In a recent First Things column, editor R.R. Reno confirmed that the magazine founded by Father Richard John Neuhaus has substantially revised its hitherto generally positive view of the market economy.
This formal shift toward what I’ll call “One Reluctant Cheer for—and Many Doubts about—Capitalism” was no surprise for regular First Things readers. In recent years, some First Things authors have expressed considerable criticisms of global capitalism’s social, economic, and cultural impact, and reservations about the thinking underlining various free market positions. One 2016 article, entitled “Mammon Ascendant: Why Global Capitalism is Inimical to Christianity,” even claimed that possessing private wealth was an intrinsic evil.
Reno’s recent piece contains several observations about Western societies with which few religiously informed conservatives would disagree. Examples include Reno’s warnings about how authoritarian liberalism is now crushing freedom in the name of “diversity,” his criticisms of a transnational political class that can’t disguise its contempt for non-members, and his highlighting of corporate America’s intellectual feebleness and moral cowardice in the face of liberal social agendas.
Nonetheless, I believe that parts of Reno’s argument about free markets are seriously flawed. One such part concerns his claims about global capitalism’s alleged triumph. The second involves his critique of the late Michael Novak’s work, specifically Novak’s masterpiece The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (1982).
Has Capitalism Won?
As Reno notes, the global and American economies are now vastly different from what they were when Novak’s Spirit appeared. The volume of trade between countries today dwarfs the scale of international commerce in the 1980s. We have also witnessed enormous changes in the American economy’s composition. Technologically speaking, Americans live in an utterly different world than they did during Reagan’s presidency.
Read more at the Public Discourse.