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The Moral Measure of the Economy

Chuck Collins and Mary Wright; (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2007), 222 pages, paperback.

There is a warm debate in America about whether faith has a place in the public arena.  Many argue that politics and religion should be kept separate in public debates.  Collins and Wright take the position that when religion is restricted to the private sphere, political issues are no longer moral issues.  We are then on the way to becoming a dehumanized nation governed by the self-interests of the rich and powerful.

The authors of The Moral Measure of the Economy do us a much-needed service by spelling out the traditional teaching about what makes a political issue a moral choice.  That is, Christian faith (and the other great religious traditions) teaches that “human life is made sacred by its transcendent worth...thus all humans must be respected with reverence... In our inter-actions with others, we should approach one another with ‘a sense of awe that arises in the presence of something holy and sacred’... The dignity and sacredness of the human person is the yardstick against which all aspects of economic life must be measured.”  So it is that justice becomes a basic value, and “justice is measured by how we treat the most powerless people in the society.”  The common good becomes the goal of that society.  Political issues are then moral choices because we are each sacred, born with inherent worth and dignity.  For example, “when we assume that economic issues exist outside of human values and judgments, we dismiss poverty with ‘It’s not the fault of the economy...too bad for them... As long as it is not in my immediate family, it is not my problem.’”  Surely such attitudes don’t build the kind of nation we all want!

But, say Collins and Wright, that’s what happens when we separate religion and politics in the public arena.  This valuable reminder of the religious estimate of human worth as the basis of moral choices is found in chapter two.

On pages 21-32, the authors offer an excellent set of ten rules that make for economic justice for all.  (drawn from the U.S. Bishops letter on Economic Justice).  Then they compare Gospel values and Market values and find Market values wanting.  Market values do not recognize the sacred, and individuals are reduced to “worker, owner, and consumer.”  In the Market “everything is for sale, including air, water, human body organs, sacred burial grounds, outer space, and more.”  In the Market there is nothing sacred about Creation and the natural environment.

The authors then describe what kind of country we are becoming under this Market system.  They show how Market values and the power of Corporations are causing the abuse of human rights in poor countries.

On pp. 120f, they provide the Christian perspective on the issue that is currently such a hot issue in the U.S.--immigration.  In chapter eight, the authors point us to current experiments in the building of alternative economic institutions that embody Gospel principles.  In the last two chapters they outline specific ways each of us can participate in creating an economy that “minimizes human suffering and promotes human dignity.”

This book is an important, sound, and readable contribution for all who wish to under-stand the economic system in which all of us are participants and what to do about it.John R. Lackey, reviewer

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