Ropke on Income Distribution

As I was sorting through some old boxes of books I came across my copy of Wilhelm Ropke’s Economics of the Free Society. In flipping through the pages I was surprised to discover a great deal of underlining and some marginal notes that I must have made several years ago when I was still enraptured by libertarianism lite. This paragraph, which I had bracketed, jumped out at me (pg. 210):

As a last resort, there is available the extra-economic correction of the distribution of income. This consists in the state awaiting the results of the economic distribution of income as they are crystallized in the market processes, and then correcting these results by taxing the rich and spending for the poor. As a matter of fact, a considerable portion of the public finances is devoted to such rectification, supplemented by the efforts of private welfare groups. Obviously, there are certain limits here which may not be overstepped if paralyzing effects on the process of production are to be avoided. It is, of course, clear that the state can go much further in employing such corrective measures the smaller are its expenditures for other purposes.

It’s almost impossible to note smile at such a bold statement on behalf of “statism” given Ropke’s status as a darling of libertarianism, particularly variants of Christian libertarianism. Then again, Ropke has long been, and remains, a problematic figure for both the so-called “Austrian School” of economics from which he emerged and third-way advocates such as Distributists. Hardcore “Austrians” (and how many of them aren’t hardcore?) dislike Ropke’s “unscientific” appreciation of the social aspects of the economy while Distributists remain suspicious of Ropke’s heavy reliance on the market process to build a just socio-economic ordo. While I will not pretend to speak for the libertarians who are uncomfortable with Ropke, I do wonder at times if Christians, specifically Catholics, who ought to be broadly sympathetic to the aims set forth in Ropke’s A Humane Economy are too dismissive of his thinking on the rather superficial ground that no friend (or child) of “Austrianism” can be a friend of theirs. None of this is to say that there aren’t elements — perhaps many elements — of Ropke’s thinking which demand criticism and correction in the light of Catholic Social Teaching, but perhaps some go too far in making him out to be an opponent rather than an ally (albeit a distant one).

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One comment

  1. It wasn’t that long ago in America when Americans looked to themselves, their neighbors, their private organizations and all non-state entities (mediating institutions that served as buffers between individuals/groups and the state) as the first and last place for redistribution, charity, etc, most especially the mainline Protestant churches and the RC Church. Led by the diminutive John Neumann, Philadelphia led the way in creating a diocesan educational structure that relished operating as “separate, but equal”.
    That consciousness has all but been lost as the state – and a secular state at that, not the even mildly Christian one envisioned by Leo XIII – has since the mid-twentieth century taken over the functions heretofore filled by the mediating institutions, to the point where the churches are hallowed out, fertility rates are plunging and the liberties lost are no longer even recognized as being lost, so great as been the willingness of the populace to see how much we can get ours at the public trough. Who is talking about the deviation from CST and that? Or do most believe that the secular state is 100% aligned with CST in redistribution, no matter what the purpose or the strings attached?

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