Acton Institute Powerblog

Defending Free Markets and Private Property

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Earlier this week on the Acton Institute Facebook page, Rev. Sirico’s archived article “What is Capitalism?” was posted and sparked a lively discussion between two people (click here to see our Facebook page and the discussion). This blog post is to serve as my response.

Your idea of communionism, at least from what I understand from your comments, bears some resemblances to communism which has the end goal of society or the community possessing property in common. This, however, doesn’t preserve human dignity properly; nor does not foster interdependence among people. Instead it creates a society dependent on a centralized government.

In his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas explains some of the core the problems with common property. Like Aristotle, he notes, that individuals are better managers of property because it allows for a more orderly fashion of management, and as he states “human beings content with their own property live in a condition of peace. And so we observe that quarrels arise rather frequently among those who possess goods in common not individually.” The quarrels can arise because no individual is specifically responsible for the care of the common property. There is no person who feels like he or she has stake in the property. A direct result, and historical example, of common property is the tragedy of the commons.

In Capital Marx argues that there is no value in human labor per se. He states “human labour, creates value, but is not itself value. It becomes value only in its congealed state, when embodied in the form of some object.” This is contrary to Christian beliefs. There is intrinsic value in human labor itself. To work is a calling and a form of stewardship. In the encyclical Laborem Exercens, (“On Human Work”), Pope John Paul II explains how working is a direct expression of our human dignity. Such preservation of human dignity cannot be found in a system that devalues work.

The idea of property that you advocate is also found in Marx’s Capital and the Manifesto of the Communist Party. This idea is flawed on many levels. It doesn’t take into account that the entrepreneur purchases the raw goods that the workers use to make the end product. As a result, based on any definition of property, the entrepreneur is the sole owner of the raw goods and it is his or her private property, not the worker. The worker engages in a contract with the entrepreneur in an exchange of services. Just because the worker uses his or her services, which he or she is paid for by the entrepreneur, does not translate into the worker becoming the owner of the raw good which becomes the final product.

The idea of private property that you advocate, rescinding property rights for all corporations, is dangerous on many levels. It puts political rights, religious rights, and all private property rights in danger. Marx notes that the abolition of private property for the bourgeois leads to the abolition of family because, according to his argument, the family is rooted in property and private gain. Furthermore, Marx articulates that his beliefs, which bring forth a communist centralized system, also abolish religion.

In Federalist Paper No. 10 James Madison argues how the first object of any government is the protection of property. Furthermore, in Democracy in America Alexis de Tocqueville explains that what makes America successful is its protection of private property for all. No landed property class exists. He articulates how the protection of private property translates into the protection of political rights even to the least of all citizens. Furthermore the right to property fosters “…obedience to established law, of the influence of good mores in republics, and of the assistance that religious ideas lend to order and freedom…” What makes America special and successful, according to Tocqueville, is the protection of rights for all people. As Tocqueville demonstrates, the right of property needs to be protected because other rights stem from it. This right extends to even corporations. Rights should be guaranteed for all, not winners and losers picked by the government.

Again, private property should be protected at all levels, for both individuals and corporations. Hernando de Soto explains this in his book and in an essay both titled, The Mystery of Capital. Through examples found in his essay, book, and case studies (which can be found by clicking here), de Soto effectively argues using proven facts, statistics, and real world examples that the protection of capital and private property rights has led to economic prosperity in the west, whereas the lack of protection is a leading reason to the economic disparity in poor countries. If we fail to protect private property rights on all levels, then we begin down a path of economic decline. Without the protection of private property rights, and an effective legal structure to guarantee such protection, the wrong message is being sent to businesses. No business will want to invest in an economic climate that is hostile towards them.

A market system, which is what Rev. Sirico argues for in his article “What is Capitalism?” actually fosters virtues that all Christians value. This is articulated by Stephen Grabil in his essay “The Market, School of Virtue.” Here Grabil shows that greed is not what makes a free market churning, but instead it is virtue. Some of the virtues fostered in a free market are trustworthiness, self-control, sympathy, and fairness. Jay Richards, author of Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem, demonstrates that greed is a vice which even Adam Smith condemned. Richards also shows why greed does not lead to a successful market economy, but actually destroys it.

In regards to the referenced Fulton Sheen article titled “New Slavery” it is important to note that the article was written in 1943 when many monopolies were present in the market. Acton has never believed in or supported crony capitalism. Monopolies do not allow competition which is bad for the consumer and the worker. Also, Sheen does not advocate for the end of private property in his article. Instead he says we have a right to private property and our use of it should be righteous “Possession [of property] has two faces, two aspects: we all have a right to private property, but this is accompanied by our responsibility for its righteous use.” As Sirico articulates in the posted article, when the market is structured successfully it is the consumer who has primary control and then next is the worker. This is because of competition. Monopoly capitalism comes when the government gets into bed with businesses, and essentially block new entrepreneurs and potential new competitors from entering into the market.

Free markets are not just about an economic system. It is something greater than economics, it is about freedom. The freedom to choose what to purchase, the freedom for the worker to find an employer and not be forced into employment with the state or a monopoly, and the freedom to hold property and have it protected, this freedom is what capitalism is about. Tocqueville saw this in his visit to America and correctly articulated how the protection of private property, in all levels, has led to the great freedom Americans enjoy. However, Tocqueville also recognized the need for virtuous men and women because he knew America cannot succeed, nor its structure of government without them. As he states, “There are no great men without virtue; without respect for rights, there is no great people: one can almost say that there is no society; for what is a union of rational and intelligent being among whom force is the sole bond?”

Louie Glinzak


  • Anonymous

    Congratulations on completely failing to understand my point:  That capitalism without the virtue of charity is mere license to commit crime.

    Communionism, based on the Eucharist- is based in private property.  Without private property, there can be no Eucharist- there can be no gifts of bread and wine to turn into the Body and Blood of Christ.  Inputs always require private property.

    Corporations are NOT human beings, and it is destructive to human dignity to treat corporations as if they were human beings.

    Multinational corporations, having rights not even God himself would assume in crony capitalism, might as well be monopolies for the way that they have destroyed human rights around the world.

  • Anonymous

    I see no virtue in placing human beings as mere “human resources” to be used and abused by corporations.  Corporations ARE the problem- wherever they exist, money gets piled up until it buys government and destroys everything.

    • Roger McKinney

      No one sees virtue in “placing human beings as mere “human resources” to be used and abused by corporations”. Where do you get this nonsense? You’re debating with people who don’t exist and never have existed.

      • Anonymous

        Obviously corporations do, for every corporation I’ve ever seen hires a Human Resources Manager whose job is expressly to dehumanize the employer-employee relationship.  Defend Capitalism by all means- but do not defend Crony Corporatism.

        • Roger McKinney

          You’re bearing false witness. And I don’t defend crony capitalism. However, you don’t have a clue as to what it means.

  • I think it is perhaps a bit straw-mannish to describe what the gentleman was talking about as communism.

    Communionism sounds a lot like distributist communitarianism, which, to be fair, often lends itself to a communist execution with the problems stated above.  But it is also often put forward as a free-enterprise system (in other words, one using a modus of a market similar to that spoken of in the free-market description) which nevertheless does not fall victim to the idea that the market naturally tends to virtue.  To say that is to make an anthropological mistake, since virtue is by its very nature difficult and not produced simply by having a fiscal arrangement.  Indeed, the maxim of Acton himself comes into play, because the market provides economic power, which “tends to corrupt.”  Fr. Sirico is, I am personally quite certain, fully aware of this, and does not defend an anarchical free-market of the sort put forward in various forms by Friedman or Rothbard.  By this I mean that the Institute has not, to my knowledge, advocated replacing the political order with the economic order.  The free market is not a replacement for government.

    When I read the criticism of corporations as having the property rights given to persons, I read that not as saying that there should be no property belonging to corporations in any respect, but as saying that if some corporation is said to hold property it is because there is some accountable person or group of persons who ultimately lays claim, and happens to administer or be part of the company.  This is in fact vital, since if “a corporation” misuses its means for illegal reasons, we have to be able to exact justice on people, not just on a legal entity.  “A corporation” does not rape, steal, or murder, except derivatively; people do, and they run corporations.  And in the case of Mondragon, the corporation attributes that claim in such a way that worker shares are literally shares of property.  That is their business model.  Nevertheless, they still own property, and not “in common” in the sense of which Aquinas was speaking.  For Aquinas, “in common” meant two people owning the same item.  This is not the case in communionism from what I can tell.  Nor is anyone denying that private property should be protected; but Smith himself, even in the example of the invisible hand, expected that there would be many owners of property, because that enables entrepreneurialism in the first place.  The critique of unmitigated capitalism I have heard is that it produces few large owners rather than many small ones.

    Lastly, you were wrong in that you (perhaps understandably) left out a cause of monopoly.  It’s not just government collusion that creates monopolies, it’s also business practices designed to undermine competition, like sowing the land not plowed for your own field with salt, or creating a health panic about the competitor’s product, or otherwise using one’s resources to raise the entry cost of a market to beyond the resources of, say, a small business.  This isn’t to say that an innovation or other game-changer can’t overcome this, but they are real causes of monopoly, and they do not necessarily involve collusion.

  • Roger McKinney

    I haven’t read the facebook debate, but I like your post, Louie!

    Tom:  “The critique of
    unmitigated capitalism I have heard is that it produces few large owners rather
    than many small ones.”


    That is another Marxist myth that will never die because
    people love darkness more than light. Monopolies are extremely difficult to
    create in a free market. The main condition for creating a monopoly in a free
    market is high barriers to entry, especially in the costs of initial capital. Only
    one monopoly exists in the US
    as a result of a relatively free market and that is Boeing.


    Throughout history 99% of all monopolies were created by the


    The best defense of private property is “Thou shalt not
    steal.” The definition of property requires that the owner have control over
    the property. Whatever control someone else takes from him, as the state does
    through taxation and regulation, deprives him of that his property. True
    property can exist only in a free market.


    European socialists learned to deceive people late in the 19th
    century. They allowed people to retain the paper title to their property while
    giving the state full control of the property. Most people were gullible enough
    to think they still owned something after the state had taken full control of


    Tedseeber: “That capitalism without the virtue of charity is
    mere license to commit crime.”


    You hold a Marxist and deceitful definition of capitalism.
    There has never been a proponent of free markets or capitalism in history who
    advocated the abolishment of law and order. As Mises used to say, freedom does
    not consist in the absence of principles; that would be nothing but the rule of
    thugs and thieves. Freedom consists in the rule of principle applied equally
    and fairly to all. Those principles include the right to life, liberty and
    property. The role of the state in capitalism is to protect all people’s life,
    liberty and property.

    • Anonymous

      Roger McKinney- “There has never been a proponent of free markets or capitalism in history who
      advocated the abolishment of law and order. ”

      Except Ayn Rand.  

      And I prefer Jeus Christ to Ludwig Von Mises.  Go ahead and worship an atheist if you want to, but I say that without the Virtue of Charity, all you’re going to get is more crony corporatism.

      After all, libertarians have shown themselves to have no principles- the ONLY difference between a libertarian and a crony capitalist is the ability to pay lobbyists to decrease regulation and increase barriers to entry.

      • Roger McKinney

        No, Ayn Rand did not. I prefer Jesus to Mises, too, but Jesus didn’t write a lot about economics and nothing about politics.

        When you need a doctor, do you search for someone who limits his practice to what was known in the first century? Then why limit your knowledge of economics to the same time period?

        As Louie has pointed out, as well as everyone since Adam Smith, capitalism promotes Biblical virtues, the first of which in the market is respect for private property.

        ” the ONLY difference between a libertarian and a crony capitalist is the
        ability to pay lobbyists to decrease regulation and increase barriers
        to entry.”

        You’re bearing false witness again.

        • Anonymous

          “No, Ayn Rand did not.”

          Atlas Shrugged’s entire theme was that law and order was immoral.  What Ayn Rand are you reading?

          ” Jesus didn’t write a lot about economics and nothing about politics. ”

          Jesus did not write about anything, but St. Luke’s Gospel and Acts of the Apostles is full of economic theory and politics.  I’d suggest you go read it.

          “When you need a doctor, do you search for someone who limits his practice to what was known in the first century? Then why limit your knowledge of economics to the same time period?”

          Because I have yet to see Communionism exceeded in virtue.  And if I am to believe my baptismal promises, I must be the enemy of sin and reject Satan and all of his works and all of his empty promises.  

          “As Louie has pointed out, as well as everyone since Adam Smith, capitalism promotes Biblical virtues, the first of which in the market is respect for private property.”

          The Market doesn’t respect private property- the market only respects fraud.  Or at least, nobody was ever rewarded for ownership of private property, but as the saying goes in many business circles “If you’re not cheating you’re not trying”.

          And as for that last bit- if libertarians and capitalists actually believed in the principles they were peddling to everybody else, why would lobbyists exist?  It’s obvious to me that economics is more fraud than science.

          • Roger McKinney

            Read it again if you think the “theme was that law and order was immoral.” You clearly didn’t understand it.

            Clearly you haven’t read the NT, either.

            There is no virtue in communionism unless you consider lying and bad economics to be virtuous.

            The market cannot exist without law and order and respect for property.

            Of course, you are promoting the same Marxist lie that the current US system is capitalist. It is not. It retains some minor resemblences to capitalism but the current system is far more socialist than capitalist. The things you dislike about the current system, such as the lobbyists and political power of corporations, are the result of that socialism. In a truly capitalist system, corporations would have no reason to bribe politicians because politicians would have no power over the economy to sell.

            And don’t give me that Marxist crap that a true capitalist system has never existed. We had an essentially capitalist system from the nations birth until 1932.

  • Ted: You have a knack for the sweeping generalization, categorical
    assertion unsupported by facts, and cold heartless judgmentalism. Do you work at this, or is it pure talent?

    Here’s just the latest, from my Coolidge post:

    I find it interesting that the Wall
    Street Journal, the paper of the most centralizing
    and elitist institution in America, would dare publish an article
    about Equality, since NONE of the readers of that paper believe in it by their

    And this directed at Louie Glinzak on the Facebook post “What is Capitalism?”:

    Theodore M. Seeber Your response
    failed in charity and in preservation of virtue, instead arguing for more sin.
    For shame.

    Arguing for “more sin”? For “shame”? Really.

    Please find, if you have it in your heart, a bit of Christian charity in your exchanges here. Can you do that, Ted?

    And when you’re introducing novel terms like “Communionism” please define what you’re talking about. Simply asserting that this is based in private property doesn’t tell us anything. Is this a new branch of economics you have founded?

    • Anonymous

      Not at all- Communionism is an new name for a very old branch- St. Luke wrote about it in his Gospel and in Acts- I suggest you go and read those, for I find his economic theories to be VERY preferable to “Profit Makes Right” and “What the market does, is always virtue” of the Wall Street crowd.

      I’ll show Christian Charity to those who give Christian Charity; there is no charity in arguing for the totalitarian domination of corporate ownership over the INDIVIDUAL right of private property or the right of corporations to mistreat workers and destroy unions.  Those who support the superior rights of corporations to escape punishment for their actions, obviously do not believe in Equality.I find it extremely shameful that any priest such as Fr. Sirico or any other Catholic worth their name would argue for a market free of morals or virtue.  

      • Ted: Now you’ve veered into spreading untruths. Fr. Sirico has never argued for a free market “free of moral or virtue.” Have you bothered to read anything on this site, or listened to any of Fr. Sirico’s talks? Our entire mission here is aimed at grounding the market economy in virtue. You know, the “free and virtuous society.” You’re not adding to the discussion on the PowerBlog, you’re tearing it down. You’re done here for now.

      • Roger McKinney

        You have a habit of just reposting the same nonsense and not engaging in any discussion of providing any support for your wild accusations. If you want to discuss instead of regurgitate Marx, then post the verses in Luke and Acts that you think promote communionism.

  • Roger McKinney

    Clearly you don’t know what crony capitalism is. It’s about corruption, not the institution of corporations. They both begin with “C” however. Again, you’re bearing false witness against many good people in corporations and HR. I have dealt with many HR people in corporations and can attest to their humanity and integrity. Apparently you have not dealt with them or you wouldn’t lie about them.