Winter 2010

Caritas in Veritate and Economic Theory

Nicholas J. Healy Jr.

“Caritas in veritate conceives the logic of gift not simply as an addition or moral corrective to current economic practice and theory, but as a basis for rethinking the nature of the economy itself.”

One of the most striking aspects of our common life today is the intense and near universal interest in the economy. This point can be illustrated in any number of ways. Upon turning on the radio one is immediately inundated with reports and analysis of the latest numbers on unemployment, the trade deficit, a revision of the third quarter’s GDP, minute by minute updates on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, etc. We are all familiar with the refrain that goes something like: “sixty-four percent of registered voters say that the economy is their number one concern,” or “exit polls showed that the economy was the main factor in the selection of candidate X.” Increasingly, discourse about the state of the economy seems to be one of the few areas that provides solid ground for our civil community. Everyone agrees about the economy’s importance, and (nearly) everyone wants the economy to improve or “grow.” There may be passionate disagreements about monetary policy and especially about the role of government in relation to the private sector, but no one questions the pervasive importance of this object named “the economy.”

Given the privileged place accorded economic issues within the public imagination, it is appropriate to ask, what exactly is the economy? Or when someone talks about economic issues as the most important ones, what does that person have in mind? A closely related question is: What is the method and subject matter of the science of economics? What qualifies as good economic analysis?

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1. This paper was originally delivered at the conference, “Family, Common Good and the Economic Order: A Symposium on Caritas in veritate,” held at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C. on 4 December 2010.