This article discusses the centrality of private property and ownership for the functioning of sound economy. It draws heavily on liberal economic theories of the Austrian School of Economics and shows the coincidences with the Social Doctrine of the Church as well as with social encyclicals of the popes. Fratelli tutti seems to misjudge several of the elementary insights of liberal economics and to plead for a dangerous utopian layout of society, the author states.

In his latest encyclical Fratelli tutti Pope Francis writes that “the right to private property can only be considered a secondary natural right, derived from the principle of the universal destination of created goods.” The Pope warns us that “secondary rights displace primary and overriding rights, in practice making them irrelevant” (FT 120). Francis defends the universal destination of goods, which is often overlooked by absolutizing the right to private property.

The Pope’s reasoning is correct and has never been questioned in the Social Teaching of the Church. The Pope is right but it would be a mistake to apply this principle to justify the state redistribution of wealth. Saint Thomas Aquinas (†1274) taught that private property is a product of reason and a guarantor of peaceful social cooperation. The state is to watch over the common good, but today the state has grown to such an extent that it is not able to fulfil its main functions, that is, protecting the lives of its citizens and their properties.

Perfect World

Pope Francis calls for healing the world from a sick economy based, according to him, on exploitation, the plundering of the environment and economic inequalities highlighted by the epidemiological crisis. However, there will never be a perfect world. The temptation to think of a world in which people will not be selfish is doomed to failure. Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Spe salvi wrote that perfection does not belong to human nature, because “the power of sin will continue to be a terrible presence.”[1]

Prof. Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, an Italian economist who had advised the previous pope on the writing of the encyclical letter Caritas in veritate, took part in a webinar on the current pope’s latest encyclical. The title of the event Poveri tutti,[2] was a voice of warning against the ideas proposed by Pope Francis for solutions to economic problems. The Italian economist argued that the papal encyclical was not inspired by St. Francis of Assisi but rather by Utopia of St. Thomas More (†1535). It presents a utopian world without private property that will never come into existence.

Prof. Tedeschi reminds us that if there is something that does not work in the economy, then you should not change the world but we need to encourage people to change their hearts. Proposing a utopia instead of conversion is very dangerous. History teaches that such attempts have already ended in disaster and it was not just a utopian island of social justice, but real gulags. Leszek Kołakowski (†2009), Polish philosopher and former Marxist, warned: “Fraternity under compulsion is the most malignant idea devised in modern times; it is a perfect path to totalitarian tyranny.”[3]

Pope Francis does not call to use force, of course, but his narrative shows that universal brotherhood is for him a starting point for happiness. It is a condition for a just world. The goal of Christianity, however, is not to build the kingdom of God on earth. Fraternity is not a starting point, but a state that is constantly desired and difficult to implement in an imperfect world.

Primary Scarcity

Classical economics tells us that man strives to satisfy higher needs, but it is not possible without first satisfying his physical hunger. It is a feeling that a person experiences every day. Eating is a mundane activity only at first glance. Ludwig von Mises (†1973),[4] a twentieth century Austrian economist, argues that the goal of acting man is always to remove discomfort in the future, and not for the future in general, but for a specific period of time in the near future. Human life is conditioned by natural factors. Therefore, the most important task of a human being is to constantly struggle with the limitations imposed on him by nature. This action, that is, the conscious striving to eliminate discomfort as effectively as possible, is the task of economics. Today, however, mainstream economy has been turned upside down.

Modern politicians and economists naively believed that artificial growth of the money supply is socially beneficial, and they have completely forgotten that money comes from human labour and savings. This line of reasoning that human well-being is not limited by scarcity is one of the greatest economic illusions of our time. The scarcity of the resources available for survival, however, is not an artificial creation of man. In fact, man faces scarcity of resources every day in relation to unlimited needs. Scarcity is one of the basic concepts in economics. It is not a condition that will ever change. It has existed since man was banished from paradise. Today it is a permanent element of the created world and its constant overcoming is inscribed in the history of salvation of every human being.

However, we live in a unique place and time. It has never been so good before. Modern man has at his fingertips almost ten times more goods and services he can use than our ancestors in the nineteenth century. A Harvard historian of economics, Deirdre McCloskey, in her book Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World[5] convincingly shows that economic development, unprecedented in the world today, came from the accumulation of entrepreneurial innovations. This was only possible where there was social acceptance for entrepreneurs, and where entrepreneurs and bourgeois virtues are still despised, poverty reigns to this day. It all depends on the vision. The redistribution has never been a source of economic development. The free enterprise would not be possible without private property.

The Mystery of Capital

Private property has its own internal power to dispose of and efficiently use material goods, which cannot be replaced by anything. According to Hernando de Soto, a Peruvian economist, the private property has a capital-forming function, which consists in capturing and storing the data needed for the functioning of the market economy.[6] According to Mises, private property exists only where an individual can use his property as a factor of production in the manner that he sees best from his point of view.[7]

The countries with a high level of protection of private property experience faster economic growth, which contributes to reducing their poverty levels. The African Catholic countries close the list of the International Property Rights Index,[8] which is a comparative study describing the level of protection of property rights in individual countries around the world on which economic development depends.

The author of this index is Hernando de Soto, who in his book The Mystery of Capital proves that the world’s poor have wealth that would suffice to create an efficient free-market system, but are unable to turn their resources into capital. The people in developing countries lack the institution of private property. An obstacle is the lack of appropriate and simple legal instruments. De Soto tried to register a small tailor shop in the suburbs of Lima employing one employee. It took him 289 days and cost $ 1,231, which is the equivalent of thirty minimum wages. It is similar in other developing countries.[9]

Is Private Property Sacred?

In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, the farmer says, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” (Matt 20:15) The Church defends respect for the right to property and its enjoyment, but at the same time teaches about the universal destination of goods. Does this mean that it is more important than the property right? Is there no contradiction here?

Let us try to consider for a moment what things in this world become our property. The common sense tells us that they are scarce goods. Nobody strives or fights for air to breathe, because we normally have enough of it.

The Scriptures do not directly define the right to private property. The ownership is so natural that it is not surprising when such a state of affairs is attributed even to God Himself, the Creator of the whole world. Let us note that in the eyes of God, the Chosen People are unique and exceptional. This is why the Book of Deuteronomy says that it became his special property (Deut 7:6). The Psalmist says: “Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Ps 100:3). And in the prologue to his Gospel St. John tells us that God came “and his own people did not accept him” (John 1:11).

Original Appropriation

Now let us consider how a person can own something. Human activity results from man’s nature and the express will of the Creator: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). In the beginning there was a land that was not yet owned by anyone. Whoever appropriated it first became its natural owner. Today there is no such land anymore. It can only be acquired through voluntary contractual exchange with its owner. Goods that are the product of our work are also exchanged, so through work we also come into possession of new things.

A special bond can develop between material goods and their owner. This is clearly seen in the parable of the lost sheep. Each such sheep is, as it were, a part of God Himself, and by moving away from Him, it causes Him pain. The Good Shepherd wishes to offer each sheep eternal life and therefore watches over all, even those who are not of his flock, and lays down his life for all of them (cf. John 10:11-18). The same happens in the world of material things that become human property through personal work invested in their acquisition. Theft or destruction of such things hurts their owner. Man becomes attached to his belongings. This is not about addiction, but about the fact that when somebody loses something that is the fruit of his work as a result of aggression, he thinks he is losing a part of yourself.

The Nature of Private Property

According to Mises, private ownership of production is the basic institution of the market economy. It is a human invention and appeared in the early period of history, when people, through their own efforts and their own giving, appropriated what was previously owned by no one. This way of reasoning is close to the concept of St. Thomas Aquinas, who believed that private property came from establishing positive human law.[10] The Second Vatican Council adds that property gives a person the opportunity to perform various tasks in society and in social life.[11]

From the economic point of view, the owner is only the one who physically disposes of some economic good.[12] This way of thinking by Mises is part of the Catholic tradition for which the right to own property as private property belonging to one person was already emphasised in this sense by Pope Leo XIII (†1903) in the encyclical Rerum novarum. The Pope reminds us that the right to use material things to meet one’s real needs is a fundamental human right.[13]

The Church teaches that individual property begins with human work. Thanks to intelligence and freedom, man appropriates a part of the land for himself and makes it his dwelling.[14] Also Mises sees the origin of ownership the same way; for him, all property comes first from appropriation, and continues until the owner voluntarily relinquishes it or loses it against his will.

This line of reasoning is in line with the Christian tradition of the prohibition of theft. The seventh commandment “You shall not steal” has a negative form, but this prohibition should be understood as a norm resulting from a positive command (Exod 20:15). It is a very strong proof that the  possession of earthly goods by people is the will of God, expressed in the inspired word of the Bible. The seventh commandment defends the natural bond between man and the material things he needs and the products of his labour, because no man can do without temporal goods.[15]

God Respects Our Choices

We have said that man enters this world in possession of the goods in this world through exchange. Man is born naked from the womb, but God endows every man with talents. Talent was a common measure in Jesus’ day. One talent was about 34 kg of silver. Its value at the time was enormous and corresponded to the fifteen-year salary of an average worker. In the parable of the talents (cf. Matt 25:14-30) we see that not every servant received the same amount of talents. However, everyone was supposed to multiply them. From the very beginning, man is called by the Creator to act.

God has provided man with the necessary tools for this task. It is private property. It performs several important functions without which human action would not be possible. First of all, we could not exchange anything if we did not own something. It is not an addition to our lives, but an  indispensable element of economic calculation. The Austrian School of Economics maintains that private property has an internal power to dispose of and efficiently use material goods that can be replaced by anything else. For society to flourish and to have the foundations of stability and peace, private property is needed. Without it, there is no civilisation development. In the countries of the former Soviet Bloc, the means of production were in the hands of the state. The socialist economy collapsed. Planning and creating of an economic system based on real prices without private property is impossible. Mises wrote about it in his essay Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth (1921) in which he predicted the collapse of the socialism.

It is worth emphasizing that the possession of external goods enables man to fulfil the commandment to clothe the naked, feed the hungry or give shelter to the homeless (cf. Matt 25:35-26). Giving away someone else’s property is not charity. In his encyclical Deus caritas est, Pope Benedict XVI recalls that the just order of society and the state is a central task of politics, but the opinion that just structures make charitable works superfluous contains a materialistic, humiliating concept of man.[16]

The parable of the talents teaches us that a person receives talents in order to share them with others. They are, like the earth, destined for all people. The question is who should decide this. The Second Vatican Council teaches that private property is an extension of human freedom.[17] Within these limits, man can make his free choices. In the parable of the rich young man, Jesus respects his freedom and allows him to follow his choice. In the parable of the talents, the servant who was given one talent is held accountable for it after the Lord returns, who has not intervened beforehand. It is similar in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The younger son leaves with the rightly owed part of his father’s estate. What is the father doing? He knows his son is wrong, but he is only standing on the doorstep, looking for his return.

The Boundary of Human Choices

Mises claims that man within the free market has freedom to act in the sphere of private property and his choices are final. Christian tradition has never upheld property rights as an absolute and inviolable principle.[18] The Austrian economist says that the right to private property must be absolutely respected, but he says so as an economist. It should be emphasised, however, that the right of universal use and the universal destination of goods does not weaken, much less destroy the right of private property, which is inseparably linked to the human freedom.

Mises showed that socialist central planning and the overthrow of private property led to the elimination of economic calculation, and that this meant the end of all economic rationality. Monetary calculation is a necessary compass which enables people to move around in the social system of division of labour.[19] Depriving a person of the possibility of private ownership is a serious obstacle to free decision-making. Pope John Paul II thought that a man deprived of private property and the possibility of earning a living through his own entrepreneurship is unable to understand his dignity as a person and cannot create an authentic human community.[20]

Unlawful misappropriation of someone else’s property is not unique to totalitarian systems. Mises aptly points out that all those who exercise political power have an innate tendency to stretch their domination to control the lives of their citizens. The only obstacle standing in their way is the institution of private property. It puts limits to the authoritarian actions of governments, creating for the individual the necessary space for his autonomous intellectual and material development.[21] Beyond the sphere of private property and the market, extends—according to the Austrian philosopher—the sphere of coercion and violence. The same perception of the role of private property is present in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. According to the Fathers of the Council, individual forms of possession of goods leave each person the space “necessary for the autonomy of the person and the family, and it should be regarded as an extension of human freedom.”[22] For this reason the Church insists that property ownership should be fairly accessible to all[23] and refuses to resort to forms of “common possession.”[24]

Francis does not tell us that private property is the guarantor of human freedom and dignity, and its possession is the guarantor of family security, but this teaching had been developed by his predecessors. Private property protects the family against interference from outside by third parties, including the state, which does not always fulfil its functions, as in a world dominated by democracy it is often not based on Christian values. Private property gives man the necessary space for self-development based on his own system of values.

A personalistic concept of the right to private property was developed by Pope John Paul II. In the encyclical Centesimus annus he wrote that a person who is deprived of something he can call “his own” comes to depend on the state and this lack of freedom makes for him more difficult to recognise his dignity as a human person.[25] A man created in the image and likeness of God the Creator himself is a creator and nowhere does he fulfil his vocation so strongly as in carrying out everyday tasks in the field of economics.[26]

Universal Destination of Goods

This is where we come to the question we asked at the starting point. Is the principle of universal use and the universal destination of goods more important than private property? The answer is positive, but this does not mean that private property is considered an impersonal means to an overarching end which can be detached from the acting man. Private property is integrally related to a specific person and is in accordance with the will of the Creator, if the acquisition of these goods took place in accordance with God’s commandments.

This personalistic line of reasoning sheds a different light on the understanding of the principle of the universal destination of goods. We can see that this principle can be realised in a world based on respect for private property. Nobody needs to intervene from the outside. There is, of course, the age-old temptation for someone to oversee the just distribution of goods. Certainly, external  structures are needed, and it is something like the state, for man is a social being and would violate the rights of third parties without control, but such interventionism cannot reduce the human person to one of the soulless elements of the social machine. God is patient and gives us time to act. He takes us seriously, especially our freedom, which is the foundation of the human person as an independent subject of moral decisions supported by God’s grace.

Assisi Conference

The Pope warns that private property should not become an end in itself. He often repeats that there is no social justice in the world based on inequality and means a concentration of wealth. The  economists who share the pope’s view were invited to Assisi last year for the conference The Economy of Francesco.[27] Among the invited speakers was Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi economist and author of the book A World of Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions[28] in which he calls for the construction of a new economic order. He says how it should be without considering two things.

He does not notice that in the world of everyday life we struggle with the scarcity of resources in relation to unlimited needs. The second thing is the misconception that the ideas of equality and justice are the same. Friedrich A. von Hayek (†1992) points out that the purported goal of social justice, which is to eliminate economic inequalities, does not take into account the simple fact that these disparities are largely the result of individuals’ own choices and could only be achieved by controlling human choices.[29]

The economic inequality, however, is not bad in itself. It is a derivative of human freedom and God-given talents. St. Józef Bilczewski(†1923), a bishop of Lvov, taught that if we gave everyone the same chances, in the end it turns out that we have the poor and the rich, because the talent and savings of some, and the stupidity and extravagance of others, would recreate the wealth gap.[30]

Pope John XXIII (†1958) in his encyclical Mater et magistra identified three stages which are usually expressed in three terms: look, judge, act to apply the Church’s teachings on social matters to specific circumstances.[31] Today we lack in the Church the right tools to analyse human behaviour in the economic sphere. It is not enough to invite young people inspired by the encyclical Laudato si’ to the online event in Assisi (19-21 November, 2020) and ask them how they would like to change the world.

All invited guests, including the aforementioned Yunus and Kate Raworth, an author of Donut Economics, who was hailed as the John Keynes of the 21st century, cited the Oxfam report on wealth inequality in the world. It is not enough to refer only to the statistics. The average observer can see that billions of people worldwide benefit from today’s development. William Nordhouse, an American Nobel Prize winner in economics, would say that only a modest 2.2 percent of the profit from innovation is left to their creators, and the rest goes to the society.[32]

During the conferees that I followed online there was a long list of dreams that provoke and encourage reflection on the state of the modern economy and the world itself, but the vision of a world in which people will not be driven by profit is a utopia. The opposite of profit is loss. Not only today capitalism is criticised for exploitation, the pursuit of profit, poverty, unemployment and deepening social stratification. One man who tried to put this into practice was Robert Owen (†1858), a Welsh entrepreneur and socialist activist. At his textile factories in New Lanark in Scotland, he wanted to improve the position of his workers by building cheap housing, schools, reducing the working day and increasing wages. In rejecting private property, he failed.

Guaranteed Income

We began our analysis by saying that it would be a mistake to reduce the principle of universal destination of goods to the state redistribution of wealth. The proposal of the salario universal, which Pope Francis mentioned in his Easter letter to the leaders of social movements, goes into this direction. The Pope wrote that the time has come for states to consider such income as an aid to the poorest. Cardinal Michael Czerny SJ explained that this should not be understood as the Spanish equivalent of a basic universal income, but a different concept, derived from the Pope’s Argentine origin and his commitment to cartoneros. This is a Spanish name used to describe those who collect cardboard and paper products for remuneration in Buenos Aires.[33]

It should be emphasised, however, that this expression is conceptually similar to the concept of unconditional basic income and has been understood as such by the mainstream media. It is an idea which is supposed to provide each citizen with a fixed “salary” paid by the state. This idea is today supported by more and more politicians. Experiments with the unconditional basic income have been going on in the world for many years. The Finnish government some time ago decided to give a group of 2,000 citizens 560 Euro for this project, but after a year suspended the experiment.[34] Four years ago, a referendum was held in Switzerland in which 78% of Swiss people rejected the idea of introducing an unconditional basic income.[35]

Common sense dictates that this idea is dangerous. If this income is to be guaranteed, someone has to guarantee it. It is guaranteed by the government, and the government does not have money, except for money that it will take from taxpayers, so someone has to work. If someone has to work for someone else, he becomes a slave of the one he works for. What can be most troublesome for this idea is the traditional Social Teaching of the Church, which emphasises the importance and dignity of human labour for personal development. Paying people, whether they work or not, can seem like an offense to such ethics.

Inclusive Capitalism

The temptation to build a better world arises in every generation. Even the Apostles, who meant God’s Kingdom to be the earthly one, were not free of it. It is not surprising then that at the end of the last century politicians wanted to build something between socialism and capitalism. They argued that there is no system without flaws. Socialism limits economic freedom and introduces a state monopoly, and capitalism causes unemployment and income disparities. The ideas of many Social Democrats and Social Liberals were also taken up by many commentators of the Catholic Social Doctrine of the Church, who saw in the intervention of the state a rescue for a healed economy.

The combination of socialism and capitalism failed to create the free economy that John Paul II wrote about in his encyclical Centesimus annus two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This was made impossible by state intervention, which created regulatory barriers around many industries, increasing the costs of setting up new companies. Existing corporations have bargained with the government to create rules and regulations that favour the status quo while restricting and damaging competition. In extreme cases, governments granted monopoly privileges to certain companies.

A new idea for creating a better world today is to replace corporate capitalism with global capitalism. This initiative came from the participants of the Fortune-Time Global Forum held in the Vatican at the beginning of December 2016.[36] The representatives of the world’s largest corporations in terms of revenues want to create a more inclusive and humane global economy and help fight poverty and solve the problem of refugees around the world. Subsequent negotiations of the so called inclusive capitalism with the Vatican resulted in the establishment of the Council for Inclusive Capitalism, a movement of the world’s business and public sector leaders, chaired by Lynn Forester de Rothschild who is the chief executive officer of E. L. Rothschild, a holding company.

Card. Peter Turkson from Ghana, a chairman of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, who conducts this dialogue on the Vatican side, told the American National Catholic Register in an extensive interview that capitalism cannot rely on sprinkling some small things on people that entrepreneurs dispose of.[37] The trickle-down economics is a populist term for an economic policy favourable to the richest or privileged. In fact, such a theory does not exist. Nobody has found its author in the published works on economics. Those who believe in it say that if you take the wealthy away less in the form of taxes, their wealth will somehow trickle down on the poor and make their lives better. Francis was right when he wrote about it in Evangelii gaudium 54 that the world cannot function like the “trickle-down theory,” but dialogue with the corporations that benefit from state protectionism will unfortunately mean putting this theory into practice.

Capitalism does not have to be corrected and improved. By its very nature, it is inclusive. An entrepreneur who is closed to the needs of another person will never be successful. The way to get rich in an open economy is to offer services to a wide range of consumers. The road to wealth begins with an idea and the arduous process of reaching people with it. Capitalism should be circumscribed within a strong juridical framework as John Paul II wrote about in Centesimus annus. For the Polish Pope, the capitalism which “recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production” is the best economic system. However, John Paul II makes one important condition. The economic freedom must be included “within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious.”[38]

Pope John Paul II’s reasoning indicates the important role of the state, because man as a social being needs order and law. The Scriptures justify the authority of state power as a corollary to God’s power over the world, but this power must be just and serve its citizens. These conditions are met by the minimum state, which is limited to the minimum intervention necessary for the proper functioning of civil society and ensuring the existence of the market. In the countries where governments have too much power, rulers are prone to use violence, levy high taxes and demand worship at the expense of God.

Freedom of Action in the Sphere of Private Property

Finally, let us look at the benefits of private property. In the contemporary Social Teaching of the Church the idea frequently comes up that public authority has the right to ensure that someone does not abuse private property to the detriment of the public good.[39] John Paul II adds and explains that surrogate state interventions should be as limited in time as possible so they do not lead to the emergence of a new type of state—the welfare state.[40]

The Council Fathers suggest that property often becomes an occasion of greed that becomes a pretext for questioning the law itself. Economics considers this way of thinking to be inappropriate because its authors do not see the importance of the forces which condemn the functioning of the market as immoral.[41] The market is not dealing with ideal units. It must consider man as he is. Replacing the profit motive, which is the leading factor in private ownership of the means of production, with “moral” motives would destroy the purposefulness and efficiency of the market. Egoism, greed, the individual’s striving to achieve his own goals do not contradict the overall social process of production as long as man, acting for his own interests, remains in the space delimited by the boundaries of private property.

In the Social Teaching of the Church one of the main arguments for private property is that it is essential for the maintenance and protection of the family. Leo XIII taught that family property, to which family has primacy over the state, is a factor of family unity and the strengthening of the permanence of the family community.[42] It allows each family to take on a legacy which it then passes on to their children. Family ownership also ensures family autonomy and protects against state interference in the life of the family community, into which it has the right to enter only when the family needs such help. Private property provides the family with the necessary living space for the development of individuals and their talents. Pope Pius XI repeats the teaching of Leo XIII and emphasises that material goods owned by man must serve the ultimate goal of eternal happiness.[43]

Economists from the Austrian School of Economics emphasise that the essence of society is cooperation, in which each participant sees the success of his partner as a means to achieve his own goal. Society allows all people who work together to achieve their own goals. Achieving one’s goals through private property is part of the universal destination of goods.

Michael Novak, American theologian and economist, emphasises that in traditional societies, each of its members knew everyone else due to the ongoing closeness between them.[44] Completely different relationships reign today in modern societies. People do not know about other people’s lives and work. Many people consider such a spontaneous form of unguided order as an illusion or magic. This is due to the belief that there is no ruler behind this order. But today, the complex operation of demand, supply, and prices is not the product of one intelligence, but many. Guided by their own good, participants of the free market try to satisfy the claims of other participants and adapt their behaviour to them.

The ultimate result of market activities is the achievement of a high level of voluntary cooperation. Difference is a fact. God created the world in infinite and inexhaustible variety. Pope Leo XIII appropriately noted that collective life requires various talents, and that people are prompted to undertake specific tasks above all by their personal differences.[45] Thanks to cooperation, people are able to achieve not only what they could not do on their own, but such work also becomes more profitable. The division also provides opportunities for the further development of individual talents.


Our analysis ultimately leads us to the conclusion that the principle of universal use and the universal destination of goods can only be fully realised within free market structures based on full respect for private property without resorting to state intervention. This corresponds to the Social Teaching of the Church, for which private property is not only a tool to respect the principle of the universal destination of goods, but also a natural extension of the sphere of human freedom and together with the person it constitutes a whole in itself, giving them a new quality in personal relations in the society. Pope Francis’ teaching included in his latest encyclical Fratelli tutti is an important warning that private property should never become an end, but only a means of building up the Kingdom of God, which has its beginning here on earth. However, any attempt of healing the sick economy cannot be conducted with overlooking the private property as a mean to achieve this goal.


In diesem Artikel wird die zentrale Bedeutung von Privateigentum und Besitz für das Funktionieren einer gesunden Wirtschaft erörtert. Der Autor stützt sich stark auf liberale Wirtschaftstheorien der Österreichischen Schule der Nationalökonomie und zeigt die Übereinstimmungen mit der Soziallehre der Kirche sowie mit Sozialenzykliken der Päpste auf. FT scheint einige der elementaren Erkenntnisse der liberalen Ökonomie zu verkennen und für einen gefährlichen utopischen Gesellschaftsentwurf zu plädieren, stellt der Autor fest.

Este artículo analiza la centralidad de la propiedad privada y la titularidad para el funcionamiento de una economía sana. Se basa en gran medida en las teorías económicas liberales de la Escuela Austriaca de Economía y muestra las coincidencias con la Doctrina Social de la Iglesia, así como con las encíclicas sociales de los papas. El autor afirma que FT parece equivocarse respecto a varias ideas elementales de la economía liberal, ya que aboga por un peligroso diseño utópico de la sociedad.

Cet article traite de la centralité de la propriété privée et de la possession pour le fonctionnement d’une saine économie. Il s’appuie largement sur les théories économiques libérales de l’École autrichienne d’économie et montre leur coïncidence avec la doctrine sociale de l’Église ainsi qu’avec les encycliques sociales des papes. L’auteur pense que FT méjuge plusieurs des intuitions élémentaires de l’économie libérale et plaide pour un dangereux et utopique schéma de société.


Jacek Gniadek, SVD, born in 1963 in Poland, worked as a missionary in Congo, Botswana, Liberia and Zambia. He holds a BA in African Studies from UNISA (Pretoria, South Africa, 2004), a PhD in Moral Theology from Stefan Wyszyński Catholic University of Warsaw (Poland, 2009). He is the author of two books: Two People from Galicia. The Concept of the Human Person according to Ludwig von Mises and Karol Wojtyła and God’s and Human Economy. Free Market Sermons. Since 2016, he works again in Poland as Director of the Fu Shenfu Migrant Centre (, as President of the Sinicum Association Michał Boym SJ (, and collaborates with ASBIRO Foundation on an educational project in Zambia (

Jacek Gniadek SVD, The Economy of Francis without Private Property, Verbum SVD 4/2022, p. 499-515.

[1] Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, 36.

[2] Webinarium (18th Nov 2020): Poveri Tutti: all’economia fa bene la conversione non l’utopia,

[3] Leszek Kołakowski, What Is Left of Socialism,

[4] Ludwig von Mises, Ludzkie działanie: traktat o ekonomii [Human Action,A Treatise on Economics], Warszawa 2007, 11. In this analysis I refer to Mises and his praxeology which became the methodology of the Austrian

School of Economics because it helps to understand and describe human action in the socio-economic sphere from the perspective of Christian personalism. His attention is focused on the human being and his or her dignity, which is realised in free action. This approach is not yet enough emphasised in the Social Teaching of the Church. Jacek Gniadek SVD, Ludwig von Mises’s Praxeology as the Foundation of Christian Economic Personalism: Studies in Logic, Grammar and Rhetoric 57 (70.2019) 7-17.

[5] Deirdre McCloskey, Burżuazyjna godność. Dlaczego ekonomia nie potrafi wyjaśnić współczesnego świata, Warszawa 2018.

[6] Hernando de Soto, Tajemnica kapitału. Dlaczego kapitalizm triumfuje na Zachodzie, a zawodzi gdzie indziej, [The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else], Warszawa–Chicago

2002, 86.

[7] L. von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, Indianapolis 1981, 245.

[8] International Property Rights Index,

[9] De Soto, Tajemnica kapitału, 39.

[10] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II–II, q. 66, art. 2.

[11] Vatican Council II (1965), Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et spes, 71.

[12] L. von Mises, Socialism, 27.

[13] Leo XIII, Rerum novarum, 7.

[14] John Paul II, Centesimus annus, 31.

[15] A. Chafuan, Religijne korzenie własności prywatnej, in: Kradzież a rozwój gospodarczy [Religious roots of private property, in: Theft and economic development], Warszawa 2006, 34.

[16] Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 28.

[17] Gaudium et spes, 71.

[18] John Paul II, Laborem exercens, 14.

[19] L. von Mises, Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth, Auburn 1990, 17.

[20] Centesimus annus, 13.

[21] L. von Mises, Liberalizm w tradycji klasycznej [Liberalism: The Classical Tradition], Kraków 2004, 97.

[22] Gaudium et spes, 71.

[23] Centesimus annus, 6.

[24] Rerum novarum, 12.

[25] Centesimus annus, 13.

[26] M. Novak, Liberalizm – sprzymierzeniec czy wróg Kościoła [Liberalism – An ally or enemy of the Church], Poznań 1993, 220-221.

[27] March 24 to 25, 2020, see

[28] Hachette India, 2017.

[29] Friedrich A. von Hayek, Zgubna pycha rozumu. O błędach socjalizmu [The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism], Warszawa 2004, 178-181.

[30] Józef Bilczewski, Listy pasterskie, Vol. I [Pastoral letters], Lwów–Kraków 2005, 100.

[31] John XXIII, Mater et magistra, 236.

[32] Matt Nesvisky, Who Gains from Innovation?

[33] In Easter message, Pope Francis proposes ‘universal basic wage,’


[34] Finland Will End Its Experiment With Universal Basic Income After a Two-Year Trial,

[35] Swiss voters reject proposal to give basic income to every adult and child,

[36] Greeting of His Holiness Pope Francis to Participants of the Fortune-Time Global Forum, 3 December 2016,

[37] Cardinal Turkson Discusses Vatican Involvement in Global Economic Projects,

[38] Centesimus annus, 42.

[39] Gaudium et spes, 71.

[40] Centesimus annus, 48.

[41] L. von Mises, Interwencjonizm, 32.

[42] Rerum novarum, 6.

[43] Pius XI, Quadragesimo anno, 118.

[44] Michael Novak, Wolne osoby i dobro wspólne [Free Persons and the Common Good], Kraków 1998, 110.

[45] Rerum novarum, 14.

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