John Milbank has an excellent post up at the ABC Religion and Ethics page called, “Can the Market be Moral? Peace and Prosperity Depends on a Reimagined Socialism.“
Along with socialist historians R.H. Tawney and Karl Polyani, Milbank argues that capitalism in the west began as a result of systematically dividing morals from markets. Rather than the inexorable logic or march of history, capitalism was founded on a debased understanding of total depravity bequeathed from Reformation and Counter-Reformation.
Our so-called ‘backward’ medieval counterparts, by contrast, maintained an oikonomia “grounded in the view that there is an abundance of divine grace that is adapting itself to our finite needs. This is exactly the opposite of what we have come to think of as the economic, where we have infinite needs but the resources are scarce… This debased conception is precisely an inversion of the original meaning, in theology, of oikonomia.”
The solution for today then is a “civil economy socialism – if socialism is exactly the right word. That would be a socialism that would see the economy as fully part of civil society and would try to redesign the economic contract itself. It would be a socialism less inimical to the co-priority with production of exchange. A socialism still suspicious of usury like Thomas Aquinas, but also accepting, like Aquinas and unlike most classic socialisms, of returns on shares, if real risks have been undergone and real responsibilities co-shouldered.”
As Milbank concludes, “turning from the impersonal machine to the living but crafted social organism of interlinked personal relations in connected continuity with the organism of created nature is not merely a necessity of justice, but also of future world peace.” Amen.