Let us move on to ethics and the social gospel. I agree with Frank H. Knight and with Ludwig von Mises that the social gospel (in the sense of teachings about the social welfare policies of the state) is an expedient invention to keep the Church “relevant”. It has nothing to do with the gospels, the teaching of Christ or the ideas of the early Christians. Note that Jesus himself kept the question of the role or domain of the state open: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.
If we move beyond Jesus’ exhortations to individuals about their moral behavior to papal exhortations about government policies to achieve the goal of eliminating or reducing avoidable human suffering, a scientific dimension is added. Policies have consequences, often unintended. The social interaction of people is more than the acts of people taken individually. There are complexities in these cases subject to scientific analysis.
The point is that policies are means to ends. They are not decrees about how the world should be. They can succeed or fail to achieve the desired moral ends. They can have consequences more undesirable than the problems they purport to solve. It is hard to see what the Church can authoritatively add to these discussions. Issues like income redistribution, globalization and financial speculation, however, are either above or below the papal pay grade. As Jeremy Bentham said about the state, the job is basically to “be quiet.”
But where social policy is concerned, fundamentally scientific issues are crucially involved and the Church has no greater teaching authority than the rest of us. To confuse matters by combining superficial scientific analysis with strictly moral teaching does neither the Church nor the world much good.