Who are the Catholic economists?

by on May 7, 2010 at 7:13 am in Economics, Religion | Permalink

Gregory Barr asks me:

Do you know of any prominent Catholic economists, either alive now or in the last century or so?  Say, in the top 200 economists or so.  It's not that I judge economists' ideas by their religion, but, as a Catholic, I am curious.  There may be some top-notch economists who are Catholic, but I don't know who they are.  Contrarily, I've actually heard of prominent Catholic scientists, philosophers, historians, etc.

If there aren't many, do you have a theory about why that might be? 

I suspect this is more of a question about Catholicism than about economics.  I follow economics, and economists, fairly closely, but I don't have much of an idea who the active Catholics are, no matter how you define that term.  Nor do many famous Catholic economists, whoever they may be, self-identify in any prominent way that I am aware of.

There is a longstanding tradition of Catholic "social economics" and it is one question why that approach has not attracted more talent.  It is ghettoized, and considered excessively normative, in part for its preoccupation with questions of social justice.  The journal Review of Social Economy used to embody this tradition.

"Catholic economics" was prominent in the 19th century, and Le Play was a very influential thinker on the Continent.  Here is a bit on Heinrich Pesch, an important 19th century Catholic thinker who was also an economist.

Emil Kauder wrote a very good book arguing, among other things, that the Catholic thinkers were more likely to be early founders of the marginal utility tradition (Marginal Revolution is in large part a Catholic concept!).  I am pretty sure that the members of the early "School of Salamanca" were Catholic, at least nominally.  Also see the R.S. Howey book on the history of marginal utility theory.

After Plato, the medieval scholastics were the founding fathers of economic thinking and this stems in part from their Catholic-related tendency to systematize their philosophical thought.  Furthermore many of the nominalists were very strong methodological individualists.

These days, I would think that a Catholic economist should be especially skeptical about the Kaldor-Hicks potential compensation principle as a source of normative judgments.  

Larry Iannoccone, a founder of the economics of religion approach, is an evangelical Protestant, not a Catholic.  You won't find any sign of those loyalties in his work and when I first met Larry I had been assuming he was an atheist or agnostic, not a believer.  Bob Tollison wrote a book on the economics of the Catholic church but I don't think he is a Catholic either.

Here is a Facebook group for Catholic economists.  Here is a related blog.  Here is a short essay on what a Catholic economics should look like.

What else do you all know?

1 Troy Camplin May 7, 2010 at 7:29 am

MIght want to check out those associated with the Acton Institute — a free market Catholic organization.

2 Grad Student May 7, 2010 at 7:35 am

Bill Evans at Notre Dame, Peter Arcidiacono (sp?) at Duke are two I know of.

3 GW May 7, 2010 at 7:39 am

How about the German Social Market Economy (Soziale Marktwirtschaft) theorists/practitioners?

4 Jason Brennan May 7, 2010 at 7:56 am

In philosophy:

There are mainstream philosophers who happen to be Catholic, but then there are also philosophers who do Catholic philosophy. The latter, as far as I can tell, work almost exclusively on neo-Thomistic philosophy at Catholic universities and colleges, and are ignored by mainstream philosophers, including Catholic mainstream philosophers.

5 Speedmaster May 7, 2010 at 8:05 am

I think at least several of the following notables are Roman Catholic: Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, Tom Woods, Tom DiLorenzo, Jeffrey Tucker.

6 Heath White May 7, 2010 at 8:09 am

E. F. Schumacher, of _Small is Beautiful_, became Catholic late in life, and his ideas were heavily influenced by Catholicism.

7 Swimmy May 7, 2010 at 8:30 am

The facebook group and blog were created by a former GMU student at that.

8 anon May 7, 2010 at 8:39 am

If economics is a “science”, then why would there be a Catholic economics, any more than there would be a Catholic physics or a Catholic mathematics?

And “Catholic social economics” is not economics.

Seems like there would be a great tension between the social justice aspects of the Church and its teaching about free will.

As you point out, Catholic “social economics” … is ghettoized, and considered excessively normative, in part for its preoccupation with questions of social justice.

The Church’s teachings about, indeed, part of its theological foundation on, free will, is why Lord Action is seen not merely as a supporter of free markets but as a Catholic libertarian.

Thomas Woods, although not an economist, is a Catholic libertarian, as is Andrew Napolitano.

Along those lines, there are pro-life libertarians who are not Catholic.

Sorry to veer off in this comment.

9 Joe Cordes May 7, 2010 at 8:47 am

Others to add to the list: Thomas Nechyba at Duke. William Neenan, S.J. (Jesuit) (now retired at Boston College) was a major state and local public finance economist in the 1970s and 1980s. He taught at the University Michigan before being required to move to Boston College where he became provost.

10 JH May 7, 2010 at 9:11 am

I had a professor (at my Catholic university) who told us that, under the theory of comparative advantage, everyone is “the best” at *something* that contributes to society at large, and therefore nobody is dispensable. For this reason, he claimed that Ricardo and Aquinas would have agreed on a great deal.

To date, I think this might be the most valuable thing I’ve ever been taught.

11 DKB @ NYU May 7, 2010 at 9:27 am

Not something I think much about, but I’d guess:

* The Kehoes (Minn, Princeton)
* Zin (NYU)
* Scores of Italians

12 Per Bylund May 7, 2010 at 10:05 am

Surely Sean Ritenour’s recently published book on christian economics could be a great source for answers to this question? http://www.foundationsofeconomics.com/

13 Joe May 7, 2010 at 10:12 am

“If economics is a ‘science’, then why would there be a Catholic economics, any more than there would be a Catholic physics or a Catholic mathematics?”

Only part of economics is a “science.” There are parts of economics which seek to make testable predictions. Those are science if done properly, and it makes no sense to come at them with an ethical bias.

However, much of applied economics depends on subjective criteria and isn’t science. There’s no science that can tell you whether to redistribute, or whether there is a moral imperative to pay down debts so as not to burden your children.

14 randy May 7, 2010 at 10:54 am

Suppose we define “prominent” by “tenured at a top-50 economics department, or at a Fed or the IMF, and publishing in top-5 journals”. By that definition, and skipping any who have been mentioned above, I personally know at least four who are devout Roman Catholic, one who is Orthodox Catholic (Eastern Orthodox), and nine who are evangelical Protestant. One or two of these do not speak publicly about their faith, that I know of. For this reason, I don’t feel it is my place to name any names here, aside from Masao Ogaki and Ken Elzinga (who make this known on their web pages) and Scott Schuh (who I know will be fine with me noting this in public).

I myself am an Orthodox Catholic.

I suspect that for each of these mentioned, doing good economics is itself a service to God. While one’s Christian faith will influence one’s opinions about the plausibility of various things which are hard to test, it will not influence the outcome of a regression or the proof of a theorem. Of course, we might sin (e.g. by fudging) just like everyone else does… though we have less excuse.

15 Dave Tufte May 7, 2010 at 11:18 am

Robert Hussey – at least back in the early 90’s when I last spoke with him – was a Jesuit who had done some pretty good time series work on business cycles.

16 liberalarts May 7, 2010 at 12:40 pm

@Randy (or anybody, really) -is your sense that top economists (by the definition that you give) are more or less likely to be devoutly religious than other top scholars or economists with less prestigious positions? You break out those religious economists by religion but don’t give your assessment of whether or how they differ as a group.

17 Christian May 7, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Vilfredo Pareto? Leon Walras? Gerard Debreu? Henry Carey?

18 anon May 7, 2010 at 2:28 pm

I was going to suggest Xavier Sala-i-Martin, but my guess is he was raised Catholic but is no longer.

On his Critical-Paranoic School of Thought page, the Against column includes Sexual Promiscuity, Socialists, and The Pope. The For column opposites are The Virgin Mary, XVI Century Monks, and Madonna.

19 Mike D May 7, 2010 at 5:32 pm

A whole slew of Latin Americans?

20 gaddeswarup May 7, 2010 at 7:02 pm

The principle 5 in Hoare’s article (last link in the post) seems like the principle of ‘subsidiarity’ now adopted in a a modified form by EU.

21 Steve Sailer May 8, 2010 at 2:38 am

Tyler should ask his readers to help him come up with a list of prominent Jewish economists.

22 David Barker May 8, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Robert Tamura

23 Eric Rasmusen May 8, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Check out Prof. Ogaki’s web page: http://www.econ.ohio-state.edu/ogaki/

I’m impressed by his witness! Not a Roman Catholic, tho.

I think Indiana’s George von Furstenberg is Roman Catholic, tho I might be misremembering.

There are of course two ways to look at the question: Are any research economists devout Roman Catholics? or are any research economists devout Roman Catholics and also use theology in their work? The answer to the second is probably no, as far anybody in the top 500 or so.

Steve Sailer commented by asking for a list of Jewish economists. As he no doubt knows, there are zillions. An interesting question, tho, is how many are actually practicing Jews, as opposed to ethnic or cultural Jews? Quite a few, I think; Aumann is one example.

24 Massimo May 9, 2010 at 10:04 pm

*Correction* What about Bernard Lonergan? Collected Works, Vol 15 “Macroeconomic Dynamics” and Vol 21 “For a New Political Economy”

25 Tony McGovern May 10, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Your friend, and mine, Arthur Brooks is Catholic.


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27 Tim Huegerich November 15, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Gary Becker is a member of the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences (possibly more prestigious than the social science version?)

As mentioned above by Flo, membership in the academy does not imply Church membership but perhaps indicates some affinity? (e.g. Stephen Hawking is also a member.)

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