dunno about this. I mean within reason, if course. For example recreational pot is up for ballot proposal in Michigan. And the Michigan bishops came out against the proposal. That would be defined as against the free market. (Not trying to open a can of worms just stating an example.)

But I don’t think the church needs to support the left’s approach to solving income inequality. While the gospel clearly says we must help the poor, even implying our salvation requires it. I don’t think it follows that we must help the poor by throwing money at the government. In fact I think it’s clear that we’re to help the poor by getting our hands a little dirty and helping them personally and as communities.

So I think that there’s at least a Christian arguement to be made for a pretty darn free market economy. It’s not our job to use the government to force change. But to contribute to the solution as we can while trying to convert others to do the same.

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Both left and right economics are essentially splinter groups that took a lot of their stuff from the Catholic Church and Christian thinking. They both have their roots in the Enlightenment with the rise of liberalism (conservative right wing economics), and socialism (Pre-Marxian).

I think the first author I cited in my OP is obviously stating that Catholic Social Teaching is most assuredly NOT socialistic or left wing in the materialist, left wing or Marxian sense at all, but it’s also not laissez faire capitalism which is also materialistic.

I agree that the left’s approach is not completely compatible with CST and I say the same with free market libertarianism, but that is only because it is the latter that take from former and secularize it, not the former taking from the latter.

Genesis315 hit it right on the nail with his post! As did phil and many people in this thread. The Catholic Church does seem to have the most well grounded approach to economics, the role of the state and the role of the market. That it all must be a collaborative approach, a harmony on interests that doesn’t veer to far to the left, or too far to the right, and affirms human dignity.

I do think that the work of people such as Thomas Woods, The Acton Institute, and others in the Catholic Church trying to steer the Church to free market libertarianism are actually promoting heresy. But that is just my strong opinion. They seem to put their faith in Austrian Economists, many of which were atheists and materialists over that of the teachings of the CC.

It’s just in the United States, if you make any mention of veering away from libertarianism, you’re automatically labeled a “socialist” or “left wing”, when that is not the case for the CC, and why Pope Francis is always lambasted in the media for promoting “socialism”, when he is just reiterating Catholic Social Teaching.

Anyone else want to chime in?

If you really wanted to nail down an exact economic theory, one might be able to make a strong argument that the Catholic Church promotes “distributism.”

This is what I point to every time someone says Jesus was a socialist.

God bless

Yes, this seems more accurate. It was certainly promoted by Belloc and Chesterton.

Have you watched The Gentleman’s Debate hosted by the Acton Institute and Fr. Anthony Sirico? They had a really good debate between Jay Richards of Acton vs distributionist Jay Pearce. In my opinion Mr. Pearce dominated the debate, but Richards made some good points.

I don’t now if I totally agree with Distributism, people on the right consider it just socialism under a different disguise but it certainly seems to lie closer to the position of the CC.

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