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March 2013

Free Markets Series E9: Religion and Liberty

As a young man in the early 70s, Father Robert A. Sirico was involved in various new left movements. In this wide-ranging interview, he explains how he came to understand the value of the free market, realizing for instance how the radical redistribution of wealth could eviscerate the infrastructure of economic productivity.

While he sees free markets as entirely compatible with his faith, Father Sirico does not see freedom itself as a virtue. Rather, it is the context in which virtue is possible. “My contention isn’t that the free market is canonized by theology or by the church or by the scriptures, but that it affords us the greatest opportunity to do good—especially when it’s combined with an ethical premise, an ethical system, an understanding of the rich complexity and moral nature of human beings.”

As for the idea that the welfare state is an expression of Christian charity, he counters that although Jesus identified with and loved the poor, nowhere in the scriptures does he call on government to do anything. Charity, furthermore, is a voluntary sacrifice that comes from the heart. By this definition, bureaucrats are not charitable. They’re simply doing their jobs.

The main problem with socialism and planned economies is simple: the inability to calculate the real costs of things. But Father Sirico believes such misconceived economic systems are losing their allure. “People are beginning to understand that we can’t create a utopia just by wishing it into existence, that we can’t abolish the right to private property, that if we do we create economic disaster.” This is a good thing, too, because the first people to be hurt by deleterious economic policies are the poor.