Monday, 18 June 2012

Not for sale

The Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel and former Reith Lecturer has been mentioned on this site before, as a search will reveal, but his latest book sounds worth drawing to your attention. Here are some extracts, reproduced from his article in The Atlantic. The whole article, and I am sure the book, is worth reading. (See the review by Rowan Williams.) Sandel writes:
"As the Cold War ended, markets and market thinking enjoyed unrivaled prestige, and understandably so. No other mechanism for organizing the production and distribution of goods had proved as successful at generating affluence and prosperity. And yet even as growing numbers of countries around the world embraced market mechanisms in the operation of their economies, something else was happening. Market values were coming to play a greater and greater role in social life. Economics was becoming an imperial domain. Today, the logic of buying and selling no longer applies to material goods alone. It increasingly governs the whole of life."
He speaks about the dent put in this prestige by the economic crisis, and denies that the root problem was simply greed:
"Some say the moral failing at the heart of market triumphalism was greed, which led to irresponsible risk-taking. The solution, according to this view, is to rein in greed, insist on greater integrity and responsibility among bankers and Wall Street executives, and enact sensible regulations to prevent a similar crisis from happening again. This is, at best, a partial diagnosis. While it is certainly true that greed played a role in the financial crisis, something bigger was and is at stake. The most fateful change that unfolded during the past three decades was not an increase in greed. It was the reach of markets, and of market values, into spheres of life traditionally governed by nonmarket norms. To contend with this condition, we need to do more than inveigh against greed; we need to have a public debate about where markets belong—and where they don’t."
So, of course, most of his book is about this debate. There is nothing divine or absolute about markets. We decide what is for sale, and how the rules of the market will operate. But "without quite realizing it—without ever deciding to do so—we drifted from having a market economy to being a market society," says Sandel. "The difference is this: A market economy is a tool—a valuable and effective tool—for organizing productive activity. A market society is a way of life in which market values seep into every aspect of human endeavor. It’s a place where social relations are made over in the image of the market."

Sandel is no Catholic, but his thought has a direct bearing on Catholic social thought and needs to be discussed in those circles.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Human Ecology

In a recent post I talked about Environmental Solidarity by Pablo Martinez, as representing a fresh approach to ecology from within the Catholic tradition. A recent issue of Second Spring was also devoted to this topic, including articles by Cardinal Angelo Scola and Dr Mary Taylor. The Thomist journal Nova et Vetera had the same focus (based on a most enjoyable conference that was held last year). Now the international review Communio has also made an important contribution, in its Winter 2011 issue called "Toward a Human Ecology: Person, Life, Nature", again featuring Dr Mary Taylor, a key player in the development of the "environmental solidarity" approach. (See also a helpful article by David Cloutier in the Winter 2010 issue of Communio called "Working with the Grammar of Creation".) An article on "The Orthodoxy of Catholic Ecology" by William L. Patanaude appeared in Catholic World Report in June. Other relevant articles and links will continue to be be posted from time to time in the Ecology section of our Economy project website.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

R.I.P., Rodger Charles SJ

Last week an old friend died – Fr Rodger Charles, the UK's greatest expert on Catholic social doctrine. I want to pay tribute to him here. At the turn of the century, he and I were collaborating in the writing of the world's first MA in CST, which would have been offered at Plater College, accredited by the Pontifical Lateran University under Cardinal Scola, if Plater itself had not mysteriously been closed by the Catholic bishops the following year. His greatest book on the subject was the two-volume textbook, Christian Social Witness and Teaching (Gracewing). He also wrote a smaller book called An Introduction to Catholic Social Teaching (Ignatius Press). His approach was less philosophical and theological than historical and doctrinal. He had a difficult life, being part of a religious order by which at times he felt frustrated. Several books he had planned and even written were never able to appear. But he remained ever faithful to the Society of Jesus and to the Church, and did what God permitted him to do in his place and time. In 2008 he was honoured by the Pius XI Award, given by the Society of Catholic Social Scientists (SCSS) to men and women who have made an outstanding contribution to building up a true Catholic social science. May he rest in peace.