Leo [XIII] expects the State—for the worker’s good and ultimately for the common good—to impose these obligations on employers if they do not freely accept them (§31 et seq.). Now, if companies have to give Sundays and holy days off; if they have to limit their hours and make family-friendly policies; if they have to limit their use of pregnant or nursing women, etc., then in all of these ways they are being made to “lose money.” In Woods’ terms, some one’s “gain comes at another’s coerced expense.” One can cite similar points ad nauseam. [Thomas] Woods is so far from Catholic social teaching—indeed, from the entire Western tradition from Aristotle through the Fathers down to Saint Thomas—he isn’t even moving in the same universe. This ought to be troubling his conscience. If Woods replies that he agrees with what the popes want (e.g., a living wage) but he thinks he knows better how to get those results, he is dodging the problems that we are facing here and now. Let us pretend that the magic of the free market will work things out to everyone’s advantage . . . someday. How long from now? Ten years? Twenty? Fifty? Meanwhile, do we let wage agreements contrary to the moral law simply stand unchecked, because the lives of some poor people have to be, as it were, manure to fertilize the ground for more prosperous days? It seems to me the Church is saying: The worker has to be given such and such, here and now. If not, mortal sin is being committed and the common good damaged. If this means inefficiency, okay; if it means a lower gross national product, okay; if it means the rich have to live more frugally, that’s even better.
~ Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, This Goes Way Beyond Free Markets on the Chronicles website
Dr. Kwasniewski addresses the implications of Catholic social teaching in such a helpful and valuable way that it seemed worth re-posting this excerpt from his Chronicles online article. As I read it, Dr. Kwasniewski seems to be arguing that, at least for a Catholic (since it is Catholic social teaching he is discussing), the virtue of each economic action is a higher priority than whatever collective benefit might derive from greater efficiencies achieved through morally dubious compromises of human dignity or justice.
Put this way, there is nothing immediately obvious about this teaching with which a faithful Protestant or Orthodox could not agree, even though they are not obligated to regard papal encyclicals on the matter with the same gravity. I am not especially knowledgeable in either Catholic social teaching or economic theory, but this understanding of the proper priorities in a sane understanding of economics increasingly makes sense.