03 July 2014, The Tablet

Catholic Social Thought and the economy: the first St Hilda Chair on his vision for the role

by Dr Mark Hayes

Catholic Social Thought and Practice (CSTP) addresses a wide field, including issues well beyond the competence of an economist. Yet global economic issues impinge on most of the dimensions of CSTP and it is therefore appropriate that the founders of the St Hilda Chair, located within the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University, have chosen an economist as its first holder.

Since material provision is such an important part of life, economic justice is a key concern of CSTP. No society can be considered just, which does not care for and respect the poor, and it is through labour with dignity in the service of others that most people find their fulfilment. The private ownership of property is an important foundation of personal freedom and the restraint of tyranny, yet it carries a social mortgage. The limits of the rights of property must be judged against the criterion of the common good, including the integrity of creation.

The role of the academic here is first to articulate CSTP in the language of social and political science so that connections can be made and meanings clarified. For CSTP to engage requires that it can be understood by others. While a Catholic methodology holds to the truth of the teaching of the magisterium, truth has no fear of rational enquiry. Yet it must be recognised that much of social science is inimical to the underlying premises of CSTP and this post is not for the faint-hearted.

The St Hilda Chair offers the opportunity to define a research programme and build a team capable of fulfilling it over the long term. A particular problem and area for research is economics itself. As papal and Vatican documents make clear, ‘economic liberalism’ is an ideology, no less than Marxism, and the line between ideology and theory is sometimes hard to discern. Apart from theory, there are many practical issues addressed by CSTP which require rigorous investigation and analysis, such as the reform of the international monetary, financial and trading systems, the strengths and weaknesses of grassroots movements like co-operation and Fair Trade, and the rights and responsibilities of corporate enterprise and its shareholders, on the one hand, and organised labour on the other.

The St Hilda Chair is neither an episcopal cathedra nor a seat in Parliament. Nor does the Centre for Catholic Studies espouse a particular political agenda. Our job is to read, think, write and teach, while facing outwards to serve both the Church, in its widest sense, and society as a whole. If we understand ourselves and the world better, there is hope that we can contribute to making it better.

Dr Mark Hayes is the first St Hilda Chair in Catholic Social Thought and Practice at Durham University. He is also an economics lecturer and fellow at Robinson College, Cambridge.

What do you think?


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User comments (3)

Comment by: MIKE
Posted: 19/07/2014 15:23:57

Congratulations to Dr Mark Hayes on his appointment and to the founders of the St Hilda Chair.
In his blog Dr Hayes says “As papal and Vatican documents make clear, ‘economic liberalism’ is an ideology, no less than Marxism, and the line between ideology and theory is sometimes hard to discern”.
In the case of today’s dominant economic dogma, the so called neo-classical or neo- liberal economics, one would hope that all Catholics who have an understanding of Catholic Social Teaching would not have any difficulty in seeing the ideological intent behind the theory.
Might I suggest that as well as carrying out rigorous investigations the department headed up by Dr Hayes could prepare a simple presentation of these theories and how in practice they have led to the present state of Britain with its food banks, “bedroom tax”, a choice choose between food or heat etc. Without an understanding of these damaging and false ideas people cannot oppose their application in a realistic way. The popular press and other media either don’t want to or appear unable to provide this information.
People tend to believe that economics is too complicated for them to understand when in fact economic theory, particularly today, is often based on very simple (and often false) assumptions which have more to do with justifying the wealth of the rich and the poverty of the poor than making clear the workings of our society.
I hope the creation of the St Hilda Chair will help ordinary Catholics to understand the basis of these debased economic ideas and enable them to press for a more human centred economics that deliver “life and life to the full”.

Comment by: John-Paul Holmes
Posted: 04/07/2014 10:06:46

Good to see CST has an academic base, I wish the first incumbent of the chair fortitude and endurance in establishing it. CST is inclusive and does not seek to set one element of society off against another. But people exclude themselves, saying "they want no part of this". We need to demonstrate that this is an aporia, like a person who is invited to a party and then constantly distances him/herself from the host's interests, attentions and initiatives. The party is life, and we cannot opt out of life.

Comment by: Joseph
Posted: 03/07/2014 20:26:05

All the best on your new role!

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