Monday, May 6, 2013
The exchange at First Things between Rusty Reno and Robert Miller is well worth reading. (Here's Rusty's opener, here's Robert's response, and here's Rusty's reply.) Taken together, I think they shed a lot more light than do the typical "Randian!" and "Socialist!" accusations that fly around conversations about economic policy, including conversations among Catholics who embrace the Church's moral anthropology and social teachings. My own sense is that Reno is right to remind us that the mis-use of "economic freedom" can lead to bad results. But, that's true of freedom generally, and it's not an argument against economic freedom so much as a fact about the world, this side of Heaven, that should be taken into account when designing institutions and policies that, in appropriate instances, constrain that freedom.
Now, Reno says that "conservatives" often don't see this -- that is, they don't see that economic freedom "creates problems." That's not my experience, for the most part. (More common, in my experience, are "liberals" who don't appreciate the real costs of misplaced regulations.) [Update: It was pointed out by a friend and correspondent that this kind of "tu quoque" is both distracting and a bad habit of mine. It is both of these things. To be clear, though, I didn't mean to suggest that the former mistake is somehow excused by the latter.] But, in any event, it is clear that various problems are inevitable by-products of economic freedom and so a challenge for a decent political community is to try to solve those problems.
Miller's essay, I think, does a lot of good things, but what I most appreciate is what I would have thought is his pretty modest point that (paraphrasing) "to attack those who oppose all regulation and believe in unregulated 'laissez faire' capitalism is to attack a straw man. Such attacks should not -- especially in the name of the Church's social teaching -- be made and, instead, we should focus on pushing 'conservatives' to embrace those regulations and policies that enhance the opportunity for genuine flourishing, and respond to the real costs of free markets, and on pushing 'liberals' to realize that government regulations do not justify themselves and that, in some cases, they can do more harm than good." I think this is actually where most people are -- few are "Randians" (even if they are attracted to some libertarian themes and ideas) and few (in America, anyway) are real collectivists (even if they are attracted to some redistributionist or communitarian themes and ideas).