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Rev. Robert Sirico’s Moral Case for a Free Economy

Today marks the first in a new series of Values & Capitalism pieces that I will be posting regularly here at the blog between now and the presidential election in November. It’s called “Saving Private Sector” and will highlight the work and ideas of people advocating for free enterprise in especially compelling and interesting ways. My intent is not to promote any politician or party. My intent is to demarcate the respective lines of the ideological camps engaged in the struggle of our time. (Cue Gladiator theme music here.) One of the best ways I can do this, in my opinion, is with the opinions (and expertise) of my elders. As G.K. Chesterton might put it—I didn’t make the case for human liberty and economic freedom. God and Western civilization made it, and they, in turn, made me. What needs to be stressed here is that either economic freedom matters, and is worth saving, or it doesn’t, and we would do well to throw our lot in with the statists and proponents of planned economies and social engineering. Thankfully, there are still watchmen on the walls of our shining city who believe it matters. Now, in a sane world—one in which the Dos Equis Man is out of job because the truly interesting men who already exist actually get the recognition they deserve—Rev. Robert Sirico would already be a household name. He is a Catholic priest, serving a parish in Kalamazoo, Mich. He is the co-founder and president of the free-market think tank The Acton Institute, which is based in nearby Grand Rapids. He is a former USC progressive activist who ran in the same circles with the likes of Jane Fonda back in the 70s. He is a native of the mean streets of Brooklyn and the younger brother of actor Tony Sirico (Paulie Walnuts from “The Sopranos”). And for our specific purposes today, he is the author of the new book “Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy.” Setting a sobering (and yet optimistic) tone right off the bat in his introduction, Rev. Sirico paints a verbal picture of the now-famous satellite image many of us have seen in those emails your aunt likes to forward every single, solitary day of the year: the one of the Korean peninsula at night, with the southern half lit up like a Christmas tree and the northern half shrouded in state-sponsored darkness. North Korea South Korea Satellite Photo
The illuminated lower half of the peninsula offers us a vision of what the world looks with freedom – the freedom to create, prosper, and, as is so obvious, even to illuminate. But you also have the in that photograph an image of what the world might look like were the torch of human liberty to sputter out, casting civilization into darkness.”
As you continue through the richly insightful pages of “Defending the Free Market” Rev. Sirico goes to great lengths to drive home an incredibly important point: Freedom is not normal. The United States is not just an aberration. It is the aberration of human history. No civilization has flourished like we have in our 235 short years, and Rev. Sirico implores the reader not to miss the very important fact that we did this because of (not in spite of) our radically different views on concepts like liberty, equality, and charity. We have prized certain values over others. We have valued things that other countries and cultures have scoffed at since Jamestown and Plymouth Rock. And attached to all of the other freedoms we hold so dear—the one that binds and undergirds all others—is economic freedom. The right to freely seek one’s own vocation. The right to both bear risk and reap reward. The right (and responsibility) to provide for one’s own family. The Judeo-Christian duty to use one’s own property and possessions to personally help the least among us. Deftly predicting the boilerplate responses from skeptics of free enterprise, Rev. Sirico stresses the difference between the consumerism that undeniably plagues our culture and the entrepreneurial, thrifty, charitable society that exists when free people hold each other to a higher standard than arbitrary, undefined calls for “fairness” or “justice.”
“When the Judeo-Christian worldview is replaced by a vaguely formed and only partially acknowledged philosophical materialism, then all that matters is what we can get for ourselves today. What is lost is a sense of history as a meaningful and linear thing, as something moving toward a great consummation. When a person loses that, when a whole people loses that, when the institutions that serve to organize and govern a people lose that, the loss is severe and reverberating.”
Rev. Sirico can talk the nuts-and-bolts of economic shop if you want him to, and the book has plenty of cited studies, stats, and figures. But like any prescient cultural voice, the author has made the arguments in favor of freer markets and limited government accessible and logical. There are basics like private property, respect for the dignity of human life, sound stewardship, and the importance of strong families that become reoccurring themes. This is not because he ran out of points to make, but because these are the only points that really matter when discussing the way societies structure themselves from the ground up. A little-known British professor named Clive Staples Lewis firmly believed that most people needed to be reminded more than instructed. I came away from my reading of “Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy” reminded, refreshed and rejuvenated for the battle that many have only recently awoken to realize has been raging for quite some time. We’ve been losing ground for decades to proponents of bigger and bigger government precisely because of their appeal to the emotions and moral consciences of American voters. We’ve been losing the public relations war, and were doing so long before Barack Obama or The Huffington Post. It’s time to reclaim the moral high ground in the debate over what type of economic system will define this country. We’re seeing clocks start to run out on nations who have rejected the core principles articulated in Rev. Sirico’s book. It would be wildly irresponsible and naïve to think we can avoid similar fates on our current trajectory. At its core, our problem is not an economic one—it’s a moral (some might say spiritual) one.
Failing to understand that man is more than homo economicus will lead to major errors in addressing social problems. If we treat only the symptoms of social ills – slapping more meddlesome regulation, government spending, or targeted tax cuts onto the surface of a problem without nourishing the wellsprings of human happiness – our solutions will fail.”
So please ignore what Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) might recommend and do indeed “read the book.” Our private sector needs saving, and General Sirico has issued battle plans.