The Economist’s Need for Intellectual Conversion

Patrick H. Byrne has had some interesting things to say about the need of the economist for intellectual conversion.

Byrne, Patrick, Economic Transformations: The Role of Conversions and Culture in the Transformation of Economics; in Fallon, Timothy P., S.J. and Philip Boo Riley, Editors; Religion and Culture: Essays in Honor of Bernard Lonergan, S.J. (1987) Albany, State University of New York Press [Fallon and Riley, 1987, 327-48]

Byrne stated,

By “intellectual conversion” Lonergan means the achievement of clarity and acceptance of the implications of what he calls the “positions” on knowing, objectivity and being. (CWL 3, 388) I begin with intellectual conversion because its lack is the most persistent source of economic dysfunction, and because for most it will seem to be the least important.  Lonergan has complained about this oversight in the following terms: [Fallon and Riley, 1987, 340]

Now it is true that our culture cannot be accused of mistaken ideas on pure surplus income as it has been defined in this essay; for on that precise topic it has no ideas whatever. … there exists, in the mentality of our culture, no ideas, and in the procedures of our economies, no mechanisms, whatever directed to smoothly and equitably bringing about the reversal of net aggregate savings to zero as the basic expansion proceeds. (CWL 15, 153) and [Fallon and Riley, 1987, 340]

Now one is likely to regard economic dysfunctions as rooted more profoundly in a lack of moral conversion rather than a lack of intellectual conversion.  On that topic, Lonergan more recently wrote: [Fallon and Riley, 1987, 340]

The difficulty emerges in the second step, the basic expansion.  In equity (the basic expansion following the surplus expansion) should be directed to raising the standard of living of the whole society.  It does not.  And the reason why it does not is not the reason on which simple-minded moralists insist.  They blame greed.  But the prime cause is ignorance.  The dynamics of surplus and basic expansion, surplus and basic incomes are not understood, not formulated, not taught. When people do not understand what is happening and why, they cannot be expected to act intelligently.  When intelligence is a blank, the first law of nature takes over: self-preservation.  It is not primarily greed but frantic efforts at self-preservation that turn the recession into a depression, and the depression into a crash. [CWL 15, 82] and [Fallon and Riley, 1987, 340]

If one’s intellectual climate inclines one, as the modern intellectual climate does, to assume that it is unscientific to speak of a “natural goal,” and to hold that contingent fact can yield no knowledge of ethical criteria, one will not seek either the general theoretical ideas Lonergan has set forth in his essay, nor the great many further practical ideas which will help the willing subject know how to responsibly dispose of his or her income.  The success of Lonergan’s analysis will depend in great measure upon intellectual openness to his worldview. [Byrne, Patrick, “Economic Transformations: The Role of Conversions and Culture in the Transformation of Economics”; in [Fallon and Riley, 1987, 341]



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