Economics and the Life of Virtue

Though he is concerned with Evangelical Christians, I think Joe Carter’s essay (What Liberal Evangelicals Should Know About the Economic Views of Conservative Evangelicals) does a good job outlining the views of most economic conservative Christians. He addresses the first four points in today’s essay and will look at the last eight Wednesday and Friday of this week.

Both here and in other places I’ve had conversations with people about economics that weren’t always based in a clear understanding of what each side thought.  While not every Christian (much less every person of good will) will agree with all, or even most, of the points he outlines, Carter’s 12 points are a very good place to begin a conversation.

Often Christians limit our conversation about economic ethics to intention–good intentions are equated with a morally good economic policy. Unfortunately, this approach not only allows us to overlook the harmful consequences of good intentions, it also allows one side to characterize unfairly the other. The pursuit of profit is not immoral–if it were we would all have to work for free. Yes, we can pursue profits through immoral means (e.g., drug dealing, prostitution, pornography, abortion, theft, murder, etc.). And yes, the pursuit of profits can have unintended consequences (e.g.,  environmental harm). And on the personal level, it can show a malformed conscience (e.g., the father who is so committed to his job that he neglects his family even though there is no reason for him to work long hours).

But economic decisions are also about trade offs. This is why Carter’s first principle is so important. In a fallen world it is much easier to abstain from evil than it is to produce an unalloyed good. How to balance the many goods things in my life, the many noble causes, and my many responsibilities, is at the heart of the moral life and why I must live a life not simply of good intentions but of ascetical struggle and actively cultivate a life of virtue. In other words, it is not enough that I mean well; I must become good.

Yes, the pursuit of virtue is a lifelong process. I will never be morally good in an absolute sense. Even my noblest motives require purification and as for my best actions, well they too will need refinement as I struggle to bring my life in every greater conformity to the example of Jesus Christ.

This is why I think I have become more interested in economics. It reminds me that I can do better not just practically–though that too–but also morally. Economics challenges me to transcend my own best intentions and seek to pursue a life of real, and not merely theoretical, moral goodness.

Do look at Carter’s 12 principles and take a moment to read his very thoughtful essay.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

1. Good intentions are often trumped by unintended consequences.

2. Our current economic and historical context must be taken into account when applying Biblical principles

3. To exploit the poor, the rich need the help of the government.

4. We love economic growth because we love babies.

5. The economy is not a zero sum game.

6. Inequality and poverty is more often a matter of personal choice than structural injustice.

7. The best way to compensate for structural injustice is to increase individual freedom.

8. Saddling future generations with crippling debt is immoral.

9. Social mobility — specifically getting people out of poverty — is infinitely more important than income inequality.

10. Jobs that lead to human flourishing are the most important part of a moral economy.

11. Free markets are information systems designed for virtuous people

12. Free markets are the best way to serve free people.

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