August 15, 2011

Interlude: "The Catholic Herald" Enters the Fray

While we are tuning up our red herring-hunting microscope, we thought you should know that Mr. Ferrara liked the review of TCATL that appeared in the July 15, 2011 edition of The Catholic Herald (UK) and may be read here. Having a different view, of course, Dr. Thomas Woods sent the following letter to the editor, who published a truncated version.* Just keeping you all informed. 

To the editor:

My experience continues to be everywhere the same: Catholic critics of the Austrian School of economics have no idea what they are talking about.  Since their readers are in the same boat, they can—and do—get away with publishing the most ridiculous, easily refuted nonsense.
Reading the Catholic Herald’s recent review of Christopher Ferrara’s vicious book The Church and the Libertarian one is left to wonder why the recently deceased Otto von Habsburg, crown prince of Austria-Hungary, would have called the free-market Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises “one of the truly great men of our century,” or why the traditional Catholic polyglot Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn wrote so sympathetically of Mises.  Is the Herald of the opinion that these men, too, were unorthodox Catholics whom the laity ought to have shunned?
According to the review, I have “dedicated a large part of [my] writing career to attacking the papal social encyclicals, in particular, papal teaching on the just price and just wage and usury.”  The reviewer evidently knows as little about my writing career—which includes 11 books (including two New York Times bestsellers), five edited volumes, an 11-volume encyclopedia, and many hundreds of articles—as he does about Austrian economics.
My point, which is not obviously wicked or perverse, is simply this.  The phenomena that economics touches upon, which include money, banking, exchange, prices, wages, monopoly theory, and many other topics, are replete with moral significance.  No one denies that.  But the positive, scientific statements about these phenomena that constitute the discipline of economics are necessarily value neutral.  How fractional-reserve banking works is an entirely separate matter from whether it is morally acceptable.  I am suggesting in my work that this fundamental distinction is not always being respected in discussions of Catholic social teaching, and that the result has been confusion and unnecessary antagonism among decent Catholics.
I shall not attempt to reproduce my argument in a brief letter; readers can examine my writing on this subject for themselves at tomwoods.com/socialteaching and see if the Catholic Herald has treated me fairly.  (That link also includes a page-by-page refutation of Ferrara’s lawyer’s brief [i.e., that page includes a link to this blog.—A.F.].)
The reviewer has read nothing of my work on Catholic social teaching.  This means, once again, that he is not qualified to review Ferrara’s attack on it.  If the Catholic Herald has any pretensions to professionalism at all, it will assign qualified reviewers to the books it considers.
This is especially the case when the book in question is largely an extended attack on a fellow Catholic, and one with a lengthy publishing record in defense of the Church.  I am the author of How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, which has yielded nine foreign-language translations and one television series; the foreword to the Spanish translation was written by Cardinal Antonio Cañizares, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship.  I am the author of Sacred Then and Sacred Now: The Return of the Old Latin Mass, a layman’s guide to the old rite.  My book The Church Confronts Modernity may be the most sympathetic treatment of Catholicism ever to be published by an Ivy League university press.
In other words, there is a prima facie case to believe that I am not in fact an enemy of the popes, and that common decency would demand that a fellow Catholic not simply accept the characterization of my work by a longtime antagonist without reviewing it himself.
Practically every line in the review is not only wrong, but written at a schoolboy level.  The author says “Austrian Libertarianism,” a term he never defines (e.g., what is “Austrian” about it?), was founded by Mises and Murray N. Rothbard in the mid-twentieth century. The Austrian School was founded by Carl Menger in 1871.
Then we read that these men believed “the market is not governed by any moral principles.”  This is a caricature of what they said and believed.  Rothbard defended the market on moral grounds and argued that it was indeed governed by moral principles: consent, property rights, honesty, respect for individual rights, etc.
Mises, our reviewer tells us, “regarded all human action as economic action.”  No elaboration of this point, of course.  We are supposed to take this to mean that Mises, a stupid, blinkered economist, thinks everything is about money!  What he actually means is that all human action involves the employment of scarce means to attain chosen ends.  Would our reviewer actually care to deny that?  In so doing he would be employing the scarce means of his body and vocal chords to attain the end of persuading us, and thereby refuting his own position.
According to our reviewer, Mises held that “the only purpose of government is to pursue economic prosperity.”  Mises never held such a thing.  He did believe government was necessary to provide the framework in which the market order could exist, but the purpose of government in his view was to punish criminals and protect people from foreign aggression, not to promote economic growth.
Mises’ religious views, which softened over time, are irrelevant to his skill as an technical economist, particularly when we understand what economics is.  The review does nothing to contribute to that understanding.
That certain people associated with the Austrian School favor abortion is no argument at all; certain other people associated with the School, myself included, oppose abortion.  Again, what does this have to do with their ability to describe the effects of price controls?  Hilaire Belloc was sympathetic to the French Revolution, but that has not stopped the Catholic Herald from citing him on every other page.
This one is a hoot: “While the Austrians defend capitalism and free enterprise against state intervention, Ferrara notes that capitalists have always sought the intervention of the state to defend their own interests.”  How is this supposed to be an argument against the Austrians?  Since our reviewer has read nothing by any of these men, and is once again unqualified to write the review in the first place, he has no idea that the Austrians themselves—and Rothbard in particular—have meticulously documented this phenomenon themselves, condemning it in every case.
The Ferrara book disgraces the Church with its lack of charity, its confusions, its tendentious argument, its utter lack of understanding of the subject matter it confronts.  So far the only favorable words in its favor have been written by people even less familiar with the relevant material than Ferrara.  The Catholic Herald’s predictable review is no exception.
Catholic supporters of the free market have been terrorized long enough. Neither Ferrara nor the Catholic Herald will intimidate me into silence.
Cordially,
Thomas E. Woods, Jr., Ph.D.
U.S.A.

* Here is the version that appeared in print:

SIR - My experience continues to be everywhere the same: Catholic critics of the Austrian School of economics have no idea what they are talking about.
Reading Piers Shepherd’s review (Books, July 15) of Christopher Ferrara’s The Church and the Libertarian one is left to wonder why the recently deceased Otto von Habsburg, crown prince of Austria-Hungary, would have called the free-market Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises “one of the truly great men of our century” or why the traditional Catholic polyglot Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn wrote so sympathetically of Mises.
According to the review, I have “dedicated a large part of [my] writing career to attacking the papal social encyclicals, in particular, papal teaching on the just price and just wage and usury.” The reviewer evidently knows as little about my writing career—which includes 11 books (including two New York Times bestsellers), five edited volumes, an 11-volume encyclopedia, and many hundreds of articles—as he does about Austrian economics, and his characterisation of my position is false.
My book The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy has been favourably reviewed in numerous orthodox Catholic publications in the United States, and won the $50,000 first prize in the Templeton Enterprise Awards. It is, one may therefore assume, not obviously wicked or perverse. I shall not attempt to reproduce its argument here; readers can examine my writing on this subject for themselves at tomwoods.com/socialteaching. (That link also includes a page-by-page refutation of Ferrara’s lawyer’s brief.)
Your reviewer informs us that Mises “regarded all human action as economic action.” The reader is left to believe that Mises, a stupid, blinkered economist, thought everything was about money. What Mises actually meant, and what anyone who had read Mises would know, is that all human action involves the employment of scarce means to attain chosen ends.
Would Mr Shepherd actually care to deny that? I wish him luck, for in so doing he would be employing the scarce means of his body and vocal chords to attain the end of persuading us, and thereby refuting his own position.

Yours faithfully,
THOMAS WOODS