Catholic-Christian perspective on government and the market

A practical re-appraisal of how Christians should think about economic and political issues

Christians should not turn to government for solutions to economic problems

In a new publication by the Institute of Economic Affairs*, an international team of authors* provides a fresh Catholic-Christian perspective on the role of the government and the market. The book focuses on a number of topical issues, including: the provision of welfare, education, aid to developing countries, the financial crisis, environmental problems as well as business and consumer ethics.

Long-held interpretations of Church teaching on foreign aid and the minimum wage are criticised within the book, the argument being made that many Catholic commentators take too little account of official church teaching and economic realities when giving advice to Catholics on political and economic matters.

Catholic Social Teaching and the Market Economy celebrates entrepreneurship and business, arguing that the moral problems of consumerism and materialism are better solved through the creation of an appropriate ethical culture as opposed to government regulation.

Key points made by the authors include:

  • The minimum wage, believed my many theologians to be justified by Catholic teaching, is harmful to the poor. Enforcing a minimum wage makes those individuals out of work less employable and therefore less likely to be hired by employers.
  • Multiple Catholic Church documents, which make strong arguments for increased levels of foreign aid, are scrutinised. Aid programmes often harm those they intend to help because proponents of such programmes ignore strong Church statements on the importance of good governance for economic progress.
  •  Environmental problems are likely to be the subject of a forthcoming encyclical by Pope Francis. A strong case is made that a just economic and political framework based on the rule of law and property rights is the best way to promote economic development and ensure that communities resolve environmental problems in “bottom-up” ways that involve the community itself.
  • The book criticises a number of statements made by prominent Christians in the wake of the financial crash. It accepts however, the message of Pope Benedict’s social encyclical, Caritas in veritate, that ethically guided behaviour is essential for a properly functioning economy.
  • The current system whereby the government spends around 50 per cent of families’ incomes in developed countries and is often the sole provider of health, education and income provision in old age, is not consistent with the core principles of Catholic social teaching.
  • The outcomes of considerable spending on welfare, including worklessness, high government debt and disincentives for family formation, fail to promote the common good. What’s more, Church teaching has often criticised high levels of tax and bureaucracy.

Key recommendations:

  • Christians should celebrate entrepreneurship and business. Entrepreneurship is a noble vocation, in which those that become rich, do so by taking risks and providing goods and services that individuals want a