The Rehabilitation of Adam Smith for Catholic Social Teaching
School of Economics and Business Administration
Organizations and Responsible Business
Journal of Business Ethics
Catholic Social Teaching (CST) takes a rather cautious view toward the value of the ideas of Adam Smith, due to his emphasis on negative political and economic liberty. Detractors of Smith within CST point to what they consider to be deficiencies within his works: an impoverished moral anthropology, a lack of concern for the common good, and markets untethered to human needs. Defenders of Smith within CST tend to emphasize the material benefits that derive from Smithian institutions, such as economic growth, improvements in standards of living, and the new opportunities that arise from cultures focused on innovation. This paper argues that Smith’s ideas have real value for CST. However, this value primarily lies in his moral psychology. While not denying the dangers of business activity for our moral lives, Smith also helps us to understand the possibility of the moral corruption of those who wield political power, thus providing an indirect defense of political and economic liberty that coheres with important Christian ethical notions found in CST. This is the case even though CST does not consistently recognize concerns surrounding the dangers of wielding political power—and thus Smith’s arguments offer real challenges to CST as well. This paper further suggests that these basic insights are relevant regardless of one’s favored institutional arrangements.
Catholic Social Teaching, Adam Smith, Virtue, Politics, Government, Free markets
Business | Economics
Wolcott, G. (2018). The rehabilitation of Adam Smith for Catholic social teaching. Journal of Business Ethics, 149(1), 57–82.
Wolcott, Gregory. The Rehabilitation of Adam Smith for Catholic Social Teaching (2018). Journal of Business Ethics. 149 (1), 57-82. 10.1007/s10551-016-3085-y [article]. https://digitalcommons.stmarys-ca.edu/school-economics-business-faculty-works/408