Tuesday, September 22, 2009

More To Life Than Money

Here's a couple of interesting tidbits to put side by side (indirect hat tip to Tyler Cowen for both).

First, the heterodox economic "policy" department at Notre Dame is being disbanded. This department justified itself as an attempt to integrate Catholic Social Thought with modern economics. Believing what I do about modern major universities, this more or less amounted to rationalizations for some flavor of neo-Marxist, social democratic New Left politics. That could be too harsh, I am not that familiar with their work.

On the other hand, anyone who has been paying attention in the blogosphere surely knows that there is an economics department from a less prominent university which has been setting the world on fire for the last few years at least: the department at George Mason U.

This is an interesting state of affairs, especially in light of the history of Catholic Social Doctrine. I think it's fair to say that nowhere else is there a larger gap between things as they ought to be and things as they are. Independently of the reader's ecclesial affiliation, the encyclicals and other fundamental documents are substantial, profound meditations about social relations among people. Unfortunately, the constituents of Catholic Social Doctrine seem to describe with irritating frequency the correct course of action or state of mind for a world other than the one that actually exists to you and me.

Some Catholics both Left and Right, want to think this is another example of anti-Catholic bias, in particular the reduction of man to an economic beast. That's a bum rap. If the exponents of CSD could do their work in the idiom of (and accountable to) the standards of modern econometrics, they would get a hearing from mainstream economists. Unfortunately CSD loses quite a bit when viewed through the prism of empirical data, and what's left over isn't very interesting.

Of course, that's not the end of the story. A couple of months ago Pope Benedict XVI released CARITAS IN VERITATE, his third encyclical. This work has generated lots of commentary like all encyclicals. But my sense is, what sets this letter apart from the other social encyclicals is that it confronts the world of late industrial capitalism as we actually recognize it, instead of how the popes saw it.

As I finish, let's also note the particular constituents of "Masonomics" mentioned earlier. For me, there's two important points to gathered from Tyler's short list. One, that economics is not necessarily afraid of the gooier, less pecuniary parts of our psyche. They're part of life. And in the subtext, that George Mason is not afraid of the econometric standards of the rest of the profession. If you can pull it off, it's not a bad place to be.

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