Formerly a left-wing activist who moved in the same circles as Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda, Father Robert Sirico shifted rightward on economic policy decades ago after debating a friend who believed in free markets.
“Throughout my life, even when I have been terribly mistaken in my ideas, I have always been open-minded and honest in looking at opposing viewpoints,” Sirico said, recalling his ideological transformation.
“So when I met a friend of a friend who had completely different ideas about how the economy functions and how society flourishes under the rule of law and economic liberty, I engaged him in the debate. He gave me a ton of books to read, which I did, and over a six-month period of time I came to the conclusion that he had the better argument.”
“It was awkward initially, because most all my friends were on the left,” he continued. “But as you see some 35-40 years later, it all worked out in the end.”
Sirico, who co-founded the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in 1990, makes the moral case for the free market system in his new book, “Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy.”
“The system of profit and loss in a free economy can orient our behavioral compass toward activities that serve others, make good use of resources, and prepare us for the future,” Sirico explained. (RELATED: AEI president urges conservatives to make moral case for free enterprise)
“It doesn’t stop people from serving evil desires or eradicate original sin, but without the price signals in a free economy, our economic activities would be without order.”
Asked whether he thinks President Obama or presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney is closer to his economic worldview, Sirico said the president “believes that a major expression of a nation’s moral and communal obligation is to be administered through governmental and political institutions.”
“Governor Romney appears to go out of his way to look for society to express itself in non-political ways,” he added. “I am not a member of either political party.”
The Daily Caller’s full interview with Sirico is below.
Why did you write the book?
I wrote “Defending the Free Market” because it is something that I have been doing, in fact, for many years. In the process of this I have seen several dangerous tendencies that result from either expecting too little of the free economy or expecting too much of it. It is difficult to find a moral case presently that identifies these mistakes and offers a coherent alternative.
When people think that there is no moral tutoring that goes on in a free economy or that profit is itself an indication of immorality, it is difficult to build a society that can confidently prosper and produce a superfluous amount of goods to supply human needs and the legitimate desire of one generation to leave the next better off that they were.
On the other hand, some people seem to have the idea that when confronting the horror of human desperation that one still encounters in the developing world, the only thing they think is required to enable people to live better is to remove controls and regulations and insure they have access to goods, services and jobs, as though culture and moral formation were not both an essential element and prerequisite for prosperity.
I wanted to bring both the practical and the moral into conversation and show how building not only a free society but a virtuous one is essential. We must have the piety of a moral vision and the practical technique of the business leader to build the kind of society worth of human beings.