On the Need for Economic Imagination

On the Need for Economic Imagination
On the Need for Economic Imagination

Modern man suffers from an acute lack of economic imagination. The tendency is to think only in terms of the free market and the State as the economic engines that keep society going.

Thus, libertarians have long favored the free market as the principal solution to modern woes. Socialists consider the State to be the provider of aid and services to which all are entitled. The clash of these two economic players has defined the post-war period as one and then the other seeking to gain the upper hand. It fills the economy with the debris of business cycles, excessive regulations, and frenetic intemperance.

Hybrid Alternatives

As the present liberal economic order breaks down, new but equally unimaginative hybrid alternatives that blur the market/state distinctions are surfacing. Some conservatives seek to channel the strong government model advocated by socialists to effect good ends.

Overwhelmed by the massive problems of everyday life, these defenders of tradition are succumbing to the temptation to turn to a powerful State for financial aid and moral support for their traditional agenda.

Indeed, the government appears to be the only force proportional to the dangers that societal breakdown brings. These conservatives believe they can prevent the government leviathan from descending into socialism.

The Inadequate Leviathan

However, this new dependence on the State comes with liabilities. It gives rise to a vicious circle of a government that serves as an ever-greater provider of aid and requires an ever-rising tax burden to pay for such services. It stifles the society it is supposed to sustain.

Such perspectives fail to consider some key truths about the true nature of the economy and its secondary role in society. These views attribute functions to the State beyond its essential yet limited role of ordering the common good.

In the face of a breakdown of society, no government in the world can provide all the needed goods and services. No tax system, no matter how heavy, can provide enough money to sustain a decadent society. Much more will always be required.

“A Vast World of Self-Sufficiency”

Any solution must consider a complete picture of how society and economy function.

The remote origins of the economy are not found in government but in the family, community and Faith. Vast sectors of economic activity take place outside accounting spreadsheets.

Such non-economic processes make up what French historian Fernand Braudel calls “the vast world of self-sufficiency.” They involve immense material and spiritual wealth in social institutions that largely go uncompensated, remain unrecorded, or defy quantification.

Sociologist Robert Nisbet affirms that in every successful economy, there are “associations and incentives nourished by the non-economic processes of kinship, religion, and various other forms of social relationships.”

If the present crisis is to be resolved, people must look to the immense wealth generated by these vast non-economic sectors that constitute the heart and soul of all economy. They must regenerate these institutions, especially the Catholic Faith, for a true return to order. These natural intermediary institutions preserve the freedom of the market and prevent the coercive actions of the State.

Traditionally minded conservatives must have the economic imagination to look beyond the liberal paradigms without religion. Their Faith equips them to dream of a resplendent world (and economy) found in Christian civilization.

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