The “Poisoned Spring” of Economic Liberalism: Menger, Mises, Hayek,
Rothbard: A Critique from Catholic Social Teaching of the ‘Austrian School’ of Economics by Angus Sibley. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011.
The “Poisoned Spring” in this book’s title refers to a 1931 encyclical where Pope Pius XI asserts that “The right ordering of the economic life cannot be left to a free competition of forces. For from this source, as from a poisoned spring, have originated and spread all the errors of individualist economic thinking.”
Inspired by this assertion, Angus Sibley criticizes economists associated with the so-called Austrian school as well as Americans who advocate what they call Libertarian Catholicism. Building on an impressive array of writers, including Christian ones, Sibley makes a convincing philosophical and theological case that libertarian economics is invalid and damages human welfare. He summarizes his argument using this illustration:
Capitalism is like the electric motor traditionally used in subway trains:
a very useful machine which has the peculiarity that it must never be allowed to run free when not connected to the wheel of a train. For without the restraint due to the wheel’s inertia, the motor will accelerate wildly till its rotating centre disintegrates. That does not mean that the motor is defective; it simply means that it only works properly under restraint. Likewise, our markets, when allowed to operate without an adequate framework of limitations, tend to run wild; they become financially, economically and socially destructive.
Together with Joe Holland, who contributed the book’s valuable preface, Angus Sibley has provided an insightful examination of libertarianism that reveals how it approaches an obstinate denial of the truth.
What makes this book especially timely now is that libertarianism exercises substantial influence in the United States. Look beneath the cruel policies of the Trump administration and you will find a libertarian basis. Trump’s agenda, so far as he has one, is libertarian more than conservative.
The United States needs to cast off this fear-based philosophy and rediscover instead its own profoundly communal foundation. The “Poisoned Spring” of Economic Libertarianism can be an effective resource in our national recovery from libertarian economics and its effects.
Now retired and living in Paris, Angus Sibley pursued a career in investment and became a member of the London Stock Exchange. A prolific essayist, he is also the author of Catholic Economics: Alternatives to the Jungle (Liturgical Press, 2015). Sibley’s writings are illuminating, not only for Roman Catholic readers, but for anyone who desires a fair and moral economic system.