Tuesday, June 28, 2011
I returned from my summer travels to find the winter 2010 issue of Communio in my mailbox. It is devoted to Caritas in Veritate, with some valuable articles. I particularly appreciate Nicholas J. Healy', Jr.'s article, "Caritas in Veritate and Economic Theory," in which he discusses three common objections to the idea expressed in the encyclical that "gratuity and reciprocity are essential to economic practice and theory."
He rejects the neocon argument that "Sound economic thinking, as well as a Catholic undertanding of the rightful autonomy of earthly affairs, requires that we distinguish between the economic order and economic institutions, on the one hand, and the moral-cultural order of society, on the other hand." The idea that economic choice and institution is independent of ethics and anthropology is rejected by Pope Benedict XVI. Healy quotes the encylical:
Today we can say that economic life must be understood as a multi-layered phenomenon: in every one of these layers, to varying degrees and in way specifically suited to each, the aspect of fraternal reciprocity must be present. In the global era, economic activity cannot prescind from gratuitousness, which fosters and disseminates solidarity and responsibility for justice and the common good among different economic players.
Next Healy rejects the idea that the integrity of the Gospel will be damaged by an encounter with economic theory. While he appreciates that "The Church does not have technical competence in the economic or the political order, but she knows something about the nature and destiny of the human being." And to the extent that economic theory relies on presumptions about the person, "the Church has something to say about economics."
Finally, he rejects those economists who argue that economists are simply concerned with reality--to "analyze the real motives and incentives underlying the countless transactions that make up the economy." This is a common attitude that is pervasive even in economic textbooks. But Healy argues, that economics rests on metaphysical and epistemological assumptions that are not settled. He notes that Adam Smith excludes the baker's consideration of the good, for example.
Healy's piece addresses a complex of issues that intersect with other social sciences and legal theories as well. While we might wonder whether meaningful debate can occur across the hermeneutical horizons that separate the social sciences from the teaching of the Church, Healy's article helps to show the nature and depths of the disagreements.