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Does Capitalism Promote Greed?: An Interview with Father Robert Sirico, Part 2

It's also worth noting that markets rely heavily on people developing practical virtues—trust, thrift, creativity, etc. While they don't number among the theological or cardinal virtues, they can contribute to human flourishing and what Benedict XVI calls "integral human development."

You also say in the book that a free economy doesn't necessarily entail consumerism. How is that the case?

When I say that the free economy does not necessarily entail consumerism I do not mean that people in a free market will not consume things. Of course we consume things. We need to if we want to live. What I mean, and indeed identify and critique in my book, is the muddled idea that "only in having more can we be more."

Right. You say this so well in the book.

Two sentences from the book sum up my concern about consumerism, which is distinct from wanting to have a better life: "Consumerism is wrong not because material things are wrong. Consumerism is wrong because it worships what is beneath us."

And we are back again to the anthropological . . .

Once we have a correct understanding of ourselves as human persons, then we realize that our needs—and aspiration—entails something much larger than the material, which in turn enables us to integrate these legitimate material needs into a more comprehensive, richer view of life. This is why I say that we must transcend our instincts and why I believe an authentic anthropology is critical to living in society.

Moreover, regarding the need for a more anthropologically attentive economics, some economists and philosophers have advocated for decades for a human "capability approach" to the economics of welfare (I have in mind the work of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum). While there are different takes on what constitute the 'capabilities' to be defended and preserved by democratic orders, I am wondering if you have any assessment of this approach?

It seems to me that the capabilities approach is an attempt to identify many of the prerequisites to success in a market economy. That's fine as far as it goes, but I don't see a rich conception of the human person as necessarily informing what they consider to be capabilities. They mention capabilities such as life and health, but I think these are goods rather than capabilities. The other question is how one ensures as many people as possible have such capabilities. If it means that the state seeks to guarantee each and every one of these goods, then you will have all the problems associated with a large and intrusive state that seeks to guarantee security for everyone.

This is part of a three part interview with FR. Robert Sirico read parts One and Three.

6/17/2012 4:00:00 AM