Acton Institute Powerblog

A Swiftly Tilting Economics

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I was waiting for the shuttle this morning when it struck me–an idea, I mean, not the shuttle. We talk a lot here at the Acton Institute about how economics needs morality and morality needs economics; or, as Fr. Sirico phrased it in his NRO salute to Ed Opitz, “Christianity qua Christianity [offers] no specific economic model any more than economics qua economics has any specific moral model to proffer—which is precisely why they both need each other.” I’ve thought of a powerful illustration of this idea–though I am sure I’m not the first to make the connection–and it has been sitting unassumingly on my bookshelf at home, an essay in almost every freshman literature textbook: Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal. This work offers a very efficient, well-planned, and minutely-detailed cure for the hunger of the Irish: let them eat their young. And as I am sure most of our readers know well this work as a prime example of the power of satire, I think it also a great (and gruesome) primer to the idea of economics without the guiding hand of morality. Just a thought. Off to lunch.

David Michael Phelps