Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

The Humane Economy: Neither Right nor Left a Response to Daniel Rush Finn

Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

The Humane Economy: Neither Right nor Left a Response to Daniel Rush Finn

Article excerpt


Daniel Rush Finn, in an article titled "The Economic Personalism of John Paul II: Neither Right Nor Left," (1) undertakes the following four-part engagement with my previous essay, "The Need for Economic Personalism" (2):

   This article responds to Gronbacher by proposing to extend the
   conversation (of economic personalism) in four ways. The first will
   outline a number of elements that helpfully appear in both the work
   of John Paul II and Gronbacher's survey. The second will identify
   three problems in the use of these schools (Austrian, Chicago, and
   Virginia) of economics as conversation partners. The third will
   recount several elements in John Paul's personalism that are
   largely absent from Gronbacher's summary. The fourth will suggest
   further work to be taken up within economic personalism. (3)

Finn's article offers many excellent insights for developing economic personalism. I appreciate his fine contribution to our growing project, and I commend the call for increased dialogue. Yet, rather than replying to Finn's essay point by point, I want to focus my response under the rubric of a humane economy, believing that this framework encourages more fruitful dialogue and it answers Finn's queries.

It is through essays such as Finn's that economic personalism will continue to develop as a reputable school of thought. More broadly, I fully agree with the undercurrent implied by the title of Finn's essay--economic personalism cannot be seen as an outgrowth of either a left- or right-wing political project. To frame the discussion in political terms undermines the main thrust of our work. Economic personalism and, indeed, the humane economy itself, are both enterprises that transcend political and cultural labels. A humane economy must be built on charity, justice, free exchange, productivity, solidarity, and participation. These principles transcend partisan politics, ideology, and sectarian political and social theory. Indeed, these principles are derived principally from the social teaching of various Christian traditions and are based ultimately on a proper understanding of the dignity of the human person and human nature itself.

The Search for a Humane Economy

The goal of developing a humane economy has existed since the time of Karl Marx. Indeed, it was Marx and Catholic social thinkers of the late-nineteenth century who gave birth to the term. Later, in the early and mid-twentieth century, Wilhelm Roepke would borrow the term for use in scholarship concerning the relationship between culture, morality, and economic activity.

It would be fair to say that the term humane economy is still employed with a sense of expectation--namely, that it has not yet arrived. There is near-universal agreement on the part of scholars who analyze the ethical dimensions of economic science and market activity that the humane economy remains elusive. We are still in process toward our goal. An honest assessment will lead us to conclude that the goal we seek is not immediately apparent. If, by a humane economy, is meant the better treatment of workers, socially conscious investing, fair competition, and so forth--the practical aspects of a humane economy--then, given fallen human nature, we must continue our search. However, if, by a humane economy, is meant theoretical structures and economic models to be used as a blueprint for a hybrid economic model--in essence, a "third way" between socialism and capitalism--then I assert that we are sadly mistaken and chasing after illusions. There is no "third way" between capitalism and socialism. Our task is to humanize capitalism because it is the only serious economic model capable of raising human well-being. Not only this, but it is an economic system, which, while far from perfect, is most in accord with human nature.

This fact is easily obscured in contemporary conversation and analysis. …

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