Jonathan B. Wight
Economic mores can take on a life of their own, leading to the unthinking acceptance of ways of life that can be destructive. One such custom is to consume, consume, consume. One’s life can become defined by one’s spending, and the grasping for income to pay for it all. Adam Smith wrote extensively about this issue in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (see the passages about the poor man’s son). The economy sets us up for failure because we can’t all be number one, yet we strive onward thinking that the next toy, the next car, the next promotion will bring happiness and success. People step on this treadmill and can’t get off.
Religious-minded authors continue to write about the subject. Doug Hicks, a delightful colleague and co-teacher of an ethics and economics class with me, recently came out with his own book addressing this issue:
Douglas A. Hicks, Money Enough: Everyday Practices for Living Faithfully in the Global Economy (Jossey-Bass 2010).
This is a thoughtful book that addresses the conflicts and contradictions of modern economic life. How does one create community and place? Most importantly, how does one create meaning in our lives? Money fills a void, and increases the external resources available to satisfy cravings. But deeper longings and drives remain. For example, Adam Smith noted that the instinct for commerce does not arise initially from the desire to get wealthy, but from the desire to converse (Lectures on Jurisprudence 1982, p. 493)!
Hicks majored in economics as an undergraduate and went on to get an MDiv and PhD in Religion. Amartya Sen was his second dissertation reader. Hick’s work is thus informed by the capabilities approach and its ethical framework. Money Enough is a friendly read, for those seeking some gentle nudging (not of the paternalistic kind!) toward a balanced life of greater meaning and purpose. Here are chapter titles that give you a hint for the journey:
Ch 1: Surviving
Ch 2: Valuing
Ch 3: Discerning Desires
Ch 4: Providing
Ch 5: Laboring
Ch 6: Recreating
Ch 7: Expanding the Community
Ch 8: Doing Justice
Ch 9: SharingThe book takes the form of a personal narrative, rather than an academic tome. The problem in any economic system remains determining what the goal ought to be. This book beautifully demonstrates that this can and ought to be a deeply personal decision, guided by faith and practical wisdom.