27 February 2009

"The main and proper study of every citizen"

In his journals, General Patton once wrote that, while strategy need only occupy what he referred to as "stellar" officers (by which I understand him to mean general officers), tactics ought to be the daily preoccupation of all officers.

Ludwig von Mises had a similar view of economics:

Whether we like it or not, it is a fact that economics cannot remain an esoteric branch of knowledge accessible only to small groups of scholars and specialists. Economics deals with society's fundamental problems; it concerns everyone and belongs to all. It is the main and proper study of every citizen. - Human Action
I don't know about "main and proper"; but it certainly is important.

In a way, the Westminster Larger Catechism expresses a similar sentiment in its discussion of the 8th Commandment (beginning at Question 140):

Question 140: Which is the eighth commandment?

Answer: The eighth commandment is, Thou shalt not steal.

Question 141: What are the duties required in the eighth commandment?

Answer: The duties required in the eighth commandment are, truth, faithfulness, and justice in contracts and commerce between man and man; rendering to everyone his due; restitution of goods unlawfully detained from the right owners thereof; giving and lending freely, according to our abilities, and the necessities of others; moderation of our judgments, wills, and affections concerning worldly goods; a provident care and study to get, keep, use, and dispose these things which are necessary and convenient for the sustentation of our nature, and suitable to our condition; a lawful calling, and diligence in it; frugality; avoiding unnecessary lawsuits and suretyship, or other like engagements; and an endeavor, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own.

Question 142: What are the sins forbidden in the eighth commandment?

Answer: The sins forbidden in the eighth commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, theft, robbery, man_stealing, and receiving anything that is stolen; fraudulent dealing, false weights and measures, removing land marks, injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts between man and man, or in matters of trust; oppression, extortion, usury, bribery, vexatious lawsuits, unjust enclosures and depopulations; engrossing commodities to enhance the price; unlawful callings, and all other unjust or sinful ways of taking or withholding from our neighbor: What belongs to him, or of enriching ourselves; covetousness; inordinate prizing and affecting worldly goods; distrustful and distracting cares and studies in getting, keeping, and using them; envying at the prosperity of others; as likewise idleness, prodigality, wasteful gaming; and all other ways whereby we do unduly prejudice our own outward estate, and defrauding ourselves of the due use and comfort of that estate which God has given us.

Elements of the duties required and the sins forbidden by the commandment really do require some knowledge of economics. One is to "study to get, keep, use, and dispose these things which are necessary and convenient" for sustenance. One should also engage in a "lawful" calling, and be diligent in it. Additionally one should be frugal, avoid unnecessary lawsuits.

But it isn't a matter of being self absorbed with regard to material concerns. We must also work to procure, preserve, and even increase the wealth of others, in addition to our own. Moreover we should resist all unjust or sinful ways of taking or withholding from our neighbor what belongs to him, or of enriching ourselves at his expense. We are to avoid covetousness; "inordinate prizing" of worldly goods, as well as dishonest means of getting, keeping, and using them. This one is particularly hard for liberals and socialists: We should not envy the prosperity of others. Here's one that difficult for professional welfare recipients: not engaging in idleness, prodigality, and gambling.

From the perspective of Reformed ethics, these things are central to economics, which used to be a branch of moral science.

That -- right there -- is one of the reason I blog so much on politics and economics.

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About Me

James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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