Economists who are clergy

Your post on economist/artists got me thinking about economists/clergy.
Obviously the most famous is Reverend Malthus. A Google search for “Economist Catholic priest” didn’t turn up much. “Economist rabbi” discloses that Israel Kirzner is the rabbi of a congregation in Brooklyn. “Economist clergyman” turned up Richard Jones but I’ve never heard of him. Economist/Jesuit turned up a number of names, all of them obscure to me.
Asher Meir also writes to me:

My favored explanation is that “clergy” is an artificially higher bar than “artist”. Probably a large number of economists are and were devout people with learned and creative views on religion without having been ordained. E.g. Karl Homann is a first-rate theologian but not a priest. Robert Aumann is a first-rate Talmud scholar but not a rabbi. If the bar for “clergy” were parallel to that for “artist” these fellows would certainly make it.

Who else comes to mind?  The School of Salamanca, and going back many medieval theologians wrote on economic issues.  Paul HeyneHeinrich PeschGaliani was an Abbey.  Philip Wicksteed was a Unitarian theologian.  The still underrated Richard Whately was the Archbishop of Dublin.  Bishop George Berkeley wrote on monetary theory, as did Reverend Jonathan Swift.

The 18th century clergyman John Witherspoon wrote on monetary economics.  Thomas Chalmers, who wrote on the Poor Laws and theories of underconsumption in the early 19th century, was ordained in the Church of Scotland.

Did all these 19th century figures really want to be economists, really want to be clergy, or both?

I thank Maria Pia Paganelli for a useful discussion of this point.


Anders Chydenius was a priest. He also wrote a pamphlet on the invisible hand a decade before Adam Smith did so.

Galiani was an Abbey

Abbot maybe, but not a building.

"Did all these 19th century figures really want to be economists, really want to be clergy, or both?"

"Clergy", specifically Church of England clergy from perhaps 1700 to 1900, had very, very, little to do with religion. It was a suitable occupation for minor gentry. One purchased a "living", or had a patron appoint you to one. As long as you weren't then raping the milkmaids over the altar you were pretty much set for life at the cost of a couple of hours preaching a week. Income came from tithes on the local lands and possibly land directly owned by said living.

And such "clergy" didn't just do a lot of economics. Vast swathes of geology, geography, biology, plant and animal breeding....there's a long list...were done by precisely this group. You had to graduate to be ordained I think I'm right in saying, and there were only two universities at the time. So rural rectories became, in a manner, the research institutes of the country.

Depending how loose you want to be with the definition of "clergy," you can look at the BYU economics department and probably find several clergymen. One of my econ professors there was also my Mormon "stake president," the same position Mitt Romney once held in Boston.

Previously it was typical for scholars to be clerics as vice versa. In the 1700s the reverend Anders Chydenius was also a libertarian minimum state economist and politician, who almost alone succeeded in enacting the first freedom of press in the world and a partial freedom of religion among others as a Swedish parlamentarian. His National Profit preceeded Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations by 11 years, much of the content being the same.


Bayes should get an honorable mention at least. Probably at his time, the demarcation between economics and the mathematical sciences more generally was less sharp than it is today. But he seems primarily to have made mathematic-statistical contributions

Miles Kimball should get mentioned. I think he is a lay pastor in his local unitarian church. I'm not sure what that entails though, but I have a memory of a blog post (one of his religion ones) where he mentions something like that.

I'm not surprised to know Maria was the one to offer these thoughts btw. Those whose work is not in history of thought may not know much about her work, but what a great young economist.

If you go far enough back into medieval ages, not just economists, but almost anyone who studied something was clergy, wasn't he?

Exactly right. Has everyone completely forgotten history?

In medieval Europe and before that, clergymen were almost the only literate class. Many kings could not read, including Charlemagne.

It was the churches that maintained literacy and a treasure trove of libraries after the fall of the Roman Empire, through the Dark Ages and the Black Death. The Renaissance marked the reawakening of education beyond the clergy.

What we now know as liberal arts was the sole domain of the wealthy who learned from private tutors and from books in their father's library. Knowledge and art for the sake of knowledge and art could only be practiced by a made man. Many were or became clergymen or at least lay leaders of their churches.

Isaac Newton wasn't a clergyman, but he was a theologian. His writing on theology was more prolific than his studies of physical sciences. He was a deeply devout monotheist, radically reactionary to the deification of Jesus.

Thomas Aquinas?

He clearly put a thought on economic issues:

Aquinas and Oresme, but my favourite is the leader of the Spiritual Franciscans (i.e opposed the clergy's use of property, not just its ownership)

I don't know how you missed that Rev. Pat Robertson is a very famous and influential economist.

Here is the headline and link to an article about the recent economic forecasts of the Reverand

"Pat Robertson Says God Warns Of Economic Collapse In 2012"

Here's the link:

Here is the youtube video of Reverend Pat:

He has it on higher authority. Even higher than von Mises.

Pat Robertson is the one who stated, I believe in the early '80s, that gold was headed then for $2000 an ounce. Has it hit that mark yet?

The early classical economists were Empiricists, and so probably Deists - no clergy there. The 19th century economists were evolving in line with the philosophy of the time, and were likely atheists (the German Historicals and Austrians come to mind here). By the time the 20th Century rolled around, religious affiliation was on the decline among academics. It's not surprising to me that so few are clergy.

Washington Gladden really wanted to improve the life of the laboring classes and was a charter member of the AEA. .

What about distributism?

In keeping with the previous question on artists, the question is which economists support religion. There are a lot of Catholic economists.

An obscure 1st c. rabbi called "Jesus" did pioneering theoretical work in behavioral economics on relative deprivation and norms of fairness (see Matthew 20:1-16).

Yes, and certain Rabbis predicted 7 years of pestilence and drought, etc.

We forget how much economics is religion and religion economics. And, weather prediction.

I so believe.


You mean "prophets," it's anachronistic to refer to "rabbis" before the Hellenistic era.

Fra Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan friar, invented double-entry accounting. Not economics per se, but the study of economics (as well as the modern economy itself!) probably could never have developed without it.

Bill Neenan is a Jesuit Priest and is a (very good) labor economist--he was at Michigan and is now a vice president at Boston College.

I'm sure you can find some ordained Jesuits who are economists:

Fr. Doug Marcouiller - Boston College, Saint Louis University.

Krugman has a god complex... yuck yuck yuck.

They really wanted to be economists, but there was more money in being clergy. Benefices and glebes and all that.

"people with learned and creative views on religion": they would be rather missing the point of religion then. No surprise for economists, I suppose.

'My favored explanation is that ”clergy” is an artificially higher bar than “artist”.'

I can't decide if these means the writer has had better, or worse, luck with the quality of the clergy he has encountered.

It doesn't mean he had better experience or worse with clergy. Clergy are ordained, or at least in many religions, and often are formally serve religious functions. A man who goes around speaking about god, writing books, maybe even a world renowned theologian, would not necessarily be a clergy man.

During the 19th century, widespread urbanization (and declining church attendance) meant that there were many fewer people in once-busy rural parishes all over Europe, and even fewer attending church. It took a while for organizations like the Church of England to adjust to this. As a result, there existed for about a hundred years a class of highly educated people with a ton of time on their hands: the clergy. Though all were trained as clergymen, obviously, they made great discoveries across the board -- in astronomy, social science, economics, etc. Bill Bryson has an awesome chapter in At Home where he lists all the secondary pastimes of clergymen -- they accomplished astonishing things when they weren't trying to fill the pews.

So, Clergy were sort of like academics with tenure and a light teaching load.

Do the churches of Mises or Rand officially ordain their priests?

Francis Hutcheson
de Mably (Condillac's brother)

Elizur Wright... sort of.

He was neither an economist nor a clergyman, but he still fits into the discussion. He came from a devout Christian family and wanted to become a minister but changed his mind due to his love of math, and the disilusionment of church's then non-objection to slavery. (He was an abolitionist).

He was not quite an economist, but he became "the father of life insurance" in the US, and did a lot of work on probabilistic models for life insurance, and he also fought for transparency in corporate reporting.

...oh, I forgot to mention - he eventually became an atheist

Not clergy, but beatified, which may be even more impressive:
Giuseppe Toniolo, a renowned late 19th and early 20th century lay Italian economist and political theorist, was beatified on Sunday in Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the final step before a formal declaration of sainthood. Among other claims to fame, Toniolo is now the first economist ever beatified by the Catholic church.
(Toniolo’s sainthood process began in 1951. He was declared “venerable” by Pope Paul VI in 1971, and beatified under Benedict XVI in 2012. That’s a gap of 20 years to cross the first threshold, and 41 years to reach the second. If a similar trajectory continues, we can probably expect canonization in about 80 years, somewhere around 2092.)
During his Regina Coeli remarks on Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI referred to Toniolo as a figure of “great relevance” for today.
For one thing, as Stefano Zamagni, a leading Italian economist who advised Pope Benedict XVI on his 2009 social encyclical Caritas in Veritate, has observed, given the state of the global economy these days, the “dismal science” could undoubtedly use some celestial support.

Leo XIII was certainly clergy, and had some important things to say on the subject.

The criterion to judge whether all the clergy-cum-economists wanted more to be economists is to check if they spent more time writing about economics or about theology or devotion. The opportunity cost of spending more time reflecting on economic issues would be spending less time reflecting on the word of God. These men correctly decided that it is worth foregoing the opportunity to think more about the Gospel or how to preach it for the sake of economic inquiry. On this criterion I think Malthus definitely wanted to make a mark as an economist rather than as a clergyman. I thought Heyne left the ministry when he became an academic.

The section beginning, My favored explanation is that ”clergy” is an artificially higher bar than “artist”, is rooted in false presumption that clergy = religious scholar. Clergy mainly conduct the operations of religious institutions, small and large. A small minority also do religious scholarship. Artists who do not create art, on the other hand, are not artists.

An economist named Kenneth Rogoff just drew the highest rated chess player Sven Magnus Øen Carlsen in a friendly game of blitz recently. Not sure how that relates to this thread but worth mentioning. Man I would love to see our own TC play Rogoff in a short match--I bet TC would get at least a few draws in--chess is hard and it's hard to blowout another player (well R. Fischer had two 6-0 match wins but that was the exception).

"Theologian" and economist--Gary North, who has written an economic commentary on the Bible (available for free here--

Henry Thornton could qualify as an economist clergyman. In fact, he founded his own religious sect to advance the cause of liberating slaves.

Kenneth Boulding

Recommend reading murray rothbards "history of economic thought" part 1 - comprehensively reviews the writings of 10's if not into the 100's of theological scholars throughout the ages (largely 1200ad onwards) who have written on economic matters.

Note: part one of this history is not really "Austrian" Per se, given it is based on writings pre modern economics.

Isn't the work of Jacob Viner relevant on this question? There does seem to be some overlap between early economic thought and Christian theology.

According to Wikipedia, Thorstein Veblen found it difficult to find a professorship in the U.S. in the late 19th century because he was considered too ignorant of Christian theology and because he was Norwegian. Times have changed.

Mike Ellerbrock at VT is a Catholic deacon

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