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New Acton Commentary: Economics not Great at Orthodox Council

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Recently, The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church was held in Crete, culminating in a document titled “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World”.  In the most recent Acton Commentary, research fellow and managing editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality Dylan Pahman comments on the flaws in economic principles and guidelines espoused in the document.

In framing the criticism, Pahman argues that “the statement’s economic pronouncements range from ambiguous and questionable to both wrong and harmful.”  Says Pahman:

While claiming that the “Church cannot remain indifferent to the economic processes which have a negative impact on all humanity,” the mission document gives little indication that its authors are aware of any actual, basic economic processes like competition, the price system, business cycles, creative destruction, inflation, and so on. Instead, it ambiguously asserts the “need … of structuring the economy on moral principles.”

Pahman notes the ambiguity in the statement, which does not specify which economies it seeks to remedy or account for the diversity of economic structures and their moral underpinnings.

More concerning, continues the commentary, is the fundamental misunderstanding of greed in relation to material need and the conflation of consumption and consumerism.  Pahman criticizes the condemnation of continuous economic growth, arguing:

The lessons of economic history show us indisputably that nations only overcome poverty through industrialization and economic liberalization. If we truly believe the affirmation of the inviolable dignity of the human person that begins the document, we must hope not for less but more and faster industrialization. The alternatives to “constant growth” are stagnation, recession, or depression. Why, then, is the Church condemning it?

The end of the commentary reads as somewhat cautionary, with Pahman warning that “to presume that good intentions apart from knowledge of economic science and history is sufficient to address issues of economic justice will surely exacerbate unjust inequality, poverty, and hunger.”  Using Venezuela as an example, he describes the horrendous results of policies that prevent pursuit of the “gratification of material needs” and “constant growth in prosperity.”

Though he assumes the best of intentions on the part of those who wrote the document and does not question their sincerity in wanting human flourishing, he concludes:

… However unintentionally, their attempt to promote that thriving through high-minded pontification tragically amounts to economic misguidance unworthy of the ‘Gospel of the Kingdom of God.’

Read the entire piece here.

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Mimi Teixeira

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