Acton Institute Powerblog

PowerLinks 05.24.13

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Morality and Economic Freedom: A Response to Gregg
Robert T. Miller, Public Discourse

Aristotelian-Thomistic moral philosophy doesn’t imply that every economy should be capitalist.

Natural Law and the Economy: A Reply to Miller
Samuel Gregg, Public Discourse

Natural law does not demand capitalism, but we can deduce from natural law that some institutions that are key to market economies are normally just, while practices key to socialist arrangements are usually unjust.

The Biblical Roots of Private Property
Jay W. Richards, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

Property is rooted in the grand story of the Bible. It was given by God at creation, as a means by which we exercise our call to stewardship and dominion as we fill the earth and develop it.

The Book We Still Can’t Spare
Lars Walker, The American Spectator

Without the Bible, can there be democracy?

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • RogerMcKinney

    Miller: “It would follow, for example, that every society in the history of the world except for a handful of societies existing in the last few centuries had immoral economic systems.”

    So? Most civilizations have been wrong about most important things. Take the example of modern science: why did it develop only in Western Europe in the early modern period? That would imply that “every society in the history of the world except for” one, got everything about nature wrong. That’s kind of obvious. They were wrong.

    Miller: “It would follow too that the greatest minds in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, including Aristotle and St. Thomas, had failed to notice the economic immorality of their own societies.”

    Aristotle got a lot of things wrong, even with regard to ethics. Aquinas has absorbed too much of Aristotle’s bad economics to make much progress in that area. It took centuries of working with Thomistic tradition for the Salamancan scholars to shake off the bad influence of Aristotle and discover the just price.

    Miller: “Of course, entrepreneurs tend to get better results than bureaucrats, but that’s a factual argument of the kind we’ve currently taken off the table.”

    I don’t see how Miller can separate morality from reality. If morality depends upon human flourishing, then we must examine reality in order to know under what conditions humanity flourishes. Economic historians have demonstrated that poverty never declined in the history of the world until 1600 when the Dutch Republic implemented capitalism. The poverty fell dramatically and has continued to fall around the world as nations embrace freer markets and private property. If poverty is a moral issue, reality suggests that capitalism is the only moral system.

    Gregg: “I agree with Miller that capitalism is not obligatory given these premises…”

    Gregg’s response was excellent, but I tend to disagree here. If morality is that which causes humanity to flourish, then capitalism is obligatory. While property may not be an absolute, exceptions should be rare. Property requires free markets. Without free markets, property is a sham. Of course, we need the rule of law to punish fraud and theft, but outside of those limits to markets destroy property.

  • RogerMcKinney

    Modern science made little progress until it shook off the chains of Aristotle’s physics. In the same way, economic thought made little progress until Aristotle’s it abandoned Aristotle’s errors in that area. Deirdre McCloskey has demonstrated that the “hockey stick” effect in per capita gdp (the reduction in poverty) that began in 1600 could not have happened without the change in attitude about commerce from that of Aristotle (it’s all bad) to the bourgeois values (it’s good). I’m not an expert on Aquinas, but I cans see him being chained to Aristotle too tightly in the area of morality in commerce.

    While I admire natural law, the Baptist in me wants to inject revelation into any discussion of morality. Revelation is the most certain path to truth. The economic system that God established in ancient Israel was a libertarian’s dream. That should carry some weight for the morality of economic systems.