Social Economics: Premises, Findings and Policies

By Edward J.O'Boyle | Go to book overview

5

THE INVESTMENT DECISION AS MORAL CHOICE

The perspective of Centesimus Annus1

Stephen T. Worland

Commentators who would minimize the support for the market economy coming out of Centesimus Annus cite CA No. 36-"the decision to invest…is always a moral choice" (McBrien 1992)-to show that John Paul II repudiates the controlling ideology of capitalism. In apparent agreement Commonweal editor Margaret O'Brien Steinfels glosses CA No. 36 with the comment: "So much for the magic altruism of the Invisible Hand" (Steinfels 1991).

For a reply to such commentators it might be appropriate to follow up a recent suggestion by Michael Novak. What the modern world needs is a "new Aristotle" to come on the scene, rewrite the classic table of the virtues, and in the process clarify our understanding of market institutions (Novak 1993:201). Such clarification, so Novak indicates, will reveal that the rise of capitalism derives not from the jettison of moral restraint (as alleged by social scientist Karl Polanyi; romantics Ruskin and Wordsworth; moralists R.H. Tawney or G.K. Chesterton) or from Deistic faith in an Invisible Hand. What produces the emergence and eventual legitimation of the market system is the gradual, cumulative perception of a new range of human possibility. In defiance of centuries of grim experience and in repudiation of an overly monastic understanding of the Christian message, modern man at the Industrial Revolution came to the realization that unremitting poverty need not be accepted as the inevitable lot of the great masses of mankind. This fundamental shift in perspective led eventually to the discovery of a new range of moral excellence, to discernment of virtues (e.g.) of "diligence, industriousness…fidelity in interpersonal relationships" (CA No. 32). And it is love of the good to be instantiated in these virtues, rather than the "greed" cited by critics of capitalism, that motivates, inspires, and encourages modern man to seek progress, economic growth and optimal efficiency in the production and distribution of wealth. 2

The capitalist ethic demands fidelity in contracts, honesty in exchange

-59-

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