On January 5, three IHE fellows (Andy Yuengert, Catherine Pakaluk, and Mary Hirschfeld) presented recent research in a paper session at the annual meetings of the Allied Social Sciences Association in Atlanta. The well-attended session, “Explorations in Christian Thought and Economic Analysis,” was organized by Andy Yuengert, and sponsored by the Association of Christian Economists. The three papers each offered insight into how Catholic perspectives on society and the human person might affect how we think about economics and the economy. Mary Hirschfeld (Villanova), drawing on her recent book, “Aquinas and the Market: Toward a Human Economy” (Harvard University Press), explored the distinction between “being” and “having” in Catholic Social Doctrine. How should we look at the economy differently when our vocation (“being”) is not equivalent to the multiplication of material goods (“having”)? Catherine Pakaluk followed with a discussion of dependence in economic studies of human relationships. Pakaluk outlined the differences between statistical dependence in social science research and dependence in actual families, in schools, and in the workplace. She then reflected on the challenge of analyzing these two kinds of dependence together. Andy Yuengert reflected on the difficulty that economics has in analyzing virtue, especially Aristotelian virtue. To model reality economists must simplify it, and the virtues are needed to address the very complexity that economists leave out of their models. A fourth paper, presented by Gordon Menzies of University of Technology, Sydney, outlined an economic humanism based on Christian principles.
The presenters were joined by four discussants, young economics PhDs and PhD students interested in Catholic Social Doctrine. The discussants brought their mainstream economic expertise to bear in their comments, at the same time being willing to grapple with the perspectives of the papers, which was decidedly outside of the mainstream. Their comments added critical perspective to the session, placing the papers more firmly in conversation with the economics discipline.