Wednesday, July 20, 2005

: "A test on the Citizen Being"

There's an intriguing essay on economist Wilhelm Roepke here. Blogger HPB highlights Mr. Roepke's ambition:
His concern was the institutional embodiment of the spirit rather than the spirit directly. But he understood and agreed with those of his critics who argued that a "genuine cure is not to be found in institutional reforms but only by a deep and sincere self-examination on the part of each single individual.

The only really decisive question is, out of what ultimate depths of the soul is this Metanoia to be produced?" (xxii) It would be an interesting indicator of the times to find out how many economists know what the word, "Metanoia" means. The turning around of the soul toward God is a necessary part of conversion. But Roepke knew that the darkest nights of the soul as well as the darkest nights of world history stem from internal infection rather than external invasion. It is the internal corruptions rather than external blows for which men must be held responsible.
He also notes that:
Wilhelm Roepke understood better than anyone else in the 20th century the linkages between virtue and liberty. It is ironical that a German should understand so well the essential lived complexity of the American experiment in constitutional government. He represents better than any other economist-and that includes Hayek, Mises, Friedman, Stigler--a true understanding of the moral foundations of constitutional economics.
Catholic Theologian Michael Novak has also emphasized the importance of a moral culture to a sustainable society founded on Democracy and Free Enterprise. Mr. Roeke confirms Mr Novak's thesis from an economic perpective. It makes sense. Free Enterprise operates on the basis of mutual exchange. In other words, buyers and sellers choose to trade. What basis do they make these decisions on? How do Buyers decide the worthiness of whether or not a particular good or service should be purchased? How do sellers make the same decisions? Free Enterprise does not answer these questions. Individuals in an economic exchange do. Planners that seek to facilitate an economy do. People do. Free-willed, moral-agencied people choose. Roeke recognizes that one can't take the human being our of a human science. The sum of people's decisions is what drives the exchanges of a Free Market. Thus, the paradigm that guides those decisions becomes a crucial factor.

Morality is that paradigm. If many people internalized a robust morality well-founded in Truth, Charity and Virtue, would pornography be a multi-billion dollar industry? No. Why? There would not be as great a market for it. Moral people chose not to buy immoral products or services unless they act contrary to their morality. True, sin exists and we're all inclined toward it. However, a recognition of this itself reinforces the importance of making the right decision. When many people fail to take morality seriously, then they're willing to enter the market for illicit goods and services. Since scarce resources have alternative uses, decisions made to purchase illicit goods and services direct these resources to the continued production of these immoral outcomes. That means those resources won't make their way to more morally appropriate enterprises.

Ignoring the importance of virtue contributes greatly to the impoverishment of many. The cries for economic justice that people of goodwill raise may have their root in the blind eye society turns toward morality. The sooner society recognizes what Mr. Roeke has spent his lifetime shouting from the rooftops, the better off many of the poor and marginalized may become.