As an economics student and a believing Christian, I have often found myself conflicted as to how I ought to balance my educational influence with my theological influence.
As I have come to understand the field of economics, I have discovered that it is fraught with mathematical conceptions and models that can come across as cold and insensitive to the human condition.
This scientific approach is certainly important to economics, as it provides a framework for consumption patterns, ideal policy decisions and more.
However, to reduce economics to a merely scientific subject is to strip it of the very question it seeks to address: the human condition.
In last week’s issue of The State Press, fellow columnist Sean McCauley criticized Pope Francis for his condemnation of capitalism and concluded the free market will provide prosperity.
I must admit, that in my early economics courses, I was convinced of the power of the free market model. It seemed reasonable and straightforward, something that made sense practically.
I would still agree that the free market provides benefits to society. The transmission of ideas and goods encourages innovation and provides liberty to the consumer.
However, I remain unconvinced that the free market on its own can “alleviate poverty,” as McCauley claims.
I believe this is also what Pope Francis is getting at when he criticizes the “gravely deficient human perspective, which reduces man to one of his needs alone, namely consumption.”
I am thankful that the pope can articulate the intrinsic connection between the individual as both human and soul. An economic philosophy that identifies an individual as merely a commodity for profit diminishes the true value of that person, which is the soul.
The link between economy and theology is not irrelevant. Scripture is replete with passages that command a concern for the poor. Pope Francis has said similarly: “I would like a Church that is poor and for the poor.”
I don’t believe McCauley is advocating a disinterest in the poor, but unfortunately, that is a byproduct of “savage capitalism,” as Francis calls it.
It encourages, as Francis describes, “the logic of profit at any cost, of giving in order to get, of exploitation without thinking of people.”
I don’t believe that the pope is condemning the concept of profit. I do believe that he is driving the point that profit-driven attitudes are selfish and fail to regard every person as dignified.
This line of thinking is not new. Pope Leo XIII encouraged as much in his 1981 encyclical, “Rerum Novarum” (a letter circulated among officials of the Roman Catholic Church, also known as “Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor”).
He speaks of the proper relationship between worker and employer, the role of the state and the importance of widespread property ownership.
Known as distributism, this economic philosophy provides a just alternative to capitalism while also limiting government involvement.
Economies ought to exist not to ensure wealth to a few and poverty to many but to provide dignity to everyone. As the pope articulates, “Where there is no work, there is no dignity.”
The pontiff does well to insist that the current “dictatorship of money” does not uphold the dignity of the person, but ensures greedy and self-interested attitudes.
As such, he is not overstepping his boundaries but voicing a reasonable response to a problem that contains both material and immaterial implications.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cshmneyrichard