Catholic Establishment Yet to Be Converted to Libertarianism

EspañolThe Honduran Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga is not just any cardinal. He is the right-hand man of Pope Francis, and the pontiff elected him to preside over the Council of Cardinals, the body created by Bergoglio himself to push for reform inside of the Roman Curia. It is not surprising then to see the media refer to him as the “vice-pope.”

Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga at the “Erroneous Autonomy” conference. (Catholic University of America)

Last week, Rodríguez Maradiaga participated in a conference titled “Erroneous Autonomy: The Catholic Case Against Libertarianism,” organized by the Catholic University of America’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies based in Washington D.C. There, the cardinal offered his vision of the world economy, mostly based on the papal encyclical Evangelii Gaudium (joy of the gospel). Given the Catholic Church’s latest attitudes towards free markets, baseless truisms, strawman fallacies, and attacks, as expected, were on the agenda.

Pope Francis’s favorite cardinal falls in line with the papal position at the time of making his critique. His view of the free market is biased by the tragicomic experiences of Latin-American policies. His conclusions about inequality share the same clichés that so-called progressives turn to, that in reality should be rechristened as poverty makers.

Where Are the Libertarian Culprits?

Of course, he ignores the fact that violence directed from the state is still violence. “Francis’s opinion would be molded by the rough economic history of Argentina,” the cardinal noted, and with reason. But Rodríguez Maradiaga and Francis forget that the rough economic history of Argentina was shaped by the constant growth of the state, brought about by a culture that was friendly towards fascism. This culture’s seed was planted during the infamous decade and consolidated by Juan Domingo Perón, not by libertarianism.

Cardinal Maradiaga highlights that the pope’s economic analysis is done “through the point of view of the poor.” At the same time, he maintains a complicit silence with political elites who should receive the maximum punishment for the massacres, famines, and pillages that tainted and held back the great advances of the 20th century.

It was not the libertarians that were behind these political, economic, and social abuses, but the very politicians that Francis has a very “favorable opinion of, as long as they are aiming to overcome the absolute dichotomy between the economy and the common good.” It is almost redundant to clarify that none of the politicians that established and continue to establish policies of impoverishment did them in the name of “personal gain” or “ethical individualism.”

Beyond Their Expertise: Theology, Not Political Economy

The “deep understanding of the lives of the poor” that the cardinal attributes to Francis does not grant him economic, geological, or astrophysical knowledge. Still, his observation that there is a pressing problem is accurate: “The elimination of the structural causes of poverty is an urgent matter that cannot be postponed,” and his experiences with society’s have-nots could serve as an indication.

What are the institutional designs that have been able to get more people out of poverty? Unless Rodríguez Maradiaga considers the African continent and Latin America as the principal examples of a laissez faire economy, his own words turn into the best argument to tumble his confused vision of the world.

The cardinal’s confusions appear throughout the entire conference. For example, by making an analogy to explain the state of current economy, Rodríguez Maradiaga holds that the “adoration of the golden calf is represented today by the idolization of money and the dictatorship of an economy without a human face, that lacks any real human purpose.” Not only does the cardinal not present the libertarian position in an honest light, a more adequate parallel for the biblical fable could be the idolization of the state.

A New Religion for Matters of Policy

Fortunately, thanks to scientific advancements, we can let go of mythical beliefs to explain natural phenomenons. In much of the planet, religion has lost its all-encompassing strength.

In our times, though, we are witnessing the rise of a new religious dogma. Although this dogma appears to be secular, it effectively replaces the gods with the state, an entity considered to be omnipotent and omnipresent. Central banks — the moneychangers of the temple — and the dictatorships with humanitarian facades are what take us down the road to poverty and exclusion.

On the other hand, libertarians promote respect for all individual plans and voluntary exchanges. The idea that there exists a human face, the hand of a planner, or a “real human purpose” is inconceivable. All purposes are human and real as long as they are peaceful, and not only those that an all-knowing central authority considers to be acceptable.

There is no doubt that we do not live in a world where libertarian principles are predominant, but certainly those countries that decided to adopt, to a large extent, some of the basic principles of a free economy have proven to deliver living standards that were unheard of in years past. This includes an explosion of wealth distributed unequally, albeit in a way that benefits all of society, especially those that found themselves in a less fortunate position.

The results are clear: the very goods and services that were once considered luxuries reserved for the very few, are now increasingly within the reach of a greater number of people each day.

Rodríguez Maradiaga’s speech tries to deal a sharp blow to libertarianism. In spite of this, and beyond the list of erroneous concepts that the cardinal expounded upon, the celebration of a conference dedicated to attacking libertarians is good news. Finally the ideas of those of us who promote the development of a free society are starting to enter the public debate. They bark, Sancho, it’s a sign that we are on track.

Translated by José Niño.

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