A JESUIT ON THE CAUSES OF THE DESIGN OF ECONOMICS
James V. Schall SJ, posts (22 November) on aleteia (‘seekers of the truth’) HERE where he reviews John Mueller’s Redeeming Economics. He was a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, and is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. . His most recent book is The Classical Moment: Selected Essays on Knowledge and Its Pleasures (St. Augustine Press, 2014).
“Economics—When the Truth Really Matters
“Not all theories cause wealth. Not all theories alleviate poverty”.
“When the Canadian Jesuit philosopher, Bernard Lonergan, grew older, he decided to turn his attention to economics. After a lifetime devoted to metaphysics, theology, and such esoteric topics, especially with his interest in the nature of the sciences, he looked at the “social” science that is said to be nearest to the “hard” sciences, like physics. That science is said to be one that most relies on mathematics, method, and empirical verification, to wit, economics. John Mueller’s Redeeming Economics takes up this quest in a new and systematic way. This book is a remarkable one that purports, with considerable evidence, to complete the overall nature of what economics really is.
Modern economics has not been an “exact” science because its theoretic presuppositions, as Mueller points out, did not allow it to be complete. …
… One of the major contributions of this book is its analysis of the domestic, intermediate, and political economy. Mueller’s attention to the domestic economy is particularly fine. What does go on in the home? Most of the important things, in fact. Jennifer Roback Morse, in her not-to-be-missed book, Love and Economics, had previously asked the question: “Why do not economists understand the home?” Basically, she said, because the household does not operate on the same principles that are implicit in utilitarian or stoic based economic theories that seek to explain it. Determinism, utility, and pleasure, though factors, are not the principles that explain life and community in any normal home. While there are elements of order, pleasure, and utility, there is also sacrifice, generosity, and gift that depend on human intelligence, virtue, and freedom. These elements explain the ultimate distribution of goods in a way that has been lacking to economists.”
CommentThere is much more in James V. Schall’s review of John Mueller’s “Redeeming Economics” (follow the link) but I focus on a few paragraphs Broadly, everything comes down to the perspective one would expect from a Jesuit, with a self-certain, theological explanation of everything. En passant we are told that “Adam Smith was a stoic”, a debatable assertion, as far as I am concerned, because it ignores the fact that Adam Smith, as a Professor of Moral Philosophy, was required to teach his students, and indirectly his readers, the views of the usual galaxy of historical figures in moral philosophy, much as I used to explain Karl Marx on ‘capital’ to my economics students, which decidedly did not make me a marxist.
Mueller, according to Schall, “completes the overall nature of what economics really is”, which broadly boild down to the projection of relations in “the family” onto the failings in an economy. This assertion relies on a rather idealistic version of the family in the history of humanity, whereas the ‘family’ in pre-history was far from the images of a wholesome man and wife, well cared for kids and protective parental influence and personal safety. Nor did it appear to get wildy different throughout written history. John Meuller rests his ‘basic principles of economics’ on scholastic authors, notably “Augustine and Aquinas”, on household deterministic economics: "We have to know first what we want or need, next how to produce it, then how to obtain it, and finally what to do with it after we get it, and finally what to do with it after we get it”.
Any notion that and societies or individuals work methodically through that sequence to ‘design’ an economy leaves out much that is formed, not by pre-design, but by dispersed individuals creating solutions to low level problems, which over long periods of time may lead to others tweaking earlier solutions with new solutions, some of which could be disastrous. Plainly, dispersed small societies did not consciously design any step in the processes by which they developed, any more than the various proto-human species consciously developed from the common ancestor of the chimpanzees though the loss of bodily hair, up-rigtht walking and running, reversible thumbs and the brain's complexity. There are always multiple ‘solutions’ to all changes in species of everything up to maximum variations.The economies of all human societies operate and change in myriad ways spontaneously without design. Variation is a universal feature. It is neither planned nor designed. Neither Augustine nor Aquinas knew that; they imagined an original designing entity wrapped in mystery with intention. If that gives comfort to members of the SJ, fair enough. The problems begin when those convinced of their own certainties try to impose their views on others.
James V. Schall asserts that “Not all theories cause wealth. Not all theories alleviate poverty.” I for one would observe that “theories” create nothing. The actions that follow from a theory (or a motive) are the essential elements in creating anything, including the unintentional consequences that follow from original intended consequences that motivated the original action. Some outcomes are beneficial in their ultimate consequences, other not so, as nature demonstrates in the multiplicity of life-forms present in nature.