Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire

Article excerpt

Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. By William T. Cavanaugh. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008. 103 pp. $12.00 (paper).

In a thin book that doesn't take long to read, William Cavanaugh asks, "When is a market free?" By posing the question in this way, Cavanaugh strikes at the heart of a horizontalization of being in the present free market philosophy. Accepting or rejecting the free market isn't the issue, according to Cavanaugh; nor should one place oneself in the predicament of deciding whether or not to be a consumer, for "everyone must consume to live" (p. 53). Christianizing economics means first and foremost understanding that an economic system itself rests in a broader reality. What end is served when we do what we do with our money?

The problem with the conventional paradigm, as Cavanaugh interprets it from influential economist Milton Friedman, is that an exchange is regarded as free when two or more individuals enter into a non-coercive, mutually beneficial, and informed trade. While logical and fair perhaps. Cavanaugh spies the term "free" catalogued in the negative. Instead he moves sympathetically toward economist Friedrich Hayek and Catholic philosopher Michael Novak. If freedom is simply defined as the absence of external interferences, the paradigm snowballs into a "second corollary" that sets up the individual as the ultimate judge of his or her own end (p. 5). Were there a common end to the human activity of exchanging goods, Hayek saw it as merely coincidental. This is because value judgments are left up to the individual with a telos chosen rather than received. The free market of democratic capitalism would be, in Cavanaugh's reading of Novak, "built on the denial of any unitary order" (p. 5). The Christian end is not a preference, however, but a pursuit of an end given by God.

The book is divided into four chapters: and it is perhaps the third that is most novel. Now that economics has gone global, the notion of personal particularities has become something of an abstraction. One could argue the point based on convenience, but transnational and multinational corporations profoundly impact culture, certainly in shaping and perhaps also limiting our choices. "It is possible to drive from one coast of the United States to the other and eat the same food, stay at the same motel, shop at the same mall, hear the same music on the radio, . …

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