Does Being Catholic Mean Being Anti-Capitalist?


It's still fresh in the minds of many that Nancy Pelosi had to explain to a college student in New York in January that the United States is indeed a capitalist nation.

Now it's Paul Ryan's turn to go through the ringer for declaring that he upholds his Catholic faith to help the poor by promoting policies that spur economic growth. Catholics on the left were very unhappy with this answer, and wanted to know why he didn't demand that government pay more to help poor people.

Economist Michael Strain, himself a committed Catholic, explains it for those who don't recall the (Taoist) lesson about teaching a man to fish.

It is always a good time to remind progressives that economic growth is the best antipoverty program the world has ever seen. If you want to put a few hundred extra dollars in the pockets of the poor each month, then by all means redistribute that money from the rich. But it was economic growth, not income redistribution, that gave billions of people enough food to eat, moved children from squalor into classrooms, treated illness with antibiotics, and substantially reduced child mortality rates around the globe.

As recently as 1970, more than one-quarter of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, surviving on less than $1 a day. Three and a half decades later, only 1 in 20 people did -- an 80 percent reduction. Poverty has continued to fall over the past decade. Income per head in India has doubled in the last 10 years. China has boomed. Africa is growing.

Economic growth has done this. The spread of the free-enterprise system has done this.

Strain also uses a very economisty example of how it works here in the United States.

If the U.S. economy grows at 2 percent per year, it will take 35 years for income per person to double. If we grow at 1 percent per year, the doubling will take 70 years. At 3 percent growth, we’ll double in 24.

My point? Seemingly small changes in the aggregate growth rate have enormous effects on the nation’s standard of living. And it goes without saying that doubling our living standard in 24 years rather than 35 would significantly help the poor.

Are the economic policies Ryan supports going to get the U.S. to 3 percent growth? That remains to be seen, though Congress passing any policies at this point would be novel on its own. But it is certainly unfair to question Ryan's faith because of the programs he supports to lift people up the economic ladder.

What are your thoughts about the relationship between Catholicism and capitalism?