Saturday, February 13, 2010

An Economics Lesson for Taner Edis: Why the Vatican would have an economist

Taner Edis at the Secular Outpost expresses his shock and dismay that the Vatican has an economist--as if the Catholics didn't have a long tradition of economic thinking:
OK, I'll admit I'm already prejudiced against economists ... But a Vatican economist? I just have to imagine an economist who combines the worst aspects of two very ugly ideologies: conservative Catholicism and free-market dogmatics. And yes, to the extent that it is possible to judge from the rest of the story, the results are just about as insane as I'd expect.
Ugly ideologies? Admittedly there is much mischief that takes place under the label of "free-market" economics, but if Edis really wants to get a good look at ugly ideology, he needs to go across to the other end of the spectrum and check out what goes on under secular socialism. And why would you be concerned about the "combination" of capitalism and Catholicism when it is precisely the Catholics, under the influence of their own social teachings, that have attempted to mitigate capitalism's excesses?

But Edis seems primarily surprised that he Vatican has an economist at all, as evidenced by his putting of "Vatican economist" in quotation marks. He is apparently unaware of the long history of Catholic involvement in economic issues, from changing the attitude toward labor in the early Church in such a way as to lead economies away from slavery to the more dignified serfdom and finally to free labor, as well as resisting usury.

There is a long list of Catholics thinkers who have been involved in economic issues:
  • St. Thomas Aquinas
  • Henry of Ghent
  • Ægidius Colonna
  • Petrarch
  • Nicholas Oresme, Bishop of Lisieux
  • St. Antoninus, Archbishop of Florence
  • St. Bernardine of Siena
  • Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot Turgot
  • Etienne Bonnot de Condillac
  • Gustave de Molinari
And surely Edis has heard of the French Catholic Frederick Bastiat, one of the most influential economists who ever lived, not to mention Heinrich Pesch, a German Jesuit who wrote Textbook of National Economics, which some have called the most comprehensive book on economics ever written.

Oh, and it might also help him get a better grip on Catholic economic influence if he read Joseph Schumpeter's History of Economic Analysis, which recounts the crucial role of scholastic thinking in the development of modern economics.

And here is the late Murray Rothbard, one of the most influential thinkers in the Austrian school economics (and a staunch Catholic), on the Catholic role in modern economic thought:
We may sum up the Case for Catholicism as follows: (1) Smith’s laissez-faire and natural law views descended from the late Scholastics, and from the Catholic Physiocrats; (2) the Catholics had developed marginal utility, subjective value economics, and the idea that the just price was the market price, while the British Protestants grafted on a dangerous and ultimately highly statist labor theory of value, influenced by Calvinism; (3) some of the most "dogmatic" laissez-faire theorists have been Catholics: from the Physiocrats to Bastiat; (4) capitalism began in the Catholic Italian cities of the 14th century; (5) Natural rights and other rationalist views descended from the Scholastics.
Then there are thinkers like G. K. Chesterton (What's Wrong With the World) and Hillaire Belloc (The Servile State) who applied the Churches social teachings more directly to the discipline.

But the most ironic thing about Edis's post is that he seems to think there something wrong with what the Vatican economist, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, said:
Bankers are not the cause of the global economic crisis, according to the president of the Institute for the Works of Religion. Rather, the cause is ordinary people who do not "believe in the future" and have few or no children.
Is Edis disagreeing with this? If so, it would be nice to see an argument. If not, then what's the problem? If Edis doesn't think the low replacement rate is a problem, wait until he tried to collect on his Social Security when he retires (Social Security just began paying out more than it is taking in)--or Medicare. Oh, and now that the baby boomers are hitting retirement age, watch what happens to the taxes of those, presumably like Edis, who are members of a generation that had fewer babies will now be responsible for paying for the big generation that's now collecting.

So what is it that's so strange about a Vatican economist again?

1 comment:

Susan Perkins Weston said...


I agree completely with this post, and it probably isn't even a sign of the end times.