Dr. Thomas Woods Jr. in the Dock
THE PALEOCRAT TRIBUNELittle more than a gaggle of hacks and geeks.
On Ethical Dimensions of Economics
with 25 comments

It was only a matter of weeks ago that I first posted a critique of Dr. Thomas Woods, Jr. My contention was, and continues to be, that the distinguished scholar has placed himself in a dangerous position for his outright defiance of and hostility towards the Church’s economic and social doctrine. I still maintain this position.

The issue soon came up on YouTube. Various viewers wanted to know my position on the matter of Catholicism and economic liberalism, and most had not read my previous remarks concerning the subject. So as any arm-chair vlogger with too much time on his hands would do, I decided to produce a video. It was rather specific, maybe even too specific, in that it dealt only with the claims the popes have made of the Magisterium’s jurisdiction, competence, and supreme authority over social and economic principles, matters, and activities. I provided both positive affirmations from the Popes as well as their warnings and judgments upon those who would beg to differ.

Then, out of the blue, I get a YouTube message from none other than Dr. Woods. He was rather unhappy with the fact that I had criticized him without having first read his book. I must grant that I have yet to read his book, and I am not at all sure that I wish to. I have little time to spare, and even fewer pennies. More significant would be that my knowledge of him and his position, being derived from both written and audio material, is more than satisfactory. Nevertheless, I will grant that my having done as much would have fulfilled a common courtesy that falls somewhere between arbitrary and advantageous.

More important than his being irked by my having side-stepped lining his pocket was his one million dollar challenge. Well, he didn’t offer one million, but he did offer to “listen.” He went on to insist that an inability to do so would be to concede his belief that economics is an autonomous and amoral science. In any case, here is the challenge:

If anyone can point out to me a_theoretical_statement from economics that contains a moral dimension, then I will listen.

He went on to say:

As soon as you can find me one principle of economic theory that is bound up with morality, you be sure and let me know.

Now, lest anyone be confused as to what he is asking for, his request is limited to “ONE principle of economic theory.” Not four, or three, or even two; no, Dr. Woods only asks for one.

Should we go with profit, value, labor, private property, or any other single principle readily at our fingertips? Maybe next time. I’ll take the hard way.

For the sake of this blog entry, we will have to make a few things clear. First, Dr. Woods denies that the Magisterium has jurisdiction, competency, and supreme authority over economic and social principles, matters, and activities. He readily admits that this is in blatant contradiction to the declarations of the popes. Secondly, he denies that social and economic theory is to be guided by social justice and charity, as well as it being a matter of anthropology, thus placing it within the realm of moral theology. This, too, is contrary to the claims of the popes. Lastly, he would consequently deny that the papal warnings and judgments against those who would lack the kind of loyal trust and filial obedience to fearlessly uphold and apply the principles and directives given within the social encyclicals. Needless to say, such disregard is deemed scandalous and would formally convict one of the grossest of injustice and ingratitude. Once again, Dr. Woods doesn’t even wince. The popes have no jurisdiction, competence, or authority, so their verdicts, including their harshest warnings, are of no effect.

So what of his challenge? Does he have a point? Is economics a morally neutral science? Are economics theories without any ethical dimension?

Foremost amongst his problems is the idea that epistemology (in general) is ethically neutral. This is an unargued assumption. He may presuppose this, but that doesn’t necessarily make it so. In fact, one would be hard pressed to say that Christian epistemology allows it. One could, and should, work from the assumption that to know things as they are or ought to be is to known them rightly. If this is done, then we know things as God has made them or would have them to be. Seeing things in this manner would cause our knowing rightly to be theological matter and an ethical good. It is the equivalent of demanding that we think God’s thoughts after him. In so far as we do this, we are seeing and thinking things rightly and, consequently, ethically.

So from the outset we see that he has an epistemological problem on his hands. It is a presuppositional matter. This, being the framework wherein he rests his argument, poses a serious problem for all which is to come.

Let’s ignore for a moment this glaring difficulty, and just presume for the sake of argument that epistemology is neutral. Aside from it making all knowledge amoral, posing serious problems for the morality of thought and belief, such a notion is of no value in arguments of this nature. Even if I said that an economic theory, as a collection of symbols attempting to communicate a message to be decoded by a receiver, was neutral, the meaning of the words and the value judgments it makes would bear moral significance.

Take for example laissez-faire. The theory would have us believe that men and nations will prosper most under conditions wherein the state abstains from most, if not all, economic interventions into the free market where goods are freely exchanged. Sounds neutral enough, right? It’s just a theory, right? Well, no and kind of. The theory is riddled with moral dimensions. We must deal with how to define concepts like men, nations, prosperity, the state and its purpose, and what is or is not to be included within the notion of goods to be exchanged. Each and every one of these touches upon a moral and theological concept.

Moreover, it’s not so much the theory, as an accumulation of words, which is at issue here as it is with the underlying presuppositions of any given theory. The concern is with one’s notion of man, the world, how things relate and interact with one another, how things ought to relate and interact with one another, etc. To leave it as theory would be nonsense seeing that the theorist has in mind putting his theory into action. One could also point out that economics deals not only with how things work, but with how things ought to work, therefore tossing it headfirst into the realm of ethics.

In final analysis, it should be rather clear that Dr. Woods has wrongfully presupposed the notion of epistemological neutrality, causing him to gloss over the fact that economic theory, even as just a set of words, is not left without a moral dimension in so far as it deals with reality and is attempting to communicate with morally loaded words and concepts how things ought to be.

Why Dr. Woods continues down this road of ruin is left unknown. But those faithful sons and daughters of the Magisterium should begin holding his feet to the fire, demanding that he at least begin to listen.

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Dr. Thomas Woods Jr. in the Dock - by Belloc - 07-28-2009, 10:29 AM
Re: Dr. Thomas Woods Jr. in the Dock - by Belloc - 07-28-2009, 10:37 AM

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