February 18, 2017


5 Facts about Michael Novak (JOE CARTER, February 17, 2017, Acton)

3. In 1982, Novak published what many consider his most important and influential book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. As AEI president Arthur C. Brooks says, the book "advanced a bold and important thesis: America's system of democratic capitalism represents a fusion of our political, economic, and moral-cultural systems." The book was illegally distributed in Poland, where it was credited with influencing the Solidarity movement, and used by dissident study groups in Czechoslovakia. The book also influenced world leaders, such as Vaclav Havel, the first president of Czechoslovakia after communism, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

AEI mourns the loss of Michael Novak  (Arthur C. Brooks, February 17, 2017,  | AEIdeas)

The American Enterprise Institute mourns the loss of our colleague, Michael Novak, who passed away this morning at the age of 83. Michael was an AEI scholar for three decades until his retirement in 2010, and remained a close friend of the Institute.

This counselor of popes and politicians never ceased to inspire his colleagues here at AEI. His gentle and warm personality made him a beloved figure at the Institute.

Scholar Who Taught John Paul II To Appreciate Capitalism Worries About Pope Francis (Jerry Bowyer ,  6/13/14, Forbes)

Jerry: "Anything you want to say about John Paul II? He seems to be a rather significant portion of the book."

Michael: "Yeah, there's a good chapter at the end especially. He comes from the same part of the world as my family: my family's on the Slovak side of the Tatra Mountains and across that little river, Dunajec River, and on the other side is Poland, and his family is from down in that region too--maybe a hundred miles away. So I had a kind of identification with him from the moment he was named. He could have been a relative of mine, so to speak. People do react along the lines of kinship, as you can see with Francis in Argentina and all of Latin America such an immense identification. Well, in some sort of way I identified with John Paul that way right off the bat, and he knew my part of the world [and] I knew his. And I'd been working in the human rights field for, well, since the '80s, so I had a grasp on the importance of what he did on democracy and on human rights in Poland, and what a transformation role he was playing. And I just enjoyed cheering that on. I was on the board of radio for Europe/Radio Liberty and we were broadcasting into these countries and keeping up with events on them so I had many, many reasons to feel immense gratitude to him and immense admiration for him. He invited me to a dinner in Rome in October of 1991, thereabouts, and I was too tongue-tied to say very much but I did learn it was a good practice to bring along a joke with you. He loved jokes - these dinners were informal, not formal... He would invite in some of his friends, there was a Polish bishop who was a good friend, [and] likeminded people. He liked to laugh. I remember I said to him, very somberly, that I must thank him for helping [and] for the miracle he prodded, [for] helping to bring down the Soviet Union. And he looked at me with derision, as if I had no idea what I was talking about (which is true), and he said, "There was no miracle. They had built a Mickey Mouse system." I can't swear that he used the words 'mickey mouse' but he used a term... We were speaking in Italian at that point. [He said,] "It collapsed under its own weight." So that sort of put me in my place. But like Margaret Thatcher, you had to be careful talking to him because it's such a quick rapier mind. And he treated you like a graduate student, asking questions and expecting you to step up to the plate and hit it and do a good job at it. You'd felt when you left you'd been through an examination with both of them. But I was very touched, [of] anything in my life, by the fact that he frequently introduced himself as a friend, and I don't mean just to me: I mean three or four times it appeared in newspapers across the world, [when] asked if he had many friends, he would mention regularly four or five different persons and I was on the list and I just value that immensely."

Jerry: "Do you think that Pope Francis has any close friends who understand the virtues of the free market system?"

Michael: "John Paul II had a hard time coming to those because he did not have experience with them under the Nazis or under the communists for most of his life."

Jerry: "But he had a friend who helped him."

Michael: "He had a great love for America and admired many things and he was always open to new ideas, and it troubled him when he heard anti-market things, state-oriented things. And in that sense, he was ready. He applied himself diligently, step by step, to learning how this new system works. He asked in one of his letters, a letter called The Hundredth Year--"

Jerry: "Centesimus Annus, correct?"

Michael: "Correct. He asked in there, having described that the cause of wealth, of wealthy nations, is intellect, ideas, know-how. That's the primary cause of wealth, no longer the land. Lincoln got, a century earlier, the patent and copyright act making property and inventions and ideas--"

Jerry: "The fire of invention... "The fuel of self-interest and the fire of invention," right?"

Michael: "Yeah. He saw that that was the main cause of wealth, and therefore that it represented a break between thousands of years of an agrarian economy in which land was the most important value, [and] all of a sudden [it is] ideas. That meant the kind of equality that--you didn't have to be born a great landholder to be able to become very wealthy. You could have, however humble you were, [have] certain ideas that you could patent or copyright if they would be useful to the human race, and from these [comes] wealth [like] Bill Gates has from Microsoft. Almost every corporation among us, even Coca Cola, is built on a new idea, [but] they deliberately didn't patent it to keep it more secret."

Jerry: "And a different kind of man prospers from the two systems, right? To hold land you need soldiers, but to hold knowledge you need diligence and intelligence."

Michael: "And men and women who love what they're doing, who work for you more inventively so the product keeps improving. And then you want to pay them very well, too, you want to give them bonuses and a share in profits and they rise, too, with the rise of the firm, and that breeds a new kind of spirit in the firm. So, slowly, John Paul II came to understand the role in the market but even more than that the role of invention and discovery and of enterprise."

Jerry: "So there's a difference in his economic thought in Laborem Exercens and Centesimus Annus, correct?"

Michael: "And there was [another] one in between, Sollicitudo [Rei Socialis], you can watch the growth from one to the other. In one of them he speaks of, "Labor is always the superior of capital because persons are always the superior of things." He's thinking of capital as machinery, money... But laborers are persons. But then he comes to realize that ideas are a form of wealth, too, so there's a human capital - they're also persons."

Posted by at February 18, 2017 6:53 AM