Economics/Class Relations

The Corporatist Remedy to Economic Liberalism

April 10, 2019

In the contemporary world, particularly in the West, it is commonplace for Catholics and non-Catholics alike to accept economic liberalism as not only normative, but inevitable.

That is to say, few can conceive of an economic order that does not privilege acquisition, usury, and the so-called “free market” above the common good of man in society. While economic liberalism can be dialed-up or down depending on political temperaments, the “received wisdom” from professional economists and liberal ideologues has settled on the notion that state “interference” in the market is bad per se and can only be justified in limited circumstances, such as to prevent the monopolization of certain industries or to protect common resources such as waterways. Even though most Western states, including the United States of America, have established complex regulatory apparatuses within their respective legal systems, there are continual calls for the deregulation of industry and the curtailing of social protections for workers such as the right to unionize.

It is little wonder then that the class antagonism between owners and workers that fueled so many socialist uprisings in the 19th and 20th centuries is still prevalent today. Moreover, the ideology of individualism, a pernicious outgrowth of liberal ideology proper, contributes to a socio-economic situation where the professions have been atomized and workers have lost a sense of solidarity with each other.

Although post-industrial economies such as the United States present their own unique challenges and difficulties, the wider problems associated with economic liberalism were readily apparent more than a century ago when Pope Leo XIII laid down his landmark encyclical Rerum novarum. With the rapid spread of industrialization and the global economic catastrophe wrought by unchecked avarice in the early 20th century, Pope Pius XI, in his own social encyclical Quadragesimo anno, called for a departure from liberal economic order back to a guild-based system more akin to what existed in the Middle Ages. The system Pius XI proposed is commonly referred to as corporatism.


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