Economic Personalism – A Christian Orthodox Contribution (I)1
PETRE COMŞA şi COSTEA MUNTEANU
Traditionally, the reaction of many
mainstream economists to the effort to integrate
theology and economics demonstrated the difficulty
of doing so in a way that could be broadly
recognized as legitimate. This state of things is
simply an indication of a broad consensus within the
field of economics that methods, norms, and even
concerns construed to be related to religious belief
have no place in the scientific study of
economics.In its first part, this paper argues that
the situation seems recently to be changing,
however. More than a decade ago, a group of
Christian Catholic social thinkers engaged in
dialogue with free-market economists concerning the
morality of market activity. As a result, a new body
of scholarship termed economic personalism has
emerged. The general idea is to promote a humane
economic order that benefits from market activity
but does not reduce the human person to just another
element in economic phenomena.
Keywords: religious economics, economics of
religion, theology of economics, economic
Many of the nowadays scientists think that religion can never come to terms with science. The main cause that makes them share such an opinion is the fact that, apparently, religion cannot directly demonstrate the truth of its ideas, while science can do so. Actually, the issue is, these scientists assert, that the religious ideas seem unfeasible to be experimentally tested, while science can do this. In other words, religious ideas elude, to all appearances, the strictness of public examination, whereas science put its ideas to open scrutiny. In the case that an empirical analysis shows that a scientific assumption is wrong, then science drops it and further searches for alternatives, putting them, also, to thorough scrutiny. Moreover, the same above mentioned scientists maintain frequently that religion is based on „a priori” assumptions or on „faith”, whereas science takes nothing for granted, without making sure of it. Besides, religion is too much based on an unlimited imagination, whereas science limits itself to noticeable facts. In addition, religion attaches much value to emotion, affective commitment and subjectivity, while science strives to stay disinterested, realist and unbiased2.
Given the situation, especially during the latest two decades, we are all the same confronted with the advance of a new concern that some of the nowadays scientists have, the one of reviewing the sphere of problems specific to the domains of investigation they are involved in, with the face to the themes that are usually addressed by the theological thought. This fact is valid especially for the quantum physics that, through the revolutionary concepts it proposes – undeterminism, unlocation, antinomy etc. –, seems to commence on the way of giving legitimacy to a number of concerns common to the theological thought. Roughly, the same thing can be said, however, regarding the present-day cosmology (which has defined and developed the anthropic principle), or about the new direction of the mathematical epistemology (through Godel’s theorem on uncompleteness), but also about the research work in the field of IT (the problem of artificial intelligence and the limits of the computers faculty of reasoning) and those of the cognitive sciences (the limits of neurobiology to explain the human mind and conscience).
On this background, we wish to specify that, despite the fact that the importance of religion for economics is seldom recognized by contemporary economists, the economic science proves itself to be however the most advanced human scientific discipline, taking into account its openness to debate matters that are common for the theological thought, too. And, this matter is due, first of all, to the fact that, as the current reality shows, economics and religion are intertwined at many levels3. A first level of relationship is economic policy itself. Illustrative examples can be contemporary debates in the United States over faith-based welfare programs or tension over the economic regulation of the church and its agencies.
A second level of interference is represented by the influence of religion on economic behavior. In this respect, one can call up, here, Max Weber’s well- known argument about Protestantism and the rise of capitalism. One can also bring into discussion, the numerous modern regression studies of the determinants of economic growth, studies that point out the importance of certain variables such as culture and religion.
Thirdly, the deepest links are between economic theory and religious thought. It is of interest to show, we believe, that the conceptual-type relationships between economics and religion have been studied, along time, either at the economists’ initiative - circumstances under which different economic theorists discussed, in their works, matters of theological nature, but connected with the economic activity -, or at the theologians’ one – condition under which certain theologians showed their interest for the study of different matters of economic nature, but relevant to the theological thought. In this context, we wish, however, to underline the very important fact that, from their epistemological point of view, the „cross” analyses of these economists and theologians have been accomplished at a double scale, namely:
– either as individualistic-monodisciplinary research, meaning that, one by another, they were isolated, each author individually – economist or theologian – starting and developing his research „on his own”;
– or, under the form of collective-interdisciplinary team research initiated by theologians; under these conditions, theologians and economists have gathered into common research projects, having as an ultimate outcome the emergence of a new interdisciplinary field of investigation, placed at the crossing of the two disciplines under dialogue.
2. Monodisciplinary research initiated by economists: Religious Economics
Regarding the monodisciplinary-type analyses initiated by economists, it can be said that, till now, the study of the relationship between the economic theory and the theological thought took the form of two endogenously-generated directions of research within the economic science, namely religious economics and economics of religion.
In connection with the religious economics researchesit should be shown that, generally, these argue that economic theory is not theologically neutral and has to be evaluated theologically. In other words, religious economists consider that the economic theory is not independent from the religious beliefs of the economist that develops it, these beliefs representing actual epistemic entities that take part in the conceptual-methodological body which frames the research of the economic reality.
The outcome of this approach is triple. Firstly, value judgments are considered as legitimate components of the economic analysis, the religious economists recognizing the influence of the ethical and moral considerations on their theoretical endeavor. Secondly, it comes to the development of a critical vision on both the methodological and epistemological commitments of secular economic analysis. In this respect, it is considered that the religious economic analysis worked out by the religious economists (be they Christian, Jewish or Muslim) is build up on another set of fundamental conceptual suppositions and analytical methods than in the case of secular economic analysis. Finally, the third important consequence takes into consideration the fact that the religious economists begin to use, in their analyses, conceptual, terminological, and methodological devices imported from theology. In this way, they try to achieve an epistemological strengthening of economics itself through theological infusion. In the following lines we shall analyze, in more details, these developments.
(i) Regarding the influence of the ethical and moral considerations on the economic theorizing, we should specify that, in many cases, the studies of religious economics have been initiated by a number of economists of Christian faith (as Gary North, Douglas Vickers, Brian Griffiths, Alan Storkey, Donald Hay, John Tiemstra or Max L. Stackhouse). At the same time, major contributions to religious economics during the last forty years include also Jewish writers, such as Roman Ohrenstein, Ephraim Kleiman or Meir Tamari. Kleiman and Ohrenstein are both American economists with an interest in the history of economic thought, while Tamari is an Israeli economist working in a business school environment. All of them showed interest in the written Torah, the Pentateuch, especially the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy which have much to say on economic matters4. However, the emphasis of Jewish economists is as much on the oral Torah, which was written down as the Mishnah and the Talmud.
As far as the Muslim economic writers are concerned, their number has increased during the last decades, probably a reflection of their stronger awareness that the Koran and the Sunna, the tradition and customs of the Prophet, as recorded in the hadith, and codified in the Shariah Islamic law, has much to say on economic matters. Leading Muslim economists include Pakistani and Iranian writers, among whom we can mention Umer Chapra, Masudul Choudhury, Syed Naqvi, Farhad Nomani and Ali Rahnema or Muhammad Nejatullah Siddiqu5.
Turning back to the case of Christian economics, we would like to stress that the specific topics of the domain are approached by writers belonging to diverse Christian heterodox faiths, namely Christian Catholic, Protestant, Calvinist and Evangelical economists (it is worthwhile mentioning, in this context, that the contributions of the Christian Orthodox economists are still missing). Surprising is the fact that, generally, the works of the heterodox Christian economists paid relatively little attention – comparing to the Muslim and Jewish economists – to the problem of moral and ethical values, most of them thinking that centering round this topic shows a lingering in a closed stage of scholasticism that overlooks the recent developments in economic analysis. Accordingly, economic literature mentions a so-called soft form of religious economics, where economists recognize the influence of ethics on their work and see religion as a source of ethical guidance6. This position often leads to proposals for collaboration between economists and theologians on policy questions, with theologians supplying ethical guidance and economists’ technical expertise about the consequences of various policies.7
By contrast, in the 1970s a stronger version of religious economics took shape. It was associated with the evangelical revival in Britain, Australia and North America, and also nourished by British and American evangelicals’ contact with Dutch Calvinist thinkers such as Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd. The strong version of religious economics rejects the kinds of collaborative efforts which flow from the softer version of religious economics as being too uncritical of secular economics8. In fact, the problem receiving the most of the attention of strong religious economists is connected, in our opinion, with the criticism of the economic systems. However, it is interesting that their approaches bring out a distinct lack of agreement, ranging from broad sympathy with market capitalism – whatever its weaknesses (e.g. North: „The Bible points to, and only to, a free-market system with minimal state involvement”) – to moderate critique (e.g. Preston), and radical critique of capitalism (Goudzwaard and de Lange, as an example, argue that, from a Christian perspective, humanity must move from a wants-based economy to one based on the caring administration of what has been entrusted to it). A rather peculiar position is that of the Christian writer John Atherton. His work assesses three types of response made by Christians to the market system (conservative, radical and liberal), each of which seeks set Christian values above the market. Implicitly he rejects all three, in part because he asserts that the market system has its own internal logic and values, which need to be affirmed if markets are to function. Atherton argues that Christians should not seek to replace markets, but to promote various challenges to the market system (such as poverty, and the environmental crises) so that the system responds positively to these challenges9.
As to the vision shared by both Jewish and Muslim religious economists, it is interesting to mention that they wish to see religious law respected in economic life, notably when conducting transactions or when being involved in the finance of transactions. We can assert that, in a more conspicuous way than the Christian economists, they believe economic agents should be concerned with the morality of their actions, religious laws being the appropriate source for guidance in economic behaviour (in respect to wealth, property, just price and fair transactions). The emphasis is on economic justice so that all parties are protected and the social equilibrium amongst the faithful is maintained. The common aim of Jewish and Muslim religious economists is not to provide an alternative to the market as the mechanism for resource allocation, but rather to ensure that those involved in market processes do not abuse the system through immoral dealings. In turn, there is disagreement amongst these economists over what the role of government should be, some Muslim writers believing it should enforce religious law in the economic sphere, but Jewish writers stressing that the observance of religious law is a matter of individual moral conscience10.
(ii) Besides taking into account the ethical and moral implications on the economic analysis, the religious economic studies entail also – as already shown – a second major outcome at the level of the epistemological state of the scientific economic research. More precisely, we have in view the advance of an entirely different kind of the fundamental assumptions and analytical methods of the religious economic research, comparing with those of the secular economic analysis. Among the religious economists, the most active interested in these matters proved to be the Christian ones. They support an alternative methodological foundation of the economic theory, derived from biblical Christian teachings. In this way, a number of topic areas within secular neoclassical economics (e.g. distribution theory; micro-micro theory) are critically apprised, and the existence of some fundamental flaws in each area is argued. It is argued further that these flaws all derive from the same underlying problem, namely a paradigm which assumes that economic life displays a quasi-mechanical natural order or equilibrium – compared with a Christian paradigm in which human relationships would be central11. Building on this new paradigm, religious Christian economists argue for an economic analysis which focuses on human institutions (especially families, firms, governments, unions and voluntary organizations). Consequently, we can say that their approach is explicitly normative (evaluative rather than descriptive), and is based on the concept or norm of stewardship, which is understood as keeping in custody the gifts (resources) man received from his Creator.
There are some Christian economists that guide their arguments against the secular economic theory assumptions even beyond the level of the debates of a methodological nature, namely in the zone of the debates of epistemological nature. Thus, one maintains that the epistemological basis of economics – how we know things – is deeply flawed. This basis is the so-called „foundationalism”: the attempt to establish some basis or foundation through which our knowledge could be validated; and to which appeal could then be made as a criterion of distinguishing such properly-founded knowledge from unfounded opinion. The Christian economists argue that, with particular regard to consumption theory, this basis does not work. They propose instead a reconstituted view of consumption theory, within an explicitly Christian framework12.
(iii) The third consequence of the fact that religious economics assumes that economic theory is not theologically neutral and has to be evaluated theologically, is the readiness of religious economists to operate significant conceptual and methodological inward transfers from theology. We can say that, as a matter of fact, it is about an economic „utilisation” of theology, namely the use by economists of the theological thought for the benefit of the economic theorizing. We can say, more precisely, that the carrying out of these import transfers could represent both a conceptual enrichment and an increased methodological accuracy of the assertions made by the economic theory. In fact, imported religious precepts and theological visions and ideas seem to have the power to point out , within the framework of the economic investigation, phenomena or perspectives that cannot be put in light by conventional analytical devices on their own (or, in some cases, they don’t even have in mind to point them out). The fact is that, in this way, a potential field of co-disciplinary relations between the normative economic theory and the heterodox social theologyhas emerged. A field which, we have to add, did not yet evolved to the formation of a proper domain of interdisciplinary research.
Going deeper with our discussion, we would like to emphasize that, till now, the Christian religious economists have operated their inward transfers from social theology based on the assumption that theology can provide both ethical and non-ethical contributions to normative economics.
As to the first type of contribution, many Cristian economists repeatedly claim both that economics is not „value-free” and that it often stands in need of clearer and/or value foundations and orientations13. Thus, Yuengert14 writes that Papal social teaching „does not accept the insights of economic analysis without first carefully evaluating its normative content”, while Hawtrey15 insists, citing Vickers, which „economics cannot be a ‘value-free’ inquiry”. Schubeck16, in his turn, agrees with Bonino that „no social-scientific instrument is value-neutral”, while Tiemstra asserts that no human „science is somehow neutral or value-free or objective” and refers more than once to the „ethical agenda” inherent in economic theory. Consequently, for the above-mentioned writers all welfare economics and all discussions of economic policy are inherently normative matters. Following this line of reasoning, Yuengert observes that „normative statements have their own logic and are amenable to rational discussion about the content of revealed truth and its corollaries”. Sharing the same approach, Steedman writes: „It is simply not true that all reasoned discourse comes to an immediate halt the instant when values come into view; and (some kinds of) economists could certainly benefit by learning to handle reasoned discussion of normative issues more fluently – and by acknowledging the relevance to normative economics of a wider range of normative considerations. They could learn these things from (some kinds of) theologians”17.
In reference to the second-type of contributions (the non-ethical ones), we would like to recall at this point Steedman’s opinion that „Theology is not reducible to ethics, and it would be quite wrong to reduce its relation to economics to that of ‘value-supplier’, or even that of a ‘value-enhancer’ and rational discussant of norms”18. In this respect, some of the Christian economists (such as Steedman, Yuengert or Hawtrey) argue that theology’s other important contribution might be that of improving the factual assumptions about humankind made, implicitly or explicitly, in economic theorizing. According to their view, theology may change perceptions of already-acknowledged facts and draw attention to previously unacknowledged facts. Consequently, it can have things to say about human nature, about human motivations, about the factors influencing those motivations, about what humans could in fact be like and about what is in fact good for human beings. This happens, for instance, when the Christian economists consider the spiritual reality of sin as a basic premise for the understanding of the human nature. Or, when, in accordance with their theological perspective, these economists claim that utility maximization is a factually inadequate characterization of human motivation in many contexts, even when the arguments of the utility function are extended beyond „narrowly economic” arguments. Hawtrey writes, in this respect:”Of course, it might be replied that, in fact, economists do commonly recognize the role of greed, of the desire for wealth and power, of self-centredness, or of the willingness (sometimes) to cheat – but perhaps they do not systematically perceive, let alone deplore, any element of idolatry in either ‘comsumerism’ or wealth maximization!”19. In our opinion, the suggestion in all these claims is that theologians can help economists (and others) to start from a factually accurate characterization of human agents. In other words, that theology (but not only theology) could in principle help to improve the factual assumptions made in economics.
3. Monodisciplinary research initiated by economists: Economics of Religion
As we asserted earlier in our work, religious economics represents only a first direction of studying the relationships between economic theory and theological thought. The second direction is illustrated by researches in the field of the economics of religion. In this context, it is worth to specify the fact that, while religious economics studies, as already shown, the influence of the theological thought on economic theory, the economics of religion tries to study precisely the reverse relationship: giving certain explanations of economic nature for the religious activities.
In his survey on the economics of religion, Iannaccone20 considers that the roots of the recent growing interest of the economists for the religion problems lies in Adam Smith’s comments on the church in the Wealth of Nations. In contrast with this opinion, Oslington suggests that probably more important in this respect has been Gary Becker’s work extending the economic approach to crime, suicide, the family and so on. In any case, the idea we would like to stress is that the literature on the economics of religion so far has tended to take a relatively small number of models from different areas of economic inquiry (such as rational choice model, public choice theory, rent seeking models, or game theory) and apply them with little modification to religion.
As a consequence, the scenery of the economics of religion literature is not homogenous, so we can notice the existence of more strands of this literature. These strands follow, in fact, the conceptual apparatus offered by those different patterns and models of economic investigation applied for the study of the religious activities, we mentioned above.
The first strand of the literature seeks to explain individual religious activity within a rational choice model. The main outcome of applying this model to religious matters seems to be the suggestion that, when both lifetime and afterlife utility are taken into consideration, afterlife rewards depend on religious activities, which are available in all time period of an individual’s life, and which are both income and time consuming21. In addition, it is whorthwhile mentioning that this basic model has been extended by Iannaccone to incorporate religious human capital accumulation.
Another strand of the literature groups together the works based on the public choice theory and models of rent seeking. The aim is to explain certain aspects of the institutional structuring process within different Churches. We can say that a contribution of reference here is the work of Ekelund, Hebert and Tollison22, where usury restrictions are explained as a form of rent seeking. Afterwards, the same authors extended their analyses to the direction of working out a theory regarding the way the Churches develop their doctrinary-theological apparatus as a means in support of the activities in search for rents (giving as an example the development of the purgatory doctrine by the Medieval Chatolic Church).
There is also a third strand, comprising the empirical literature23. The main concern is to explain the different patterns of the people participation in religious activities, along time and crossing countries, as being prevailing determined by the differences that exist regarding the structure of the religious markets. For instance, there are studies that advocate that the higher degree of religiosity noticed in the United States is due to the higher degree of liberty that the religious markets have in this country, in comparison with the situation in the Scandinavian countries where, due to the monopolistic characteristic of the religious markets, people’s degree of religiosity is considerably lower. Quite relevant in this respect is also the following point of view: „ Implicit in this strand of literature is a rejection of the secularization thesis that has been a major component of the sociology of religion – instead of religion being a doomed relic of past superstition, religion is a rational activity that is held back by monopoly churches and mistaken attempts by governments to regulate religious markets”24.
On the whole, it can be said that some of the analysts involved in the field consider that the economics of religion works published till now contributed in a certain degree to a better understanding of the religious phenomenon, but they brought about, also, a number of controversies. That is why, these analysts share the opinion that new approaches and perspectives are necessary, such as that of Brennan and Hamlin study25 – which deals with the issue of the regulation of the religious markets, or Fogel’s comments26 regarding the non-scarce nature of the spiritual assets, or Akerlof and Kranton’s research27 on problems of religious convertion and identity. All these are to explain, in our opinion, why the promoters of the economic investigation of religion believe that „the single and subtle challenge of modelling of religion lies not only and not in the first place in the contribution brought to the illumination of some aspects connected with the religious life and activities, but mainly in the enrichment to the economic theory itself”28.
4. Monodisciplinary research initiated by theologians: Economic Theology
We have pointed out, at the beginning of our study, that the conceptual-type links between economics and religion have been studied, till now, either at the economists’ monodisciplinary initiative, or at the theologians’ one. We have also shown that the research initiated by theologians embodied either the form of individual-monodisciplinary works, or the form of collective-interdisciplinary team works.
Before we pass to the separate analysis of the two types of researches initiated by theologians, we wish to insist on a very important characteristic that describes both of them. Thus, if we would credit the point of view shared by one of the most reputed theologian that has approched economic issues – it is about Michael Novak29 –, then we might say that the theological discourse is structured on three different levels, namely:
– at the first level of discourse, theology is concerned with the economic realities present in every economic system in every age. At this level, thelogians need clear and critical concepts about such realities as scarcity, labour, money, capital accumulation, production, distribution, wealth, poverty, inequality, technology, competition, division of labour, market practices a.s.o. It is what Michael Novak calls a general theology of economics;
– at the second level of discourse, theology is concerned with the understanding and evaluating of systems of political economythat have developed along the mankind history: slave-owning system, feudalism, capitalism , socialism and communism.This type of inquiry represents what could be named the theology of broad socio-economic systems (the theology of slave-owning system, the theology of feudalism, of democratic capitalism, of socialism or the theology of communism). Each of these systems needs to be described accurately both in its theory and in its practice;
– at the third level of discourse, theology deals with the assessment of the institutions, practices and special ethical dilemmas that occur within particular systems. In this instance, the theological interpretation is focussed on phenomena such as business corporation, state bureaucracies, decentralized decision-making bodies, business ethics a.o. This level could be named the theology of particular systems.
Most of the theological investigations undertaken to date – be they mono- or interdisciplinary based - do not represent anything else, in our opinion, than repeated failed attempts to configurate a specific epistemological frame of the general theology of economics. This is not a surprising development, as far as the attempt to synthesize central aspects of economics and moral theology proved to be an enormous and risky undertaking because it involved two methods, two sources of knowledge, and two types of reasoning. Examining previous Catholic and Protestant attempts at synthesis could be quite illuminating in this respect30. On the Catholic side, each traditional school of social thought – Distributism, New Deal and Solidarism – have failed to achieve a sound integration of markets and moral principles. As was the case amongst the schools of Catholic social thought, the success rate of integrating morality and economics was negligible within the branches of Protestant social thought (Lutherian, Reformed, Methodist).
However, more recently (beginning with the 1960s), a new gradual and hesitant process of configurating a possible sound synthesis of theology and economics has emerged. Its first stage, that of the incipient configuration of the new epistemological frame, has already came at an end. The output is termed liberation theology, and represents a monodisciplinary attempt, individually-initiated by some Latin American theologians (such as Gustavo Gutierrez, Jose Miguez Bonino, Juan Luis Segundo, Clodovis Boff, Jose Porfirio Miranda or Ignatio Ellacuria). The aim was to combine a Marxist-inspired empirical analysis in economic matters with moral theological reflection in a normative social theory.
Nowadays, a second stage is running, and it represents the maturation phase of of the desired epistemological frame. It took the form of a collective-debating interdisciplinary research, initiated by a group of Noth-American Catholic theologians who have engaged in dialogue with some Western free-market economists. This interdisciplinary exchange inspired the conception of a new subdiscipline that sought to provide a synthesis31 of free-market economic science and the science of moral theology grounded in a personalist anthropology, thereby giving rise to a new body of scholarship termed economic personalism. Further in this subsection we shall bring up, in detail, the research achieved in the field of the liberation theology, and then, under the next subsection, we shall study thoroughly the research in the field of economic personalism.
The liberation theology tries to put in relationship God’s Kingdom with people, from the prospect of their own culture and social conditions, especially from the point of view of the poor and marginalized members of the society. The promoters of the liberation theology (we shall further call them the liberation theologians) maintain that God’s Kingdom, proclaimed and promised by Jesus the Saviour, brings with it a new human being in a new society, characterized further by justice, freedom, solidarity and peace. It is also said, that God’s Kingdom, if it is to be communicated effectively to people in their particular historical situation, must be mediated through theological sources (the Holly Bible and Tradition) and social-scientific sources (anthropology, economics, sociology). The theological sources are considered as „hermeneutic” mediation, while the social-scientific ones are considered as „socio-analytic” mediation or social analysis. Liberation theologians understand hermeneutic mediation as representing the process of throwing light upon the biblical texts or the church documents in their original context, with a view to explain their importance for nowadays Christian communities32. As regards the socio-analytic mediation, the liberation theologians consider that the actual social context, with its special and specific problems, opens the way to a new understanding of the biblical text. Consequently, the socio-analytic mediation contributes to the development of theology as it helps the theologians to understand the present context, that includes people’s requirements, their hopes, their fight for survival, as well as the network of institutions that affect the quality of their lives.
We do not intend to express here our point of view in relation with the canonic legitimacy of suppositions, conjectures, and theological interpretations that liberation theology uses. Following the analysis developed by Schubeck, what we really wish to do is just to briefly present its main characteristics and outcomes to date, namely:
– liberation theology relates scientific economic knowledge with religious knowledge as it constructs a new normative social theory;
– it is aimed at the „lightening” of God’s Kingdom presence or absence in the conscience and soul of human communities under specific historical conditions, through the subordination of the social analysis to the divine revelation (found in the Holy Scriptures and Tradition);
– it has produced insights about sin as a social reality and salvation as a multidimensional, liberating process;
– it has created a distinct socio-normative principle, „the preferential option for the poor” (adopted , as a matter of fact, by the Roman-Catholic Church). The principle operates as hermeneutics for the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures and Tradition; as a principle for the solidarity with the poor people, it brought about even an ideea for the Romano-Catholic Church, named „base community”, through which the poorer and more marginalized members of the society become active participants to the social life. It is aimed that, by enabling the poor and marginalized people to take part in the politic and economic life, the preferential option for the poor could help society to contribute to the benefit of „all”, and not only of the „individual”.
On the whole, the overall perception about the success of the liberation theology to construct the above-mentioned epistemological frame is somehow mixt. Thus, some of the analysts33 consider that „The method of liberation theology is solid (...)” but „(...) theology’s social analysis needs more scientific explanation and empirical evidence. The method would also be strengthened by including as part of the process a third mediation, theological ethics, that would serve to overcome the present gap between liberation theology’s scientific analysis and its theological-ethical conclusions”. In addition, making a direct reference to the shortcomings of an individual-monodisciplinary research effort, it is said that „Perhaps by seeking more assistance from economists as collaborators, liberation theologians may more successfully relate the analysis of economic systems and theological reflection”.
There are also some more radical critics of conceptual and methodolgical achievements of liberation theology34. Mentioning that liberation theologians „attempted a synthesis of moral theology with Marxist economics”, these critics advocate that „Marxist socialism is proposed as the Christian economic alternative” and, as a consequence „The spiritual and otherwordly aspects of the Christian worldview are downplayed in favor of the material and the temporal”. In this way „The attempted synthesis of Marxist economics with moral theology ends by reducing the Christian message of eternal salvation to mere material concerns”. This is why, radical critics come to the conclusion that „Liberation theology is the most recent failure to synthesize market with moral principles. It failed because it did not offer a true synthesis. Rather than embodying sound economic principles, liberation theologians have been mostly concerned with raising the rethoric of victimization against patriarchal Western society”.
5. Interdisciplinary research initiated by theologians: Economic personalism
The economic personalism represents, as we showed earlier, the second stage, in full running, of the present-day efforts to develop a proper epistemological frame to a sound synthesis of theology and economics (that is, to a general theology of economics, in Michael Novak’s terminology). In contrast with the individualistic-monodisciplinary approach promoted by liberation theologians, the supporters of economic personalism, theologians and economists alike (we shall further call them economic personalists) succeeded to engage themselves in a collective-interdisciplinary research team exercise. In fact, what in the case of liberation theologians were both its major epistemological vulnerability (namely, the isolated, „on his own” monodisciplinary research) and its most important theoretical constraint (that is, the lack of sound economic principles as they utilized the principal elements of Marxist economics) are, in the case of economic personalism, just the opposite (interdisciplinary research teams and, respectively, free-market economics).
And even more than this; the most important epistemological asset that economic personalism brings in is the theological vision of the person applied to economic realities. What, actually, do we mean by this ? As it is nowadays widely recognized „much policy disagreement among managers, scientists, policy makers, and citizens derives from substantial , though usually implicit, differencies in the way we think about human nature – about the strengths, frailties, intelligence, ignorance, honesty, selfishness, generosity, and altruism of individuals” (emphasis added)35. It comes out that, according to the dominant conventional wisdom, human being is understood and approached as individual. This holds true for every single social science. In this context, the true novelty economic personalism proposes is the understanding and approaching of human being as person. In other words, this new interdisciplinary field of investigation holds an outstanding epistemological potential: the theologically-inspired transfiguration of individual-based economic analysis into a person-based economic analysis. Provided this would be the case, than the outcome would be the achievement of the (long time) badly desired true synthesis of theology and economics. Accordingly, we shall further investigate in the following pages how the current state of economic personalism answers (or not) this unique potential.
The name economic personalism was developed in 1996 by Gregory Gronbacher to refer, as we have already mentioned before, to the union of two distinct areas of investigation: free-market economics and philosophical personalism36. The initiators of this interdisciplinary exercise relied on the fact that, regarding the economists, such a dialogue would offer them– through their opening towards a vision given by the Christian social ethics – a more complete image on the human being. In turn, economic science would have something to offer moral theologians who were concerned with human interaction in the socioeconomic sphere37. In accordance with its supporters (see, especially, the analyses developed in the works of Gronbacher, Zuniga, Schmiesing38 or Woehrling39), economic personalism represents a science of morality of markets , an attempt to analyse the moral ramifications of the economic activities in the light of the Catholic theological vision on the human person. This implies a detailed exploration of economic theory, history and methodology, as well as of the market practices, all considered from the prospect of the recognition of human person dignity and of the concern for the human justice, derived from such an acknowledgement.
In doing so, economic personalists seek „to provide a holistic account of personal existence and thus supplement genuine economic science with a science of morality for the marketplace”. Taking this course of action – it is sustained – „economic personalism does not attempt to reformulate economics in the image of moral theology. Nor do we desire to reduce moral theology to market analysis. We strive to maintain the rightful autonomy of these disciplines while endeavoring to develop a science that can fully utilize the insights of both”. In other words, they aspire to offer „a nuanced synthesis of free-market economic science and the science of moral theology grounded in a personalist anthropology”.
For the supporters of the economic personalism, the achievement of such a synthesis is possible because of the fact that the economic theory and the moral theology have a common field of investigation, namely the human action: economy is the study of the human action under the market conditions, while the moral theology is the study of the rightness or wrongness of human action in general. In this way, the two disciplines cross each other in the area of the study of the human person and that of the systematic analysis of the human action. That is why, if it would be to resume the fundamental conceptual assertions of the economic personalism – as it is nowadays professed, we could say the following:
– economic personalism does not call into question the epistemological foundations of economic science (that is, its empirical and mathematical character);
– instead, it tries to assure a more comprehensive image within the economic investigation field, bringing into the economists memory that the economic agents are, after all, human persons;
– in other words, economic personalism wants the economic discipline to enlarge its sphere of investigation so that , alongside the current concern with mathematical models and statistical analyses, it deals also with anthropology and morals.
However, a brief comment on the way economic personalists currently conceive the epistemological foundations of their field of investigation is needed, in our opinion. Thus, their concern „to maintain the rightful autonomy of these disciplines while endeavoring to develop a science that fully utilize the insights of both” does not mean that the contribution of economics and theology to the new emerging science should be even. No doubts, inside the field of economic personalism, the component of economic analysis is not affected in its epistemological stance, as we already have noticed. But, we must not neglect, on the other side, that economic personalists simply want the economic discipline to broaden its scope, so that morality and anthropology (that is, theology) can enter the picture. In other words „(...) they seek nothing less that a fully Christian economic science, one that takes full account of the truths of productivity in the market along with the truth about the human person”40. The problem is that the truths of productivity are already there, in the market, while the truth about the human person involved in market activities is still misssing. So, if an adequate synthesis of theology and economics is intended to be achieved, than we have to accept this implies that the theological component of economic personalism should be legitimately conferred an active and dominant role in the process, in comparison with a passive and dominated role which should be naturally attributed to the economic component.
Summarizing, we can say that economic personalism, in its actual version, appears to be an asymmetric composite scientific discipline having as an active component the personalist theology, alongside a passive one, the economic analysis. We shall try, in the following pages, to investigate in more details each of these two components, hoping to truly identify, as much as possible, the specific features of the current Catholic-inspired version of economic personalism. In this respect, our working assumption will be that, in this way , we shall be better positioned to discuss, in the final section of our paper, some preliminary ideas regarding the impact that could have on the present-day economic personalism the implementation of a Christian-Orthodox theological perspective.
This study represents a revised and extended version of our paper Economics and religion – a personalist perspective
, The Journal of Philosophical Economics, Volume II, Issue 2, Spring 2009, 5-33.
John F.Haught, Ştiinţă şi religie-de la conflict la dialog
, (Bucureşti, Ed. XXI: Eonul dogmatic, 2002), 21-23.
Paul Oslington, Economics and Religion
, Vol.I + II, (Cheltenham/UK, Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, 2003), IX.
Rodney Wilson, „Comparative Religious Thought on Economic Behaviour and Financial Transactions”, in Journal of the Association of Christian Economists
, No.23, (August, 1997), 1,2.
Kenneth E.Boulding, Religious Perspectives in Economics
, in „Beyond Economics: Essays on Society, Religion, and Ethics”, Ann Arbor (University of Michigan Press,  1968).
See again Oslington, Economics
Andy Hartropp, „Christianity and Economics: An Annotated Bibliography”, in Journal of the Association of Christian Economists
, Special Issue, December, (1997), 11.
See, in this respect, John Tiemstra, ed., Reforming Economics:Calvinist Studies on Methods and Institutions
, (Lampeter, Wales; Lewiston, N.Y., Edwin Mellen Press, 1990).
Alan Storkey, Foundational Epistemologies in Consumption Theory
, (Amsterdam, VU University Press, 1993).
Ian Steedman, On Doing the Impossible
, in James M.Dean and A.M.C.Waterman, „Religion and Economics: Normative Social Theory”, (Boston, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1999), 168.
Andrew M. Yuengert, The Uses of Economics in Papal Encyclicals
, in James M.Dean and A.M.C.Waterman, „Religion and Economics: Normative Social Theory”, (Boston, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1999).
Kim Hawtrey, Economics and Evangelicalism
, in James M.Dean and A.M.C.Waterman, „Religion and Economics: Normative Social Theory”, (Boston, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1999).
Thomas Schubeck, Liberation Theology and Economics: God’s Reign and a New Society
, in James M.Dean and A.M.C.Waterman, „Religion and Economics: Normative Social Theory”, (Boston, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1999).
Steedman, On Doing
Steedman, On Doing
Hawtrey, op.cit., apud Steedman, On Doing
L. Iannaccone, „Introduction to Economics of Religion”, Journal of Economic Literature
, No.36(3), (1988), 1465-1495.
Robert B.Ekelung, Jr., Robert F. Hebert and Robert D. Tollison, „An Economic Model of the Medieval Church: Usury as a Form of Rent Seeking”, in Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization
, No.5(2), (1989), 307-331.
Much of it put together in R.Stark and R.Finke, Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion
, (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2000).
See Oslington, Economics
G.Brennan and A. Hamlin, „Economizing on Virtue”, in Constitutional Political Economy
, No.6(1), (1995), 35-56.
R. Fogel, „Catching Up with the Economy”, in American Economic Review
, 89 (1), (1999), 1-16.
G.A. Akerlof and R.E. Kranton, „Economics and Identity”, in Quarterly Journal of Economics
, No.115(3), (2000), 715-753.
Michael Novak (1991): „The Catholic Anti-Capitalist Tradition” in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism
, Chapter XIV, Lanham/New York, Madison Books, 239-250.
Cf. Gregory M.A. Gronbacher, „The Need for Economic Personalism”, in The Journal of Markets & Morality
1, No.1 (Spring ), (1998), 16-27.
Let us note the distinction in epistemological terms between the two stages: liberation theology is an attempt to combine
theology and economics in a new theory
, while economic personalism represents an attempt to synthesize
the two disciplines into a new interdisciplinary science
See, in this respect, Gronbacher, The Need
Michael C. Jensen and William H. Meckling, „The Nature of Man”, in Journal of Applied Corporate Finance
, Vol.7, No.2, (1994), 4.
Gloria L. Zuniga, „What Is Economic Personalism? A Phenomenological Analysis”, in The Journal of Markets & Morality
,4, No.2 (Fall), (2001), 151.
Gronbacher, The Need
Kevin E. Schmiesing, „The Context of Economic Personalism”
, in The Journal of Markets & Morality
4, No.2 (Fall), (2001),176-193.
Francis Woehrling, „Christian Economics”, in The Journal of Markets & Morality
4, No.2 (Fall), (2001), 199-216.
Gronbacher, The Need
PETRE COMŞSA – Senior lecturer with the Faculty of Orthodox Theology in Targoviste, Romania. Currently serves as a priest at The Saint Elijah-Grant Church in Bucharest.
COSTEA MUNTEANU – Full-professor with the Academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest, Romania. Currently teaches International Corporate Finance and Psychological Economics at the Faculty of International Economics and Business.