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The New Catholic Economics

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David Mills - published on 12/17/14 - updated on 12/02/17


These four dots fit the bigger pattern. Bruenig might be seen as an outlier, but I don’t think her writing would have been so popular in politically conservative Catholic circles ten years ago, when she would have been described, which is to say dismissed, as “a Commonweal Catholic.” Her left-wing politics is not the automatic disqualifier it has been.

The young man speaks for a goodly number of young, and also older, Catholics I know, people whose conservative political credentials have been hitherto unquestionable. Other people wrote me with comments like “That’s me” and “I find myself moving this way,” and a couple libertarian-leaning types lamented the changes in their friends. Many others are, between the libertarian and welfare state forms of capitalism, bi-curious.

Modestinus describes a movement even sharper than the one I described and large enough for him to note. His own criticism of economic liberals with utopian visions is another dot.

Wilcox is one of the conservative Catholic’s go-to guys for family policy. Here he offers a “statist” answer to the problems of the working class family, to which the politically conservative Catholics I’m writing about would have reacted just a few years ago. Many of them might still disagree with his advocacy of federal policies, especially subsidizing wages, but wouldn’t reject them out of hand as they once would have done.

Some of those who rejected my description of this movement said they didn’t see it themselves, which is fair enough, though it does suggest they should get out more. Others seemed blinded by their own hostility to government and simply couldn’t believe anyone might have a higher view of it than they, which suggests that, if Catholic, they should spend more time reading Catholic Social Teaching.

One benefit of this movement is that it offers a chance for a wider and more balanced understanding of Catholic Social Teaching than we have generally seen, between the alternatives of the libertarianish reading of the Catholic neoconservatives and the statish reading of the social justice Catholics. What the state is and should do is not an easy question to answer at the moment, but the automatic answers of “almost nothing” and “a great deal” aren’t really helpful in a matter we must get right.

David Mills,former executive editor of First Things, is a writer and author of Discovering Mary. His webblog can be found at www.patheos.com/blogs/davidmills.

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