Samuel Gregg, director of research at Acton Institute, was recently interviewed by Carl E. Olson of Catholic World Report about his new book For God and Profit. Gregg is a frequent contributor to CWR on the topics of political economy, economic history, ethics in finance, and natural law theory.
The first question asked of Gregg was “Is it fair to say that Church teaching about money and economics is widely misunderstood and often misrepresented? If so, what are some of the reasons?” His response:
Catholic social teaching outlines clear principles for people who want to addresses issues surrounding finance and economic life in a way that takes human flourishing seriously. These include the principles of the dignity of the person, solidarity, subsidiarity, the preferential option for the poor, the principle of common use, the principal of private property, to name just a few. These principles are drawn from Revelation and the natural law. But they are not well understood by some Catholics. One reason for this is that they tend to be buried—including, I must say, in the social encyclicals—amidst a range of historically-contingent reflections and the offering of prudential judgements on present-day affairs.
The English language version of Rerum Novarum (1891) is about 14,000 words. Laudato Si’ (2015) is approximately 40,000 words. More than one person has suggested that this partly reflects the magisterium entering into the details of far too many economic subjects, the vast majority of which Catholics are free to disagree about among themselves. If we’re interested in equipping lay Catholics to think through economic issues, more time should be invested in explaining principles of Catholic social teaching and how they relate to each other. Less time, I’d argue, should be spent addressing questions upon which Catholics may legitimately hold a variety, even sometimes quite different views.
Gregg goes on in the interview to answer questions about what motivated him to write For God and Profit:
There were three reasons I decided to write For God and Profit. First, our financial systems are not in good shape these days. The second reason is that modern Catholic social teaching says relatively little about money and the financial sector. This is a gap that, at the level of principle, requires filling. The third reason is that commentary on issues concerning finance and money requires some understanding of how these areas of the economy work.
It’s perfectly legitimate for the Church to speak about questions such as, for example, speculation. But to do so in a way that’s credible, it’s good for Christians to have some grasp of the roles played by speculation in modern market economies. Speculation, for the most part, serves to manage and even reduce risk in the economy over the long-term. Can speculation go wrong? Absolutely. Wholescale condemnations of speculation as a financial tool usually, however, indicate that the condemner doesn’t quite understand its function. An economy without speculation will be, I can assure you, far more unstable and less productive in the long-term.
In the end of the interview, Gregg answers a question about what he thinks should happen with the future of the financial sector and what is the one thing he hopes Christians will take away from his book:
The financial sector and capital markets aren’t in good shape right now. Reform is needed. I don’t think, however, that more regulation is the best way. It is often counterproductive. But if there is anything that I hope Christians take away from the book, it’s that we need dynamic financial sectors and capital markets, especially if we want to get and keep people out of poverty.
You can read Gregg’s full interview at Catholic World Report here.