Aquinas’ economics

St. Thomas Aquinas contribution to economic theory

Thomas Aquinas’s economic thinking followed Aristotle’s economic thought. The basis was the idea of justice and wages, and prices. Economics was about fairness and justice to both philosophers. However, there was one idea that I liked was unique to the economic thinking of Aquinas. That is, Thomas Aquinas took Aristotelian thought one step further. This step was arguably the beginning of the economic theory.

It was connected with Aquinas’ view of private property. Much of modern economics is based on the definition of property rights. John Locke and the enlightenment philosophers were all about this. This was free-market economics and the basis of our legal system. It even reaches us today when it comes to intellectual property rights and software and movies, for example. Why we can watch Netflix in the US but not in Europe, let’s look at why Aquinas thought this was important.


Why private property was essential to Aquinas

Aquinas believed that since all of creation came from God, nothing we have here is ours. All of creation is to be shared. For me, this makes perfect sense. Many egotistical people have a sense of entitlement and privilege. I remember one lawyer tell me everything he accomplished in his life was because of him, and he deserves his wealth. There is some truth to that, but it is very arrogant to say that.

Why everything we have his a gift. He was born in preppy Connecticut and raised with a silver spoon in his mouth. Proper childhood nutrition, stimulation parents that cared, etc. I said, OK, what if you were born in Africa, and then when you were five years old someone hit you over the head with a rock, and then your life was over. Don’t you see everything you have is a gift from God? More that is given to you in this life means you will be held accountable for more.

Why was Aquinas different? However, Aquinas added one more aspect to this idea that everything is to be shared and is a gift. That is, man needed incentives to work. Private property, although not belonging to anyone, created an incentive for people to work.

Therefore, private ownership could be just and fair if the work was fair and honorable. It motivated man on this earth to till the land. I am slightly greedy and always want to improve my economic condition. Although if I were a billionaire, which I am not, I would not say that my fortune and money was from anything else but from above. Therefore, I believe you need to work like everything in life is in your hands, but know that everything in life is in God’s hands. This was the basis of the economic theory of Aquinas.

The take away from this post is not only an exciting history of economics trivia about the origin of modern economic theory but to make you aware of the reality of money and work and why we are here. Again I am slightly greedy and strive to create more investing in stocks and entrepreneurial activities. But I go back to the idea that everything we have on this earth is not ours. If you can not share money, share your mental talents, and ideas with others. I do not believe in hoarding ideas. I try to share all my money, making ideas online, for example. Some are good, and some are less than perfect. But all the talent and property we have is on loan to us from God. Nothing great we achieve in life has any real meaning. Anything we accomplish means nothing. It is a gift synonymous with responsibility.

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8 responses to “Aquinas’ economics”

  1. Walter

    Each individual is a unique combination of gifts and abilities. We serve God and others when we put those to good use. This is the motive for work: We cannot be happy unless we are able to put our talents to the use God intended. All should share equally, except that some, whose work is more critical to society, might be allotted slightly more. This is to ensure that resource issues do not interrupt their work.

    Aquinas took economic motives as a given. It wasn’t his fault. We know more now.

    1. Mark Biernat

      I believe in a Christian economic ideal. I also believe Aquinas was one of the top five thinkers in philosophy. I mean everything can not be determined by the market.

  2. Father Clifford Stevens

    Aquinas Economics is as current today as it was when he put pen to paper in his vast collection of documents covering every area of human concern, including economics or the use and misuses of money. His Economics is concerned with the Instruments of Wealth: Work, Money, Commerce and People and is an economy of Justice in the Marketplace.

    Father Clifford Stevens
    Archdiocese of Omaha

    1. Mark Biernat

      Father, I have always thought that Aquinas had the most accurate description of reality of any thinker, from my understanding of his writing. A fusion of Plato and Aristotle with theology. I will go back and revisit his writings relating to economics to get a better understanding of what he was trying to convey.

      1. Father Clifford Stevens

        Mark Biernat – for a start, you might try ” St. Antoninus and Medieval Economics” by Bede Jarrett, O.P., just republished by St. Pius X Press.
        Also, the section on “Thomism” in Walter Ullmann’s “A History of Political Thought in the Middle Ages”.

        Father Clifford Stevens
        Boys Town, Nebraska

        1. Mark Biernat

          These are appreciated references. I will look for these books and revise my post to an more detailed and accurate commentary on Aquinas and economics. Thank you for the references. I have been off the grid working as a consultant and my initial attempts to create a meaningful/post and site about economics as fallen short of what I am capable of because of time constraints.

          Although I am fairly libertarian in my economic views, I also feel ethics needs to be the guide. Medieval thinking is a wealth of information that exams these issues.

          Is it relevant to today’s economic life? Absolutely. I work in a major company and finance and I see the the interplay between ethics and work on a daily and personal basis. I told my boss on Friday that my ethics and family come first and job behind that. This is in reply to her comment that her priority was the company.

          I think for personal and abstract reasons I will read at least one of your references with great interest.

          1. Father Clifford Stevens

            Mark Biernat – The most disturbing thing about the economics of the Austrian School is its claim of wertfreiheit – with a passion – beginning with Carl Menger – – and is a major tenet of the Mises school. For Aquinas – Ethics is the guiding principle of Economics, since economics is about monetary relstionships. According Aquinas, ethics is at the very heart of Economics.

            Father Clifford Stevens
            Archdiocese of Omaha

          2. Mark Biernat

            I agree this freedom from moral judgement is a license to commit wrongs. That is why we have laws which are agreed on by society. For example, we agree that a convicted violent offender should not have the right to have an automatic weapon no matter what the economics of the situation is.

            I have no problem with a theorcracy, but it is not the ideal. I believe life is about acting on free will to make moral choices. If morality is legeistated there is less free will involved. However, you need some laws to protect the innocent and weak from harm.

            Better is to maximize the liberties of a society, and curtail social action with laws to protect against grave moral wrongs, you are going to have your ideal society. I believe people are innately good and maximizes liberties will lead to this Aquinas ideal.

            Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness comes from our Divine Creator and I believe this. It is finding what is moral and what is not and making sure the laws cover this.

            For example, the morality of health care. I do not believe health care is a right. A right is something like life or freedom. But government health care is a human mess and even evil. It has nothing to do with charity or helping society.

            Specifically, I paid for ethical stem cells out of my own pocket and I am basically cured of twenty years of pain. My friends on the system use drugs and pain killers and surgery and I have to pay for this high cost. It is very hard to make moral judgements in economics other than protecting basic rights like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

            For example, I am prolife and it hurts me we live in a society that is does not have an awareness that can not collectively agree this is a wrong and it is obviouly so. But protecting the unborn is protecting life. That I agree with as to deny a human life is a grave moral wrong.

            Others want a more equal society in the USA. I do not. I lived in Eastern Europe much of my life and the poor there, with no cell phones or cars or TV became great humans and intellects while in the USA poverty is what I would consider the super rich in other counties. Making people economically more equal via government is a wrong in my book.

            So the question is how can the theory be brought to reality in a society. How can we maximize liberties and increase society’s awareness to write laws to protect against moral wrongs.

            I believe in something like libertaian economics combined with a good moral foundation. Even Adam Smith said individuals act on ‘enlighted self interest’ not just self interest.

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