Address by Rodney Moss
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, 11 NOV. 2006 (ZENIT)
Here is the text of
an address given by professor Rodney Moss, of St. Augustine College, at
a theologians videoconference. The Oct. 31 videoconference was organized
by the Vatican Congregation for Clergy.
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Economics: Love of God, Production and Free Market
Christian Judgment on Neo-liberalism
By Rodney Moss
Neo-classical or neo-liberal economics upon which much free-market
business practice is based differs rather radically from Catholic social
Neo-liberal economics assumes that its economic theory is value-neutral
and scientific in its analysis of concepts such as "production,"
"consumption," "money," "wealth," "capital" and "scarce" resources.
Bannock, Baxter and Davis suggest that economics may be defined as "The
study of production, distribution and consumption of wealth in human
society." Here the key ingredients in human economic activity would
be individualism, hedonism and market competition. The human person is
seen to be motivated by self-interest and wishes to maximize pleasure
and avoid pain. There is no concern with the "common good."
Ideally the free market should, as Adam Smith suggested, work for the
benefit of all members of society. Thus if each person follows their own
self-interest in spite of not aiming to contribute to others,
nevertheless, society as a whole will benefit. Adam Smith in his "Wealth
of Nations" calls this outcome "the invisible hand."
In this neo-liberal model, then, the common good is best served by the
operation of the free-market system involving minimal government
interference. Economic problems are best solved by promoting economic
growth "generated by each individual's pursuit of self-interest in a
free market regulated by the forces of market competition."
Development is seen in this model only in economic terms and is
"economic centered," not "human centered."
In contrast, then, what is the view of Catholic social thought on
First, Catholic social thought does not view economics as concerned only
with facts or being value-free/neutral as do the
neo-classical/neo-liberal economists. Importantly, economic systems are
seen as based on some set of values, whether that system be capitalist,
socialist, Marxist or some other economic variant.
The importance of the dignity of the human person is central to Catholic
social thought and to its view of economics and the economy. Economic
choices, production and consumption involve human beings. Economics does
not exist for its own sake: "The purpose of economics is the service of
men, their material needs and those of their moral, spiritual and
religious life. Economic activity is to be carried out according to its
own method and laws but within the limits of morality."
Economics and economic systems and activity cannot then be neutral or
value-free, for they impact on human life and are also a product of
human thought, creativity, choices and decisions. Like any other area of
knowledge, economics has its particular laws and methods and a degree of
autonomy but human beings are to have a priority and primary importance.
In Catholic social thought economics is to be seen in the context of its
contribution to the service of the human person as a whole being
physical, spiritual, intellectual, moral and spiritual.
Secondly, in Catholic social thought, the scientific or qualitative
aspects of economics are secondary to the human element. Therefore "[e]ven
in social and economic life the dignity of the human person and the
integrity of his vocation, along with the good of society as a whole,
are to be recognized and furthered. Man is the author, the center and
the end of all social and economic life."
In other words, economics and economic life is to be at the service of
human beings and not vice versa: "The ultimate and basic purpose of
economic production does not consist merely in the increase of goods
produced, nor in profit nor prestige; it is directed to the service of
man, that is, in his totality, taking into account his material needs
and the requirements of his intellectual, moral, spiritual, and
religious life ..."
Because the human person is viewed as a whole being
physical, spiritual, intellectual, moral and spiritual
he/she is not viewed as an "economic being," nor as an individualistic,
purely rational being whose goal is material pleasure. Our goal is
transcendent unity with God. "The highest reason for human dignity is
man's vocation to communion with God."
Thirdly, Catholic social thought is not based on the belief that
individual self-interest should be pursued and that somehow this will
contribute to the good of society. This was the assumption of Adam
Smith. However, Wilber notes that "Scholarly work in economics over the
past fifteen years demonstrates that, under conditions of
interdependence and imperfect information, rational self-interest
frequently leads to socially irrational results." We need a "moral
culture" to inform economic life.
Fourthly, the common good is central to Catholic social thought and can
never be regarded as a mere byproduct of individual self-interest. The
common good, that which transcends particular interests and which is a
good in which all can participate, is very different from a
"mechanistic" and individualistic view of society dominant in classical
and neo-liberal economic theory.
Finally, economic problems are not solved by growth alone. In "Centesimus
Annus," No. 29, we read: "[D]evelopment must not be understood solely in
economic terms, but in a way that is fully human. It is not only a
question of raising all people to the level enjoyed by the richest
countries, but rather of building up a more decent life through united
labor, of concretely enhancing every individual's dignity and
creativity, as well as his capacity to respond to his personal vocation,
and thus to God's call."
 Bannock, G., Baxter, R.E., and Davies, E., 2003, "The Penguin
Dictionary of Economics," London: Penquin Books, p. 114
 Originally published in 1776, this edition, 2003, p. 527
 Wilber, C.K. 1991. "Incentives and the Organization of Work. Moral
Hazards and Trust," in Coleman, J.B., "One Hundred Years of Catholic
Social Thought. Celebration and Challenge," New York: Orbis Books, p.
 Henriot, J.P., 1993, "Who Cares about Africa? Development Guidelines
for the Church's Social Teaching," in Williams, O.F., and Houck, J.W.,
eds., "Catholic Social Thought and the New World Order. Building on One
Hundred Years," Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, p. 212
 "Gaudium et Spes," No. 64
 Ibid., No. 63
 Ibid., No. 64
 Ibid., No. 19
 Wilber, ibid., p. 214