September 10, 2012

David Gordon Remembers Jim Sadowsky

Upon my return from the wake for James Sadowsky, SJ, I saw an email from his (and my) long-time friend David Gordon, to which was attached the text of his tribute to him, published this morning on  I called him to thank him for the near-perfect remembrance, especially the recollection of several of "Jim's" many jokes, and for the kind insertion of links that provide David's readers immediate access to the text of almost all of Father Sadowsky's published writings. David's essay will bring them a new readership.

Most of the wake's few attendees had not a clue about the libertarian side of their fellow Jesuit, or even that, as a teenager in 1939, he had converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. James Sadowsky's influence lies mainly in the future.

As I knelt before his mortal remains (which the closed-casket funeral tomorrow morning will make impossible), the absence of the labored breathing that had recently encumbered his speaking had a calming effect. I thanked God for gracing me with a friend who was a man of great faith and intellectual integrity, both attributes enlivened by sharp wit. With the help of His grace I will never allow James Sadowsky's memory to fade.

Tony Flood

September 7, 2012

James A. Sadowsky, SJ, December 28, 1923 - September 7, 2012: R.I.P.

It is with great sadness that I must devote this post, the site's hundredth, to the passing of James A. Sadowsky, SJ. He died this morning in his room at Murray-Weigel Hall, the Jesuit infirmary on the campus of Fordham University, where he had taught philosophy from 1960 until his retirement in 1998. The time of death was called at 6:00 A.M., but it occurred at an undetermined time shortly before. 

When I visited him a few weeks ago (as I had done almost monthly since his transfer to the infirmary last fall), he had difficulty remembering who I was. "My mind is shot," he retorted that afternoon when I had to repeat a bit of information I was sure was still accessible to him. Anyone who had personally encountered that mind when it was operating on all cylinders can imagine how painful the realization of that loss must have been for him. 

Father Sadowsky and Murray Rothbard were friends and influenced each other philosophically from the early '60s until Murray's passing in 1995. I plan to share my memories of this exemplary anarcho-Catholic priest, whom it was my good fortune to call a friend since 1983, in the near future. Until then, please see earlier posts about him on this blog and many of his articles on my site. And please pray for the repose of his soul.

July 24, 2012

Ethics and Capitalism: An Interview with James A. Sadowsky, S.J.—Part 9 of 9

The Clergy and the Economy
To what extent do you believe that the clergy may intervene in temporal matters, like politics and economics?
Well, I don’t believe a person loses his right to pronounce on matters of importance just because he’s an ordained priest.  Why should he?
Don't you believe it entails exercising moral authority to influence the consciences of Catholics in matters over which there is freedom of choice?
There is freedom of choice, and persons ought to exercise it. Look, take the case of the North American Bishops letter on the economy; they did not try to oblige the faithful to accept everything they said. They tried only to persuade them that their point of view was correct.
So the bishops granted that North American Catholics are free to disagree with what they expressed in that letter?
Those bishops said they welcomed a debate. Is there something wrong with that?
Do you believe that, by publishing this letter, they enjoy a special moral authority that they laity do not have?
No. In this instance there was no such pretension. Although I disagreed with much of this letter’s content, I believe it to be a model of the way bishops ought to comport themselves, that is, trying to persuade people of the merits of their position. At no moment did they say, “anyone who disagrees is outside of the Church.” In summary, I believe that the clergy have the same right as anyone else to speak out. They ask that others listen, but not necessarily agree with them about everything. Now, I also believe that it is certain that the clergy have generally not taken enough notice of what economics teaches. It is important, however, that the North American bishops seek to persuade and not oblige.  As Catholics we ought to listen with special attention to what they have to say.
Do you believe that the Church ought to exercise a preferential option for the poor?
Yes. I believe that we ought always to have a special consideration for the weakest and least fortunate members of our society.
How should the preferential option be expressed?
This is an empirical question. If we want to eliminate illness, whom do we call upon? Doctors. If we want to eliminate poverty, we ought to consult economists.
What do you think about what is called the economics of solidarity?
I’m not sure what they want to say. Certainly in the market economy there is solidarity between employers and workers, for example, because there exists a community of interests. The real conflict is among different employers and among different workers. The Marxist myth of worker solidarity is nonsense, because the workers hate each other, and the same goes for the capitalists. If you want to buy a house, you do not have a conflict of interest with the seller: your enemies are others who want to buy. With the seller you have a common objective, which is to arrive at a contract.
What is the relation between ethics and economics?
There cannot be a conflict between ethics and economics, because ethics is prescriptive and economics is descriptive. Economics shows you the probable effects of certain policies, while ethics teaches what ought to be done.
Would you like the Pope and the bishops to support capitalism openly?
Well, if they are going to support capitalism or something else, I would prefer that they support capitalism, but ideally they shouldn’t support either one. People who go to Mass on Sundays should be able to leave their political ideas outside.
When you say that the objectives of the preferential option for the poor are realized better under a free and competitive market economy, are you speaking as a priest or as an economist?
As an economist. 
End of Interview. For Part 1, go here.

July 23, 2012

Ethics and Capitalism: An Interview with James A. Sadowsky, S.J.—Part 8 of 9

The Minimum Wage
Do you believe that under certain circumstances the setting of a minimum wage can help the poor?
The minimum wage works to exclude all those whose services are valued at less than that minimum and, therefore, prevents them from obtaining employment and, further, from acquiring the habits conducive to attaining better positions.
Do you believe that the rich have an obligation to help the poor?
How ought they show it?
By being charitable, by helping the poor in effective ways, not only by giving money, but also giving alms, building orphanages, etc.  These are things that Christians have always done, and it is hoped that the rich will do likewise. It is more effective to appeal to generosity than to guilt.
Don’t you believe that the state ought to favor certain segments of society that cannot compete freely in the market?
Absent regulations, most people can compete. In a genuinely free market, those who can’t are few in number, and it is easier for private charity to take care of them than for state interventionists to grant them rights, for that only increases the number of the needy.
What effects on individual and collective morality do you attribute to state intervention?
In Russia, the transformation of a way of life was the fault, not of individuals, but of the system. In the United States and Great Britain, the welfare state increased debt and marginalized the familySome blame the decline of the family on a permissive society, but I blame it on the government's assuming the family’s traditional role. People can see that they are obliged to play that role, not by coercion but by market forces. It is the welfare state that has obscured individual responsibility and undermined what we call family values.  Families are the result of natural necessity; they were not invented when a group decided “Let’s have families.” 
To Be Continued

July 22, 2012

Ethics and Capitalism: An Interview with James A. Sadowsky, S.J.—Part 7 of 9

Private Property and the Common Good
You say private property is an imperative of human nature.
I’ve already cited Leo XIII. It’s the only rational way to allocate resources.  If people aren’t allowed to keep the fruit of their labor, they’ll have little incentive to produce. Private property rationalizes production and increases well-being.
If private property is that central to being human, what happens to those human beings who don’t have any?
They’re in a better situation than if no one did. In most cases, everyone has some private property.  But, even so, the fact that someone has private property benefits those who have none.
Just how does the private property of a few benefit the whole?
The benefit isn’t a function  of the paucity of property owners, but from the very existence of private property. The market constrains producers to produce for the satisfaction of society.
Do you believe that the right of property ought to be limited for the common good?
It is important that the owner administer his property in such a way that it benefits the commonweal. How is that brought about? The problem is not whether or not controls exist, but rather whether they are exercised by market forces or by state regulation and intervention.  I maintain that the market solves this problem perfectly. Producers who do not adequately satisfy society’s needs very soon find themselves without property.
Do you believe the laws of the market ought always to function without intervention?
Yes, except when it results in harm to others, like fraud, pollution, etc.
But during wartime, for example, we resort to rationing and controls.
I agree with Henry Hazlitt, who held that precisely in times of war it is imperative that the market works freely. The greater the emergency, the greater the necessity not to intervene in the market’s functioning.  Rationing ought never be permitted, because it results in shortages.
The Church seems to favor the laws of the market, except when it comes to wages, and so she asserts that there ought to be a “living wage,” a just wage that permits dignified living.  What is your opinion?
There should be no intervention in the setting of wages. It is good to create conditions that permit adequate compensation for labor. But I don’t believe that that’s accomplished by intervening in labor markets. That only creates benefits for some at the expense of others or in the idleness of those “benefited. If employers have the capacity to pay an adequate salary, the market obliges them to pay it.
To Be Continued

July 21, 2012

Ethics and Capitalism: An Interview with James A. Sadowsky, S.J.—Part 6 of 9

Economic Laws
Do you believe that immutable laws exist in the economy?
But how are they established? The natural sciences permit the isolation of variables for the purpose of experimentation, but that’s not possible in the social sciences, where human complexity intervenes.
By means of mental experiments. One shouldn’t confuse prediction with the immutability of law.
But, to analyze the problem of inflation, for example, we have to factor in not only quantifiable aspects, but also intangibles, such as expectations, perceptions, etc., about which we cannot formulate immutable laws.
No, but let’s take another example: the minimum wage.  Can we say that the establishment of a minimum wage leads to unemployment? Not necessarily.  We would have to say that it would tend to increase idleness, but another factor, such as an increase in demand, can intervene, which can alter the expected result.
In what sense do you claim that the laws of economics are the “laws of God”?
In the same sense that physical or biological laws are, because they are an expression of the nature of things God has made.
How do you reconcile the idea of free will with these immutable laws that condition human behavior?
How do you reconcile the idea of free will with the immutability of the law of gravity? Look, if you throw me out of an airplane, I’m going to fall. One is free to be thrown or not, but not free not to fall if that happens.  Freedom pertains to the action that produces a determinate result, but not with the capacity to avoid those results.
If economic laws are so evident and immutable, why do economists differ in a way that natural scientists do not seem to?
They do not disagree about whether or not there are laws that are immutable. They disagree about whether a given law is immutable. I believe, however, that differences between economists are few and far between and these are greatly exaggerated. Between Paul Samuelson and Milton Friedman there might be ten pages of disagreement. In general, the disagreements do not concern laws, but rather politics, policy recommendations. In any case, physicists also disagree with each other. The major difference is that economists seek to establish not only laws, but also social priorities and policies. But by doing the latter they are not supplying economic answers. 
To Be Continued

July 20, 2012

Ethics and Capitalism: An Interview with James A. Sadowsky, S.J.—Part 5 of 9

The Distribution of Wealth
Some have said that capitalism is efficient for producing wealth, and so is an advance over socialism, which only distributes poverty.  A really effective means of distributing wealth, however, has not been found.
Of course it hasn’t, because the market does not distribute wealth.
What is the Church’s position on the distribution of wealth?
As far as I know, there is no official teaching that holds that the equality of wealth would be desirable.  What is wanted is a way to secure for all the satisfaction of their basic needs, not equality per se.  Leo XIII held [in Rerum Novarum] that “a transfer of private goods from private individuals to the community” in order to remedy existing evils “through dividing wealth and benefits equally among the citizens,” is a program “so unsuited for terminating the conflict that it actually injures the workers themselves.  Moreover, it is highly unjust, because it violates the rights of lawful owners, perverts the functions of the State, and throws governments into utter confusion.”
To what extent is economics a science like the natural or “exact” sciences?
I believe it is just like them.
But do you believe it has the same predictive power
No. Economics cannot predict anything.  If you maintain that, in order for something to be a science, it must have the power to predict, then I would say that economics is not a science in that sense, but rather in an older sense of the term.
To Be Continued