The man makes lots of sense, except when he starts spouting about the miracles of the free market and the (modified Catholic version of) the prosperity gospel.
Here is a snippet from his latest syndicated column:
And that, from a Catholic social doctrine point of view, is the key to understanding the demise of the post-World War II social welfare state: it’s eroded the moral culture that makes free and responsible citizenship in self-governing democracies possible. Yuval Levin again: “The attempt to rescue the citizen from the burdens of responsibility has undermined the family, self-reliance and self-government”—and it has done this, not from a lack of compassion or resources, but because the social welfare state by its nature creates dependencies that erode the virtues necessary for genuine human flourishing.
Yes, the social welfare system creates dependencies. And bureaucracies. But guess what? Those things are features of modern life anyway. Ask the cubicle slave in a gigantic multinational, the kid doing unpaid work experience because it's the only way to break into his chosen profession, or the woman desperately trying to use her bank's helpline but unable to get past the pre-recorded menu, none of whose options have anything to do with what she wants to ask about.
How about this-- untrammeled commercialism has undermined the family (parents who never see their kids because they're working all hours), self-reliance (how will that look on my CV?) and self-government (give me some more of that addictive Happy Meal NOW!). That seems to make just as much sense to me as Weigel's finger-pointing at government. What about the evils of big business, Mr. Weigel?
People like George Weigel talk as though social welfare is the only thing holding an unemployed man back from marching to the unowned virgin forest ten miles from his home and carving out a plantation for himself. Piffle, pure and simple.
Those who believe the social doctrine of the Church is compatible with neoliberal economics, anarcho-capitalism, or other laissez-faire social philosophies seem to be simply ignoring the actual teachings of the Church to which they belong. Take, for instance, John Paul the Second's enyclical Centesimus Annus, itself drawing on Leo XIII's famous Rerum Novarum, the definitive anti-free market pronouncement of the Church's magisterium:
Rerum novarum is opposed to State control of the means of production, which would reduce every citizen to being a "cog" in the State machine. It is no less forceful in criticizing a concept of the State which completely excludes the economic sector from the State's range of interest and action. There is certainly a legitimate sphere of autonomy in economic life which the State should not enter. The State, however, has the task of determining the juridical framework within which economic affairs are to be conducted, and thus of safeguarding the prerequisites of a free economy, which presumes a certain equality between the parties, such that one party would not be so powerful as practically to reduce the other to subservience.
In this regard, Rerum Novarum points the way to just reforms which can restore dignity to work as the free activity of man. These reforms imply that society and the State will both assume responsibility, especially for protecting the worker from the nightmare of unemployment...
Furthermore, society and the State must ensure wage levels adequate for the maintenance of the worker and his family, including a certain amount for savings...
Finally, "humane" working hours and adequate free-time need to be guaranteed, as well as the right to express one's own personality at the work-place without suffering any affront to one's conscience or personal dignity. This is the place to mention once more the role of trade unions, not only in negotiating contracts, but also as "places" where workers can express themselves. They serve the development of an authentic culture of work and help workers to share in a fully human way in the life of their place of employment.
No mention of social welfare, you might say. But I think you would also agree the whole tone and rhetoric is very different from the "get the Jerry Springer-watching bums off their asses and let the laws of supply and demand do their miraculous work" style language of of market romanticists.
Yes, perhaps my reaction is emotional. But if the champions of the free market (including other Catholics such as Thomas E. Woods and Ireland's own Gerard Casey) ever mentioned the evils of impersonal market forces and the need to balance them with other (not necessarily governmental) institutions, I would be a lot less suspicious.
I'm with the Popes, not the Catholic market romanticists.
P.S. Even though I am a Chestertonian, I am not a Distributist, though I sympathise with the goals and vision of the Distributists. I just don't find their programme convincing. Nor do I claim to understand economics, but I don't think you have to understand economics to be highly sceptical of this rather mystical faith in market forces that seems more and more prevalent in our era-- even amongst Catholics, who should be immune to superstition.