July 18, 2012

Ethics and Capitalism: An Interview with James A. Sadowsky, S.J.—Part 3 of 9

Economics and Ethics
Do you believe that economic systems are morally neutral? Or rather that capitalism does have moral content because it stresses the economic and material dimensions of human existence and therefore its doctrine may be fairly described as “economistic”?
Why would you say that?  What is “economism”?
Well, there is the Marxist idea that economic conditions determine human existence, values, beliefs, etc.  It is usually raised in criticism of Marxism, but it is also attributed to capitalism.
I don’t know anyone who affirms such an idea.  No economist holds anything like it.
Certainly there are economic schools that analyze all institutions and phenomena, marriage, suicide, etc., from an economic perspective.
Certainly those things have economic aspects, but they should not be explained deterministically.
Are economic systems morally neutral or not?
Economic assertions are not value-judgments, and morality has nothing to do with them. For example, to assert that rent control must lower the standard of living is simply an assertion that I believe is true, but it is not a value-judgment.  It does not automatically imply that one is for or against rent control. It says only that if rents are controlled there will be certain effects. Morality pertains to ends, and economics to means. It could be desirable to reduce poverty, and the economy offers the tools to make that happen, but it does not determine whether or not that should be a priority.
To Be Continued