In Was the Good Samaritan a Bad Economist? Charles K. Wilber argues that the American economy has not only failed to overcome poverty, it has generated extreme inequality that in turn restricts social mobility and further marginalizes the poor. Wilber argues that economic theory is permeated with ethical values and any economics must be so; that human behavior is more complex than the economists’ simple self-interest model; that people are also driven by deeply embedded moral values; that markets require intervention to create equity; and that Catholic social thought provides the perspective and values to develop a more relevant social economics. The author takes that modified economics and uses it to analyze specific social problems: labor markets, poverty, inequality, financial crisis, and development. Wilber next focuses on the important role of families, labor unions, parishes, and small Christian communities, such as the Catholic Worker movement, as mediating institutions in the economy. He concludes with a final look at the questions, "Was the Good Samaritan a Bad Economist?".
Charles K. Wilber is emeritus professor of economics and fellow, Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.
Part One: Foundations
1 The Good Samaritan and Catholic Social Thought
2 Economic Theory Requires Moral Values
3 Individual Actors Have Moral Values
4 Markets Require Intervention
5 Moral Theories and Justice
6 Catholic Social Thought and the Common Good
Part Two: Applications
7 Economics of Labor Markets and Theory of the Gift
8 The Causes of Poverty
9 Pope Francis and Inequality
10 The Economy as a Casino: Ethics and the Global Financial Crisis
11 Integral Human Development
Part Three: Whither the Future
12 The Economy, the Family and Mediating Institutions
13 Distributism and the Catholic Worker Movement
14 Wisdom and the Christian Economist
Wilber presents a persuasive case that values can and should make a real difference in economics. Both the duty to respect the dignity of one’s neighbors and the Good Samaritan’s compassionate care for a wounded stranger should energize today’s economic policies. This is a creative and critical synthesis of economic analysis, Christian theology, and Catholic social ethics. Economists, theologians, and church leaders will learn much from it.
Charles Wilber has written an intellectually provocative, informative book that offers a serious and sustained alternative to the familiar mainstream way of defending the market economy as a model of social order. Written in a non-technical language accessible to non-specialist readers, Was the Good Samaritan a Bad Economist? argues that for too long the study of social and economic interactions has been impoverished by the cynical anthropological assumption of homo oeconomicus. In this book, the Author explores the consequences on integral human development and on sustainability stemming from the adoption of the Christian cultural matrix. The practice of gift as gratuitousness, by generating social capital, makes better communities, and in so doing enhances life-satisfaction and progress. The Author explains why politics and business practices that ignore pro-social motivations of people and reciprocity often fail. Wilber’s account will capture the attention of anyone seriously interested in the future of our market systems. “Some books are to be tested, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested” – wrote the great empiricist Francis Bacon. The present book belongs to the last category. I would strongly recommend its reading.
For over 50 years, Charles Wilber has been the gold standard for integrating the insights of Catholic social thought with economic theory and policy. He has a thorough understanding of the limitations of neoclassical economics and “free-market economic” policies as well as a deep understanding of Catholic social thought. Was the Good Samaritan a Bad Economist? is the culmination of all his past writing, the perfect summation of his career. By combining his own personal narrative with the theoretical and applied economic analysis, he makes the ideas more accessible and brings out the great humanism that underlies both his life and his work.
Chuck Wilber’s book is a narrative of a personal-professional journey of teaching and testing economic theory in terms of its premises, its promises and its actual outcomes. The journey has been guided for Wilber by the theological and moral content of the Catholic Social Tradition. For those who follow and use that Tradition in the wider world of politics and economics, Wilber will enhance their resources. For those who wonder if faith and ethics can actually engage economic policy in an effective way, Wilber provides a solidly affinitive response.
Charles Wilber is a leading voice in social economics. In this volume, he sorts out a host of perennial problems within and between the discipline of economics and Catholic social thought. Theologically astute, this economist brings to bear the insight of an independent observer and the wisdom of an active participant in the struggle for a more just and humane economy.