Should Christians rethink the merits of free markets? Last night The King’s College hosted a debate on that question between First Things editor R.R. Reno and Acton Institute president and co-founder Rev. Robert Sirico.
In his opening statement, Reno admits that free markets have done a great deal to promote human flourishing, but says that “markets are human, and like all things human in our fallen world, markets can also impede human flourishing.” Reno claims this is especially true today because flourishing is being threatened by the “rise of a global oligarchy—a network of corporate managers, NGO leaders, government officials, and the vast army of technocrats who keep things humming.”
The economic freedom championed by this oligarchy, he adds, leads to the “dissolution of our once-thriving and confident middle class.” Reno believes that the middle class needs to take political action against the global oligarchy. He proposes we implement more regulation of global trade deals and “progressive taxes that combat economic gigantism,” taxes that would rise as corporate revenue “supersized proportions.”
“Promoting economic freedom will do nothing to reverse [our spiritual] bondage,” Reno says. Instead, he claims we need to “implement Sabbath laws, restrict commerce in other ways, and tax Internet commerce at a much higher rate” to protect the “face-to-face community of a healthy local economy.”
Too much focus on economic freedom can cause us to lose sight of other areas of concern, he concludes.
In his own opening response, Rev. Sirico explains how his role as a pastor affects his view on the issue. He relates how a moribund parish church in Grand Rapids, Michigan was turned by entrepreneurial thinking. The connection to free markets, he says, is that “What was infecting our parish is what is infecting our nation—and this is not the kind of thing we could solve by policies coming from government.”
“We have diagnosed the problem,” says Sirico, “Everyone in this room knows what the problem is. What we need is the solution.”
The solution is not less liberty, or less access to enter into circles of exchange with one another, or more restrictions on our success and prosperity, or more regulations that intrude into our lives, he says. The solution is the free acceptance of virtues and the habitual practice of those virtues that transforms ourselves and our communities. What we need is open societies, says Sirico, that understand the moral telos of freedom.
You can watch the video of the entire debate on Facebook at this link.