Earlier this year I posted a brief “series” of entries on the economic ordo known as corporatism, Pope Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno, and their place in the thought of Joseph Schumpeter, one of the 20th Century’s most famous economists. For those who did not read them, here are the links:
- An Opening Note on Schumpeter, Corporatism, and Quadragesimo Anno
- More on Schumpeter, Corporatism, and Quadragesimo Anno
- A Closing Note on Schumpeter, Corporatism, and Quadragesimo Anno
Although the idea of corporatism appears dead to many today, it was not terribly long ago that Catholics–clerical and lay–invested serious intellectual resources into both the nature of the corporatist model and how it may address the ills brought on by the advent of industrial capitalism. In a booklet published in 1941 by Our Sunday Visitor Press, What is the Corporative System?, the Catholic journalist Eileen Egan, she sets forth the following elements of the system (pgs. 6-7):
The corporative remedy starts from the basic evils. It advocates a return to ethical standards in the conduct of all business. Instead of holding out individual profit as the be-all and end-all of business enterprise, the common good would be the criterion of action.
This would bring back the idea of a just wage for the working man, that is, a wage that would provide for him and his family the physical and cultural conditions of a good life. Since it is unjust to limit the owning of property to a few, a wider distribution of property would be a necessary condition of a good social order.
Another result of bringing moral principles back into the economic life of the nation, would be the .serious attempt to create security for the ordinary wage-earner. Since the wage-earner is a man made in the image and likeness of God, he has a positive right to a just wage, a modicum of security and the ownership of some portion of the world’s goods.
If the tonic of such moral principles were injected into the sick body of our social order, the evil effects of class war would cease. As a machinery to attain such excellent ends, the [American Catholic] Bishops point to the corporative system [in their publication “The Church and Social Order.”]. It is applicable to many political frameworks, for example, republican or monarchic.. In each locality, workmen and employers of the same vocation would form unions in which both groups would actively participate for the good of all. These would band together with all other workers and employers of the same field in the entire nation.
These powerful federations, representing all interests of the vocations, would set standards of work and production to protect the public, and would promulgate and enforce just provisions of work, wages and general welfare for the wage-earner. Even agricultural and cultural pursuits could be organized in the same manner, so that no worker would be left alone and unprotected against injustice. The greater part of the work for social and economic justice would be done by the regional unions of employers and employees, but the state would have to be a watchful guardian of the rights of the weak.
This is, admittedly, a loose sketch of the corporatist system, but it should be clear enough from Egan’s words how neatly this system aligns with the social magisterial teachings of Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and, of course, Pius XI. In contemporary times, however, far too many Catholics have thought it better to pay heed to the dictates of liberal economic ideology, backed up by amoral and ostensibly disinterested “economic science,” than the bishops of their Church, including the Pope of Rome. As with all economic orientations rooted in sound Catholic social principles and the dictates of natural justice (e.g., Distributism and Solidarism), corporatism remains under-theorized. Respectable thinkers who ought to direct their attention to how a virtuous and prosperous economic order can be built in conformity with universal truth rather than on a reductionist model of man (homo economicus) have either been decided–or deceived themselves–into believing that such a project is “old hat.” All that needs to be done is for nation-states to slash taxes, remove regulatory protections for workers and consumers alike, and open their borders to unbridled trade and all will be well. So long as the economy grows, there will be “justice”; and the distribution of its fruits need not concern a soul.