Homo Economicus Baptized

Homo economicus gets a bad rap, as being insensible of the finer things in life: love, charity, worship, beauty, and so forth. He is supposed to be interested only in profit for himself.

In fact, the notion is far more comprehensive. Included in the calculus of what is profitable to economic man is his evaluation of what is morally best, spiritually best, and so forth. We all weigh our decisions in this manner, balancing our desires to fulfill obligations, to meet duties, to care for our bodies and for those whom we love, to tend the garden, make some profitable trades, respond to customers, go to church, and so forth. Economic life is not about spending and getting money, it is about allocating time. And the question ever before each of us is always the same: what is the right thing to do now, mutatis mutandis? I.e., given my overall schedule of preferences for all the possible things that I could do – including doing nothing – what is optimal?

Homo economicus is often profane and wicked and debased and ignoble, to be sure; but only because he is Fallen, and then only insofar as he has not been baptized and converted to a new and righteous and truer mind, so that his preferences are still whacked by idolatry and falsehood and unbelief, thus queering and ruining all his evaluations. The homo economicus that people gripe about is miscalled. His true name is homo irreligiosus.

8 thoughts on “Homo Economicus Baptized

  1. The Parable of the Talents testifies that Christianity is not opposed to wealth or the growth of wealth. It is opposed to hoarding, to the isolation of wealth from public circulation. In Iceland, even before Christianity, a law forbade the hoarding of gold and silver in bulk, or of coins. It outraged the public conscience that wealth should not be in circulation.

  2. We all weigh our decisions in this manner, balancing our desires to fulfill obligations, to meet duties, to care for our bodies and for those whom we love, to tend the garden, make some profitable trades, respond to customers, go to church, and so forth. Economic life is not about spending and getting money, it is about allocating time.

    I understand what you’re saying here as a critique of liberal anthropology but I still think there is a danger in this kind of reductionism. In his work Human Action Ludwig von Mises denies the omnipotence of God and the possibility of “absolute perfection” on grounds that sound similar to your own:

    Action is a display of potency and control that are limited. It is a manifestation of man who is restrained by the circumscribed powers of his mind, the physiological nature of his body, the vicissitudes of his environment, and the scarcity of the external factors on which his welfare depends.” Human Action pg. 70.

    • I’m not clear on what it is in my nutshell summary of the moment of decision seems reductionist to you. Certainly I didn’t mean it to be reductionist! NB that to say that the moment of decision selects from a schedule of preferences is not to say that decision is nothing but a schedule of preferences clunking along mechanically.

      Certainly it is not logically possible for God to create an absolute perfection, for only God himself can be perfect along all dimensions of value. If he were to create an absolute perfection, then, the only way he could do so would be by creating another God. But there can be only one ultimate, etc.

      This is however no vitiation of God’s omnipotence. There is no such thing as a power to do what cannot possibly be done in the first place. So likewise it is no defect of omnipotence that God cannot create a stone that he cannot lift.

      We introduce no difficulties then in suggesting that the ontological budget of mere creatures is limited.

      But having said all that, I’m not quite sure I’ve been responsive to what you were saying. If so, I apologize, and beg that you clarify your point for me.

  3. Pingback: Homo Economicus Baptized | Reaction Times

  4. “The homo economicus that people gripe about is miscalled. His true name is homo irreligiosus.”

    All castes have their fallen and unfallen types. For example, the irreligious nobleman is simply a brutal warlord or bandit chieftain – there were plenty of those types in the Middle Ages. Considering ordinary economic activity as unheroic behavior only fit for commoners, they stole by force what they wanted from weaker people, often considering the merchants who travelled through their territories as legitimate targets of plundering.

  5. This is a good post. Property and ownership must be baptized — they cannot be eliminated and yet become perverse unless cultivated under the authoritative governance of the true religion, Catholic Christianity.

    Communism from one point of view is like taking a look at sex, seeing how badly it has been perverted by modernity, and concluding that all sex is bad. It is the generation X of economic liberalism reacting against the baby boomer generation of economic liberalism. It knows something is wrong but, having relegated religion to the status of non-authoritative decoration, has no way of understanding what is wrong.

    Communism is property Puritanism; capitalism is property hedonism.

    The sexual freak show is not something new from the 1960s or 1920s or whatever. It is just the natural outworking of the world view established by liberalism’s usurious economic freak show.

    • Exactly. The reformer’s zeal is to destroy Chesterton’s gate because it has been left open these last many years. So long has it failed in its function due to desuetude, that no one of his acquaintance can see what it was for in the first place. The reformer concludes that the gate is useless, and worse than useless. So he destroys it.

      This is improper reduction weaponized and operant.

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