In late 2016, after an election year that left me feeling very disillusioned with American politics and alienated from the conservative pro-life circles I had been actively involved in, I began earnestly reading about Catholic Social Teaching.
As a part of that, I started following people—theologians, business people, writers—who were critiquing American capitalism from the perspective of the Church’s teaching. One of the very first books I read on this topic was Toward a Truly Free Market by John Médaille. And it challenged a whole bunch of assumptions I had about business and economics that I had never examined before.
One passage from that book that stayed with me the most was about how American capitalism utterly devalues workers, treating them even worse than commodities. John Médaille wrote:
It is an oddity of modern economics that it depends on treating the worker as just another commodity (labor) for purposes of pricing that labor, but treats the production cost of that “commodity” as something beyond the price system.
If we take any other commodity, say a bar of pig-iron, it is assumed that the price must cover the cost of production, maintenance, and depreciation, or the product will be withdrawn from the market.
But in regards to labor, this assumption is never examined. For labor has its own “production cost” (the family) and its own “maintenance” costs (subsistence and health-care) and its own “depreciation” costs (sickness and old age). Labor cannot simply be withdrawn from the market when these requirements are not met.
Therefore, labor—and the family—does not even gain the dignity of a bar of pig-iron in modern economic theory.
I was thrilled when, back in September, John agreed to come on the podcast and talk with us about a Catholic critique of capitalism.
In this episode, Dominic and I interview John Médaille about his book, Toward a Truly Free Market, and discuss a Catholic critique of Capitalism. John dives into some of the history of Capitalism and also offers some ideas for what a more just economy–an economy that places family and the common good at the center–looks like.
John teaches Catholic Social Teaching to business students at the University of Dallas and has forty years of business experience. He is the author of The Vocation of Business: Social Justice in the Marketplace; Toward a Truly Free Market: A Distributist Perspective on the Role of Government, Taxes, Health Care, Deficits, and More; and Theology: Mythos or Logos?: A Dialogue on Faith, Reason, and History.”
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Paul Fahey lives in Michigan with his wife and four kids. For the past eight years, he has worked as a professional catechist. He has an undergraduate degree in Theology and is currently working toward a Masters Degree in Pastoral Counseling. He is a retreat leader, catechist formator, writer, and a co-founder of Where Peter Is. He is also the founder and co-host of the Pope Francis Generation podcast. His long-term goal is to provide pastoral counseling for Catholics who have been spiritually abused, counseling for Catholic ministers, and counseling education so that ministers are more equipped to help others in their ministry.