Monday, October 05, 2009
Economics for Leprechauns and Unicorns
Let's make a couple of clarifications with respect to Boethius' lastest post.
First of all, the is/ought gap I was talking about in this post is referring to Catholic Social Doctrine. Catholic Social Doctrine is primarily (but not exclusively) associated with a set of papal encyclicals starting with Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII (and Boethius conveniently linked to). This is not the same thing Christian doctrine in general, Christian exhortations such as the commandment to love one's enemies, or Christian foreign policy.
Second, the is/ought gap is not about "goals" as much as premises. CSD often tries to instruct us on the proper social and economic relations in situations that are only vaguely recognizable to most of us.
If I had to reduce this to one example, I'd pick the "priority of labor over capital," a catchphrase of both the Catholic Left and the secular Left as well. First of all, it's fundamentally mistaken to think that the disparagement of capital is the way to meet basic human needs. But more than that, to a substantial extent the priority of labor over capital is a logical non sequitur. There is not necessarily any "they" who doles some goodies for labor and some for capital (and who is also subject to moral instruction from popes).
This is especially revealing in the context of the modern industrial welfare state. If the place where we arbitrarily choose between labor and capital is foreign for us, the modern welfare state plainly is not. Not every nation with a social-service apparatus is the same of course, but there's enough commonality to treat it as one phenomenon. But in spite of being a tangible reality for most of us, the social encyclicals speak of the welfare state only in vague terms. This leaves the field open for the Catholic Left to identify the expansion of the welfare state as the "Catholic" solution for modern social relations. Whatever may be said for that (and those of us on the Right are skeptical), the world that describes is a much more boring place than the one that actually exists.