Thomas Aquinas and the Economy

Harvard University Press has just published a book by Mary Hirschfeld, Aquinas and the Market: Toward a Humane Economy (after clicking „Look inside” you may find a table of contents and an excerpt from the book). The author strives to overcome the gap between the economy and theology, by proposing a model of “theological economy” rooted in the Aquinas’s thought.

The path forward came into focus when I was working on a paper on Aquinas’s account of private property. Unlike many of the Christians of his time, Aquinas defends private property, and not merely as a concession to our sinful natures. But his defense of private property seemed to rest on an internal contradiction. On the one hand, he seemed to be saying that private property is lawful because we are more inclined to work when we can enjoy the fruits of our labors, and on the other hand, he argued that we should nonetheless hold private property as if in common, that is, ready to share with others. The first argument read to me like the standard economic argument about the efficaciousness of incentives. But how could those incentives work, if we were to use our property as though it belonged to everyone? I wrestled with this problem for a long time before I realized that the seeming contradition only emerges if one begins with the assumptions about human nature employed by economists, namely that our wants are insatiable. Aquinas’s anthropology is quite different, and in light of that anthropology there is no contradiction. This was the crucial insight. To do theological economics properly, it is best to begin not with economic topics but rather with a theological accound of human nature (“Preface”, p. XIV-XV).

Mary Hirschfeld is among the most appropriate scholars to undertake such attempt of reconciling the economy and theology. She is a renown professor in economy (she obtained her PhD in the field in 1989 at the Harvard University), but after her conversion to Catholicism she has also begun her theological inquiries, obtaining a PhD in moral theology in 2013 at the Notre Dame University. Currently she is an associate professor at Villanova University. Online you may find e.g. her lecture Thomism for the 21st Century.

Already first reviews of the book has been published. One of them was written by Alexander William Salter for the “Christian Libertarian Review” (available here, after clicking „Download this paper”).