Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Personalist Economics: Unorthodox and Counter-Cultural (1): Presidential Address, Association for Social Economics, January 8, 2001

Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Personalist Economics: Unorthodox and Counter-Cultural (1): Presidential Address, Association for Social Economics, January 8, 2001

Article excerpt

Abstract There are two reasons why personalist economics lies outside the mainstream. Personalist economics (1) rejects the premises of mainstream economics, and (2) takes exception to certain dominant values of today's culture whereas the mainstream is much more at ease with contemporary Western culture. This paper addresses both reasons and is organized accordingly. In it the author argues that the individualism and the autonomous individual of mainstream economics have their roots in the seventeenth-eighteenth century Enlightenment, that is well before the development of electronic means of communication. Personalism and the acting person of personalist economics emerged during the electronic stage of communication and, the author argues, are much better suited to the twenty-first century. The author calls for a reconstruction of economics which would replace the autonomous individual with the acting person.

Keywords: individualism, personalism, autonomous individual, acting person, culture, human body and spirit, human individuality and sociality

INTRODUCTION

There are two notable reasons why personalist economics lies outside the mainstream. First, personalist economics rejects the premises of mainstream economics. Second, personalist economics takes exception to certain dominant values of today's culture whereas the mainstream is much more at ease with contemporary Western culture. This paper addresses both and is organized accordingly.

II. PREMISES AND COROLLARIES

Waters (1988: 115-117) identifies four premises which are essential to the hard core of mainstream economics. To paraphrase him they are: (1) the individual is the basic unit of the economy, (2) who acts freely, self-interestedly, and calculatedly in a self-regulating economy, (3) whose economic behavior is grounded in reason and, though it changes as economic conditions change, is predictable and knowable with mathematical certainty and empirical precision, and (4) whose ultimate worth is determined instrumentally.

Waters also articulated the four premises of solidarist economics which over the past ten years has become known as personalist economics. To paraphrase him again the hard core premises of personalist economics are: (1) the person is the basic unit of the economy; (2) who acts freely but within certain limits, self-interestedly but often with regard for others, and calculatedly but at times impulsively, whimsically, or altruistically, in a self-regulating economy which from time to time must be constrained deliberately in order to serve the common good and to protect the weak and the needy; (3) whose economic behavior is grounded in reason and in faith, changing as economic conditions change but at times reflecting moral rules and principles, predictable and unforeseeable, and knowable with mathematical certainty and empirical precision but sometimes mysterious and beyond human understanding; and (4) whose worth at times may be construed instrumentally but finally is not reducible to economic calculus because it rests on the conviction that humans have a worth and dignity beyond measure.

These premises help explain why personalist economics sees economic affairs differently and offers different policy suggestions than mainstream economics. To personalist economists, persons are moral agents which means that by virtue of intelligence and free will they are capable of making moral choices. In economic affairs, the moral choices they make are governed by justice and caring or charity. Their behavior, therefore, reflects those kinds of choices and must be judged according to the principles of economic justice and caring or charity. To mainstream economists, on the other hand, individuals are moral agents too, but it is necessary to avoid making judgments about their behavior in economic affairs because to achieve and maintain the status of authentic science economics must be value-free. …

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