Promoting the Common Good: Bringing Economics and Theology Together Again
A Theologian and an Economist in Dialogue
Marcus Braybrooke and Kamran Mofid
Foreword by Richard Harries, the Bishop of Oxford
Epilogue by Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh
"The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits"
"Businesses do not have a natural propensity to do good. What is natural for them is to minimise costs and maximise profits"
Editorial, The Economist, 24 June 1995
"To [the inefficiency of the economic system] must be added the cultural and national dimension. It is not possible to understand man on the basis of economics alone nor to define him simply on the basis of class membership. Man is understood in a more complete way when he is situated within the sphere of culture through his language, history, and the position he takes toward the fundamental events of life..."
Centesimus Annus (no.24)
"The art of government in fact is the art of so ordering life that self-interest prompts what justice demands"
Archbishop William Temple
Today, sadly economics is viewed by many as a “dismal” science. It has an abstracted version of humanity, Homo Oekonomicus, or Rational Economic Man, a man that always prefers more wealth to less. This greedy, self-seeking man has become the unquestioned "truth" that has led to many of today's socio-cultural, spiritual and environmental crises, as what is economically rational is often socially or morally unreasonable. This model of the individual is sharpened by an exclusive focus on production and consumption, with no regard for their consequences. The goal is that as many desires as possible must be satisfied, whatever those desires are. This false ideology, in turn, has excluded morality, community and the common good from economic discourse. Moreover, from the standpoint of human well-being and happiness, there is surely something irrational about dedicating ourselves single-mindedly to accumulating more wealth all the time.
Economics today has increasingly been dehumanised. Theological reflection is particularly scarce within economics. This was not always so. Even a little reading of the history of economic thought will show how economics was very closely and explicitly linked with theology. This umbilical cord was torn first, during the 18th century, when economics was detached from theology to become political economy. Then, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was cut off from political philosophy to become simply economics. Now, through over-utilisation of mathematical models, it has become an arid, abstract “science”, interested only in “things” that can be measured, and devoid of any moral content.
Beneath those complicated and hard to understand mathematical models however, there is the inescapable human input that keeps economics within the humanities. How we conduct ourselves in our private and economic lives has a moral dimension. To resolve these moral dilemmas we need to look to the great religions of the world. The root of effective religion is effective economics, since the dissipative nature of life requires that we must all consume to live. Good religion not only establishes the environment necessary for creation of wealth, but makes certain that everyone has access to adequate resources for living, and seeks to minimise waste. This means that, theology is directly relevant to economics. Economists, thus, should not be seen as mere accountants, totting up numbers, but as philosophers of human activity. That is why economics and theology can never remain separated any more than any human activity can be divorced from theology.
In this short publication, theologian Marcus Braybrooke and economist Kamran Mofid, writing in a jargon-free style, discuss how theology and economics may once again work more closely together for the common good. Although, increased productivity, efficiency, and the production of wealth are important elements of a functional economy, so is the equitable distribution of that wealth.
If the economy cannot contribute to the latter, even though it has increased productivity and wealth, then, it is a social organisation that has failed to achieve its proper end. Modern economics promotes scarcity, competition, individualism, greed and selfishness, as the engines of “successful” modern capitalism. In contrast to this modern doctrine, the authors argue that the goal of the economic process should be, to aid the development and the perfection of human personality, dignity and happiness. This occurs only within a social community which cultivates the virtue of justice and consideration of the common good.
Economics, from the time of Plato through to Adam Smith , John Stuart Mill and others, was as deeply concerned with issues of social justice, ethics and morality as with economic analysis itself . However, most students studying economics today, learn that Adam Smith was the “father of modern economics” but do not know that he was also a moral philosopher. In 1759, sixteen years before his Wealth of Nations, he published The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which explored the self–interested nature of man and his ability to still make moral decisions based on factors other than selfishness. In the Wealth of Nations, Smith laid the early groundwork for economic analysis, but embedded it in a broader discussion of social justice and the role of government. Students today know only of Smith’s famous analogy of the “invisible hand” and refer to him (rather obliquely) in defence of free markets. They ignore his clear understanding that the pursuit of wealth should not take precedence over social and moral obligations, and of how a “divine Being” produces “the greatest quantity of happiness”.
It is important and timely to articulate an alternative. The task of this booklet is to encourage a better understanding of economics by highlighting the need and the reasons for, as well as the benefits of, bringing theology and economics together. Religions, after all, represent one of the oldest and most enduring global networks rooted in strong ethical principles not currently dominant within the global market. As such, one has to ask how they could offer insights and potential ways of redirecting the global economy towards the common good. Put it simply, religions use the standard of distribution or equality to evaluate an economic policy, while economics uses the standard of production or efficiency. However, to create a better world, it should be noted that, it is no more a question of efficiency or equality, but a question of how to advance both values together. A just and wise policy attempts to increase the area of their convergence. It is a reminder of how easy it is to be carried along unthinkingly by modern life, and at what cost, without ever asking any questions about the shortcomings of modern hedonism and materialism, as well as our responsibilities in a world in which many people live in abject poverty and the environment is endangered. In this sense, a theological perspective on economics, takes us where moral views rooted in terms of liberal democracy and market economy can not go: to a radical critique of everyday life in affluent, consumerist societies.
Revd. Marcus Braybrooke, President, World Congress of Faiths; Patron, International Interfaith Centre (Oxford); Co-founder, Three Faiths Forum (London). Author, Faith and Interfaith in a Global Age, 1,000 World Prayers, and What We Can Learn from Islam and other books. For more details see: www.worldfaiths.org
Kamran Mofid was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1952. In 1986 he was awarded a doctorate in economics from the University of Birmingham, U.K. From 1980 onward, he has been teaching economics, business studies, international business, and the political economy of the Middle East. In recent years, Dr. Mofid has developed short courses, seminars, and workshops on economics and theology, the economics of the common good, and an interfaith perspective on globalisation. His many books and articles include: Development Planning in Iran: From Monarchy to Islamic Republic (1987); The Economic Consequences of the Gulf War (1990); and Globalisation for the Common Good (2002). In 2002 he founded an annual international conference "An Inter-faith Perspective on Globalisation for the Common Good.” For more details please see www.commongood.info
The Rt. Revd. Richard Harries has been Bishop of Oxford since 1987. Before that he was Dean of King's College, London. He has been a parish priest and a lecturer in Christian Doctrine and Ethics. The Bishop has written 18 books including Is there a Gospel for the Rich? (1992) and Art and the Beauty of God (1993). In 1996 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He has contributed to a wide variety of national newspapers and journals. He is Chairman of the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility, which puts him in the front line on a range of issues. He is an active member of the House of Lords contributing to recent debates on housing and homelessness, asylum seekers and the Family Law Bill.
For further details please see http://www.oxford.anglican.org/bishop/
Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh is the Chairman and Spiritual Successor of the Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha in Birmingham, UK, and internationally well known for this contributions in the field of education, the Sikh heritage and inter-religious endeavours.
ISBN 0 85683 231 6 available in April 2005 to coincide with:
The 4th Annual International Conference on an Inter-faith Perspective on Globalisation --- Africa and Globalisation for the Common Good, the Quest for Justice and Peace, Kericho, Kenya, April 2005.
Shepheard-Walwyn (Publishers) Ltd., Suite 604, The Chandlery,
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Tel: 020 7721 7666 Fax: 020 7721 7667
Promoting the Common Good can be ordered online:
The Foreword, Abstract and Table of Contents of Promoting the Common Good can be found here:
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