The Rockford Files

A Third Way

The American love of free enterprise has been one of this country’s greatest blessings.  The same, however, cannot be said unequivocally of the economic individualism that we too often assume is an indispensable part of the free-enterprise system.  The fundamental fallacy of that assumption should be obvious: Every economic transaction, by definition, requires more than one actor.  Ideally (as libertarians never cease to remind us), every party to an economic transaction should benefit from it.  Realistically (as both experience and the tradition of Catholic social teaching makes clear), it’s often the case that some benefit more than others or even at the expense of others, and economic individualism (which an older tradition might have called avarice) is the primary culprit.  After all, if we all agree that the main concern of an economic actor should be to maximize his own profit, and he sees a way to do so by, say, exploiting the ignorance of his trading partner, what possible objection can we raise?

Too much of the debate over free trade and the survival of American manufacturing has taken place in these terms.  In reality, American manufacturers are not a monolith.  Large manufacturers—particularly multinational, publicly held corporations—often have economic interests that are very different from those of small, local, family-owned companies.  With the massive...

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