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The Integral Role of Ethics in Economics

Paper Session

Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM

Hilton Atlanta, Crystal D
Hosted By: Association for Social Economics
  • Chair: George DeMartino, University of Denver

Ethics and Economics: A Complex Systems Approach

John B. Davis
Marquette University and University of Amsterdam


In his presentation, Davis examines the nature of ethics and economics as a single subject of investigation, and uses a complex systems approach to characterize the nature of that subject. He then distinguishes mainstream economic and social economic visions of it, where the former assumes that market processes encompass social processes, and the latter assumes that market processes are embedded in social processes. For each vision, strong and weak theses are compared. Both visions are first explained in terms of their respective views of the positive-normative distinction, then in terms of a central normative principle, and then in terms of their policy strategies. He closes with comments on the future status of ethics and economics as a single subject of investigation.

The Tragedy of Economics

George DeMartino
University of Denver


Economists cause harm as they try to do good; this is the tragedy of economics. That claim is a non-normative description, not an indictment of the profession, but the profession gives inadequate attention to the harm its practice induces. That claim is also both positive and normative. Standard approaches to harm in economics present harms as fully reparable through monetary compensation. Other professions that risk harm do better in theorizing practitioner-induced harm, preventing avoidable harm, ameliorating unpreventable harm, and securing consent for practice that risks harm. As DeMartino will argue in his presentation, economics has much to learn from those professions that have given harm the most careful attention.

Consecrating Capitalism: Neoliberalism, the Prosperity Gospel, and Catholic Social Teaching

Valerie Kepner
King’s College
Mary V. Wrenn
University of the West of England


Without an optimistic faith in meritocracy support for the capitalist system and belief in neoliberalism would unravel. How that optimism is perpetuated despite persistent income inequality requires an examination of those social institutions which reinforce and reproduce optimism over practical experience. This research compares two particular religious institutions of the US – the Prosperity Gospel and Catholic Social Teaching – and their interactive co-evolutions with neoliberalism.

The Prosperity Gospel (PG) is a modern, neoliberal variation of Pentecostalism premised on the belief that a Biblical covenant between the individual believer and God guarantees the blessings of health and wealth, provided the believer demonstrates adequate faith. Accordingly, for those who are less adept at navigating the business world, financial success is still possible if believers dedicate themselves with the same frenzied ambition to the spiritual world. Considered an essential element of the Catholic faith, Catholic Social Teaching (CST) makes a clear and distinctive call for followers to honor each person’s human dignity, especially the dignity of those most vulnerable.

Both the PG and CST support and sustain neoliberalism albeit through different spiritual directives. The PG is an institution and social practice which reinforces individual responsibility and emphasizes climbing up toward greater financial success. CST teaches that those who have successfully navigated the market system bear a responsibility to the vulnerable, directing believers to focus down the financial hierarchy.
JEL Classifications
  • Z1 - Cultural Economics; Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology