Saxton, Brian M.
Mind the gap: Organizational study as a bridge between Catholic social thought and economics
As an organizational scholar and Catholic who is committed to understanding Catholic social thought (CST), I have been struck by the extent to which the texts of CST (to some extent) and theologians interpreting CST (almost universally) regard economics and the market as a force for evil in the world. Liberation theologians perhaps exemplify this best; Valpy Fitzgerald summarized their perspective as “What is needed is not just the correction of the errors of capitalism but rather its replacement by the civilisation of poverty. Jesus insisted that wealth must be replaced by poverty in order to enter the Kingdom .” Economics and economists are specifically blamed for this state of affairs: “Neoclassical economics has one value: the monetary fulfillment of individuals provided they compete successfully for the resources .” While these quotes are chosen to illustrate the point, they are broadly representative of the attitude of theologians to the market and especially to market processes. In some sense, their complaints are fair. It is true that neoclassical economic modelling and the individualistic “rational economic actor” it so often uses represent an anthropology that is not compatible with a Christian worldview. With that said, there is more to the market (and associated scholarship) than homo economicus. For example, recent work in human capital theory explicitly depends on the idea that people act in ways that are not consistent with their immediate pecuniary interest when they decide whether to continue to work with their current employer. As Campbell and his colleagues point out, people are influenced by a whole variety of factors on both the demand side (perceived alternative opportunities) and the supply side (features of their current situation) that are not strictly “rational” in nature. These factors can and do include the ability to make a difference in the world and a whole variety of possibilities that have been the subject of organizational behavior scholarship for over a century. These lines of research depend on a conception of people that is anything but individualistic; indeed, they take for granted the idea that people are embedded in their social environments and both affect and are affected by others with whom they interact. They also foregrounds the process of human development through its emphasis on the development of human capital (knowledge, skills, and abilities). This is consistent with John Paul II’s reflections on the importance of work to human flourishing in Laborem exercens , among other CST documents. Development of the paper As it develops, this paper will engage current theology more fully and in a more nuanced fashion. It will also more thoroughly incorporate the CST documents (especially by John Paul II) that incorporate a less negative view of market processes. In particular, it will discuss the ways in which organizational scholarship can help to develop John Paul II’s thoughts from Laborem exercens and Centesimus annus on the importance of human capital and the entrepreneurial process on human development. Sample questions for discussion • What kind of anthropological assumptions are embedded in organizational scholarship? • Are those assumptions consistent with CST? • Can it (meaning organizational scholarship) be freed from those assumptions, and what would that attempt look like?