Indivisible: Jay Richards on Morality and Economics

Distinctions between social and economic issues are artificial.

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This is the second installment from our interview with Dr. Jay Richards; read Part One here. In the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision regarding the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), it seems appropriate to publish an excerpt in which he discussed the moral connection between social and economic issues.

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The Practicing Catholic: How do you see the investment in daily personal holiness as the key to addressing the problems of our day when others might suggest that we need to figure out, for example, how to feed the poor before we address issues of morality?

Dr. Richards: I think there’s a false dichotomy between moral or social issues on one hand and economic issues on the other. Conventional wisdom suggests we should focus on economic issues like poverty or jobs or economic growth. Don’t focus on these narrow questions of personal holiness or religious freedom or life or marriage. We argue in the book that these are in fact inextricably connected.

Just one example would be childhood poverty in the United States. Everyone thinks of that as an economic issue, but, at least in the U.S., the number one predictor of childhood poverty is whether there’s a father in the home or not. So, the health of marriages and families directly ties to an economic issue. We give a lot of examples like that in the book.

We think the distinctions between the moral and the economic or the social and the fiscal really are artificial distinctions, and if we want to have a profoundly positive influence on our culture, we need to focus on all those things. We also think that as Christians if we actually want to be a positive influence on a culture that is more and more hostile to Christian ideas, we need to manifest personal love and holiness in our personal lives, so that people don’t just encounter anger and indignation but they encounter the love of Christ when we’re talking about these issues.

Dr. Jay RichardsThe Practicing Catholic: It’s interesting that in a time of rising gas prices and high unemployment, we still find ourselves talking about moral issues like contraception, abortion, and marriage. It really underscores that connection, doesn’t it?

Dr. Richards: It does. It’s funny, because the book came out just about the time the Health and Human Services mandate ended up above the fold of the newspapers. We had sort of predicted this in the book, this attempt to say the economy is going to dominate 2012. That implies economic questions are not moral questions, which obviously they are. The reason most people are concerned about issues like poverty or jobs is precisely because they have moral concerns about welfare of fellow human beings.

I think the pundit class, certainly inside the beltway in Washington, D.C. and in New York, tends to be fairly conservative on fiscal issues but liberal on social issues, so there’s a bit of a wish fulfillment attempt to say let’s just focus the on the fiscal issues. The truth of the matter is if you look at all the polls, certainly among the more conservative electorate, there’s not this dichotomy between the social and economic issues. That’s why, for instance, of all the Republican candidates running for office, there’s not one running as a fiscal conservative and social liberal. They’re all claiming the banner of the full conservative package. We argue that actually makes sense theologically and philosophically.

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