A Blog of the Global Justice Movement

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Death of Reason, VIII: Economics and the Natural Law

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A great many eyebrows undoubtedly went up while reading in yesterday’s posting when we claimed that much modern economic thought is not based on the natural law, but on a rejection of it; that of the schools of economic thought of which we are aware, only binary economics takes the natural law into account.

This is upsetting to the Monetarist/Chicago and Austrian schools for the simple reason that adherents can truthfully state that they respect the natural rights to life, liberty (freedom of association/contract) and, especially, property.  The problem is that the currency school assumptions that underpin the Monetarist/Chicago and Austrian schools — particularly the disproved belief that the only way to finance new capital formation is to cut consumption and accumulate money savings — necessarily restricts capital ownership to the already wealthy.

The rich are, obviously, the only ones who can afford to save, and are, therefore, the rightful owners of those savings.  Naturally, the rich perform a valuable service when they reinvest their profits to create jobs for non-owning workers, and should distribute as alms whatever is not required to finance new capital or maintain them and their dependents in suitable style.

Effectively, this means that as far as adherents of the Monetarist/Chicago and Austrian school are concerned, all human beings are not created equal, all people do not have equal access to the exercise of otherwise inalienable rights of life, liberty and property.  Since the Thomist understanding of the natural law is that every human being has by definition an “analogously complete” capacity to acquire and develop virtue by exercising his or her natural rights, denying the effective exercise of natural rights to individuals or groups raises barriers to full participation in the common good that is the natural right of all humanity.  The natural law is effectively nullified by denying the exercise of rights.

Binary economics is even more upsetting (if possible) to adherents of the Keynesian school, the other mainstream school of economics based on currency school principles.  (We’ve made the case so many times that, while Keynesian economics claims to be banking school it is really currency school, we don’t feel the need to prove it one more time.)

Keynesians accept the fact that many people are unable to acquire and possess property in capital . . . if we continue to define “property” the way Aquinas did, as a natural right to be an owner inhering in every single human being, and the bundle of socially determined rights that define the exercise of property.  For the Keynesians as well, lack of democratic capital ownership is dictated by the presumed necessity of having to cut consumption and accumulate money savings before financing new capital formation.

Keynes, however, did not make the mistake of saying that people are not equal, and thus rights are only to be exercised by an elite.  No, he simply changed what it means for something to be a right and inalienable, that is, natural.  Keynes shifted rights from being inherent in the human person, to being a special grant from the State.  He then redefined liberty — freedom of association/contract — and abolished private property.  To do this, of course, Keynes had to give the State a power greater than God by vesting it with the power (as he put it) to “re-edit the dictionary.”

This is disastrous in Thomist terms.  In Thomism — the “official” philosophy of the Catholic Church — the natural law is based on God’s Nature, which is self-realized in His Intellect.  That is, God is a fully and perfectly integrated Personality, with no conflict between His Nature and His Being; God is fully all that He is, was, or ever will be.

God “reflects” (a poor word for the concept, although Saint Clare spoke profoundly of God as “the Mirror of Eternity”) His Nature on to His “special creation,” humanity.  Human nature is thus a “reflection” of the Divine Nature.

As we might expect, however, human beings are not fully integrated personalities, that is, we are not fully human the way God is fully God.  (This is different from saying that all human beings are fully human, and are human in the same way.)  God is the fullness of virtue (“God is love”); His capacity to acquire and develop virtue is fully and self-realized, while human beings need to exercise their natural rights to acquire and develop virtue, thereby conforming themselves more perfectly to their own nature.

While human beings are not fully integrated personalities, however, we still are a reflection of God’s Nature.  That means that what is good to God is also good to us — Aristotle pointed out that “good” is conformity with nature.  That means that the natural law is a part of what we are — human nature, the natural law (as the expression goes) is “written in the hearts of all men.”  We can, therefore, get a reasonable understanding of the absolutes of the natural law by using our reason and observing and drawing conclusions from human nature, even if only “through a glass darkly.”

The Keynesian re-editing of the dictionary overthrows all of this and effectively abolishes the natural law.  Re-editing the dictionary allows the State to change the definition of various natural laws as well as the natural law itself — in short, to re-define God.  Rights no longer come from a Creator, but from the State, and can be redefined as well as granted or taken away at the will of the State.  It is no wonder that philosophers like Mortimer Adler, financial experts like Harold Moulton, and jurists like Heinrich Rommen concluded that shifting the basis of the natural law away from what can be observed about human nature and on to, e.g., faith or political expedience, is a straight road to totalitarianism.

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