When Is Self-interest Moral?

A Gap in Catholic Social Teaching

Lutheran bishop Peter Rogness recently decried our national loss of awareness that government is self-government, and warned that political discourse “to rally people against their own government...is like an immune system run amuck that eats the very body in which it resides.” Yet since the electoral success of Ronald Reagan in 1980, more and more Republicans have run for office “against government.” This has been at the center of the political stalemate in Washington, and certainly creates resistance to the quite reasonable proposals of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (“Note on Financial Reform,” October 26) for such things as stronger international oversight of financial markets and better funding for development through a very small tax on financial transactions, small enough not to alter investment decisions other than highly speculative arbitrage.

Yet separate from the many strengths of the Note (for example, its economic analysis is first-rate) and the many problems in the way it’s been received in this country, it must also be said that there remains a significant hole in official Catholic social teaching on the economy. In addition to appropriately encouraging virtuous action, the church’s teaching proposes systemic solutions to our problems without a systemic ethical analysis of the moral dynamics of daily economic life. That is, it...

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About the Author

Daniel K. Finn teaches economics and theology at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. His most recent book is Distant Markets, Distant Harms: Economic Complicity and Christian Ethics (Oxford, 2014).