This was originally written by Dorothy Day and published in the 'Catholic Worker' in the July-August 1956 issue. Its thesis is no less true today. Catholics on both sides of the political divide, those who support the Papally condemned theories of laissez-faire or free market capitalism and those who support the equally condemned theories of socialism continue to try to bury it.
Tensions in Smith’s ethical theory, however, don’t invalidate the key economic insights expressed in his Wealth of Nations (1776). Smith’s systematic outline of basic staples of economic analysis—the division of labor, incentives, trade-offs, mutually beneficial exchange, unintended consequences, comparative advantage, etc.—don’t demand his reader’s assent to neo-Humean accounts of human action.
On another side, we are witnessing a renewal of the liberal ideology. This current asserts itself both in the name of economic efficiency, and for the defence of the individual against the increasingly overwhelming hold of organizations, and as a reaction against the totalitarian tendencies of political powers. Certainly, personal initiative must be maintained and developed. But do not Christians who take this path tend to idealize liberalism in their turn, making it a proclamation in favor of freedom? They would like a new model, more adapted to present-day conditions, while easily forgetting that at the very root of philosophical liberalism is an erroneous affirmation of the autonomy of the individual in his activity, his motivation and the exercise of his liberty.
Just as the unity of human society cannot be built upon “class” conflict, so the proper ordering of economic affairs cannot be left to the free play of rugged competition. From this source, as from a polluted spring, have proceeded all the errors of the “individualistic” school. This school, forgetful or ignorant of the social and moral aspects of economic activities, regarded these as completely free and immune from any intervention by public authority, for they would have in the market place and in unregulated competition a principle of self-direction more suitable for guiding them than any created intellect which might intervene.2