Thursday, January 13, 2011

Economics and Morality

Many, in fact most, economists believe that economics, or more specifically the market, is not a morality play. It is simply a place where buyers and sellers exchange commodities. Yet, our actions within the market are moral actions that have consequences for us and for our neighbors. The market itself may not be good or evil, but the players that create the market are acting morally or immorally. For example, you may say that the market for prostitution is not immoral, but the action of buying and selling prostitution is immoral, therefore making the very existence of such a market immoral.

Catholic Social Teaching tells us that our economic actions are moral actions. All our actions should be ordered to our final end, God. They are not, as some argue, outside of moral judgment. Buying nice things for oneself while ignoring the hunger of your neighbor is under the scope of moral judgment. The question you have to ask yourself is: Is what I am buying and selling helping me and my neighbors to attain our final end?

Pope Pius XI on the matter:

Even though economics and moral science employs each its own principles in its own sphere, it is, nevertheless, an error to say that the economic and moral orders are so distinct from and alien to each other that the former depends in no way on the latter. Certainly the laws of economics, as they are termed, being based on the very nature of material things and on the capacities of the human body and mind, determine the limits of what productive human effort cannot, and of what it can attain in the economic field and by what means. Yet it is reason itself that clearly shows, on the basis of the individual and social nature of things and of men, the purpose which God ordained for all economic life.

If we faithfully observe [moral] law, then it will follow that the particular purposes, both individual and social, that are sought in the economic field will fall in their proper place in the universal order of purposes, and we, in ascending through them, as it were by steps, shall attain the final end of all things, that is God, to Himself and to us, the supreme inexhaustible Good.

--Quadragesimo Anno, Pope Pius XI, 1931

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