Saturday, September 3, 2011

Epstein Part II: Pope Benedict

In the post below, I linked to Richard Epstein's discussion about Warren Buffett. But I mentioned that the first part of Prof. Epstein's article was a critical discussion about Pope Benedict's statements in Spain on economics.

Prof. Epstein says that the Pope is attacking markets. But his quotes (and those in the embedded link) don't obviously follow in that direction. I agree with Prof. Epstein that "putting people before profits" and "the common good" are two of those vacuous phrases that shows a lack of serious thinking about ethics and economics. On the other hand, the Pope warned against consumerism and hedonism which, to me, is a legitimate social criticism that has little to do with criticizing markets per se. On the other (third?) hand, his argument that a people or a society need an ethical framework seems to have morphed into a statement that an economic system as as system needs an ethical framework. I'm not ready to go there.

I remember when the Pope's encyclical on economics was released. I read through it, and I thought that it read as though it was written by a committee, full of "on the one hand but on the other" type of discussion of economic theory and what we know about the functioning of markets. Some of the sections were quite perceptive and economically literate, others were on the level of the "people before profits" slogans mentioned above.

At the end of the day, while I may literally come down on the side of Prof. Epstein in his critique of Pope Benedict's summary statements, at least Pope Benedict has attempted to articulate a theology of ethics and the marketplace that combines a positive analysis of how economies operate with a Christian ethical theology. This is something much more than many if not most mainline Protestant leaders have accomplished, even if I don't find it consistent or completely satisfying.

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