About 35 students gathered in the Grupp Lounge on Wednesday night as Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) hosted the Reverend Robert Sirico for a lecture on economics and Catholicism.
Sirico founded the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, a nationwide “think tank” that promotes the sharing of economic and moral ideas, in 1990. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, among other places, and he has lectured at colleges such as Creighton University.
Sirico’s main points Wednesday night included a criticism of both socialism and modern capitalism, which he dubbed “crony” capitalism. He spoke for about 40 minutes and took questions from those in attendance.
His view on economics, he said, stems from an interest in anthropology. Ever since he learned as a youth that his neighbors were Holocaust survivors, Sirico said he wanted to create a world that was “just in freedom and at a level appropriate to (humans’) dignity.”
Sirico said his outlook is based on natural law and what humans “ought to be,” that is, not “animals.”
This led him to study economics. He aligned himself with socialist and Marxist groups and campaigned with actress and activist Jane Fonda in the 1960s and 1970s. At this time, he was not a Catholic, but an agnostic. He especially supported the notion of wealth redistribution to the poor.
But he never quite grasped all of the Marxist theory, he said, joking that he never finished Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital.” An argument with a conservative friend led to further discussion, and Sirico began to take a conservative stance on economics.
Wealth redistribution, he told the crowd in Grupp, cannot work because it does not address “capital,” which he symbolized as owning an orchard that produces apples as opposed to a single piece of fruit. If capital is gone, then infrastructure will fall apart, Sirico said. The free market must exist to create capital.
Sirico then argued that modern capitalism is an “abuse” of natural resources and is not a truly free market. Too many powerful people control the resources. However, it doesn’t mean the free market can’t work. “The abuse of a thing does not destroy the goodness of that thing,” he said.
His speech concluded with a round of applause from the students in attendance and a reception afterwards.
It was the first speech sponsored by the new Canisius chapter of YAF since its inception last spring. Chairman Justin Begley and Vice Chairman Victoria Fish were both in attendance at Sirico’s talk and were pleased with the turnout.
“It was totally amazing to have everyone out for what I thought was a very good lecture,” Fish said afterwards.