Economics is Too Important to be Left to Economists
Religion & Liberty Online

Economics is Too Important to be Left to Economists

I rather like Serene Jones’ piece in Huffington Post, “Economists and Innkeepers.” Jones got some things right. She knows that Christian Scripture teaches many economic lessons, like subsidiarity and stewardship (although she doesn’t use those terms.) She says, “Economic theory is replete with theological and moral assumptions about human nature and society” and that is correct. As Istituto Acton’s Kishore Jayabalan reminds us,

Things like the rule of law, a tradition of equality for the law, which should cut down on corruption, which give people the confidence and security in the future to take some risks and to develop the goods that they have either personally or socially, and use them for the good of all.

We make economic, legal and moral decisions that affect others every day, in ways large and small. Jones is practically defining subsidiarity when she says, “I would argue that rather than being merely faceless economic units, we all have a moral responsibility for the care of each other.”

However, Jones (who says in her article that our economy is “off the rails”) goes off the rails herself when she calls for the regulation of human greed:

And people, with all their flaws, run markets. Why, then, could anyone believe that they were above manipulation — or error? Given this, we should support regulations that constrain our greed….

How is that even possible? What regulation in the world can constrict the sin of greed? What government can rule the human heart? What law can we be held to that will stop us from being stingy and cruel, miserly and close-fisted with our money, our time, our gifts, our very humanity? Money doesn’t make one greedy; it’s sin. Trying to regulate greed results in bread lines, corruption and the empty shelves of socialism:

…some people are greedy, and in a free market  economy the most efficient way for those people to pursue their disproportionate love of wealth is generally subordinated to the service of others  so that the most efficient way for those people to pursue their disproportionate love of wealth (greed) is to help others.

In the opposite sort of economy, such as existed in the Soviet Union, the primary way the greedy person pursued riches was either to enter a black market of vice or to work his way up in the Communist Party, which amounted to organized criminal brutality and exploitation on a national scale.

The material deprivation that communist economies produced did not lead to generosity and detachment from material possessions. Instead, acquiring the basic material goods needed for sustenance became the all-consuming preoccupation of those not fortunate enough to occupy important positions in the Party. People tended to look at each other as a means of access to scarce items. Dishonesty and cynicism reigned supreme. (Rev. Robert Sirico, “Defending the Free Market“)

We don’t need regulation for greed; we need to understand that economy, as Ms. Jones says, is “far too vital to leave solely to the economists.” Humans must be free to constrain ourselves, not have economic policies forced upon us from economists, politicians, and efficiency experts who “know” how to run things. Again, Rev. Sirico:

Building a society in which we can be fulfilled first requires an understanding of who we are. If we get the anthropology—the science of the human person—wrong, we get the whole thing wrong. Seeing human beings as mere individuals attenuates our rich complexity just as much as seeing us as mere cogs in some collectivist historical dialectic does. We are autonomous beings, but we came from someone. We are the result of a communion of love. We reach outside of ourselves for love and knowledge. Children result from and expand this social aspect of our nature. And we even have a destiny for communion outside this world. To attempt to build a society on a foundation of radical individualism, which ignores the reality of human solidarity and society itself, would be to construct a ruthless, cold, libertine environment unworthy of human persons. And in any case, such a society—which is radically opposed to a truly free society—would not long endure.

Any economy or society that attempts to regulate the freedom of the human person is not a free society. Ms. Jones wants all of us who have to share with the have-nots, and we should. But not through force, regulation, law or coercion. The economics of humanity must be based on the radical idea of love.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.