By John McNerney
Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century initiated a great debate not just about inequality but also regarding the failures found in the economic models used by theoreticians and practitioners alike. Wealth of Persons offers a totally different perspective that challenges the very terms of the debate. The Great Recession reveals a great existential rift at the core of certain economic reflections, thereby showing the real crisis of the crisis of economics. In the human sciences we have created a kind of "Tower of Babel" where we cannot understand each other any longer. The "breakdowns" occur equally on the personal, social, political, and economic levels. There is a need for an "about-face" in method to restore harmony among dissociated disciplines.
Wealth of Persons offers a key to such a restoration, applying insights and analysis taken from different economic scholars, schools of thought, philosophical traditions, various disciplines, and charismatic entrepreneurs. Wealth of Persons aims at recapturing an adequate understanding of the acting human person in the economic drama, one that measures up to the reality. The investigation is a passport allowing entry into the land of economic knowledge, properly unfolding the anthropological meaning of the free economy.
Trevor Shelley on VoegelInView wrote:
"In McNerney’s The Wealth of Persons we find a much-needed clarion call to philosophers and economists to engage with one another again in order to rediscover the basis of all economics: the human person. McNerney appeals to a diverse, interdisciplinary set of thinkers, putting special emphasis on the work of Eric Voegelin, Bernard Lonergan, Joseph Schumpeter, and the personalism of Wojtyła and others. I found it particularly refreshing that McNerney presented a conversation between philosophical personalism and thinkers deeply engaged in the justification of the free economy. [...] While Smith’s insight into the role of self-interest is indispensable, a reductive anthropology misses much of the richness in economic life. McNerney offers a view of human nature inspired by Trinitarian community in which humans are both traders and givers. [...] If McNerney hoped to present a compelling case that the faults of contemporary economic thought could be due to an “anorexic anthropology” that bespeaks an underlying lack of vision about the nature of economics, he does an admirable job. His references to various financial crises help concretize these faults. [...] However, if his hope was to convince more than a few economists of this, I am afraid he has more work ahead of him. One challenge of interdisciplinary work is resistance to the jargon of other disciplines, but McNerney spends quite a bit of time introducing the esoteric vocabulary of particular philosophers. Additionally, although McNerney has identified the disease, and perhaps even the cure, it is not clear what practical steps economists can take next [...] I have only two other criticisms for McNerney to consider: that he is too generous to Thomas Piketty, and that he does not refer to the works of Deirdre McCloskey."
"McNerney sets out to address the impoverishment of contemporary economic thought, and to rectify what he evocatively calls its 'anthropological anorexia,' or 'anthropological agnosticism.' [...] In bringing 'a person-centered focus' to economic reflection, he illustrates how 'personalistic principles' are not at odds with the free market process, but are in fact presupposed by the very operation of human economic activity — a less than self-evident claim when the climate of opinion so readily assumes that 'capitalism' is inherently flawed and inimical to human well-being. It is a great achievement of McNerney’s work to provide an anthropological defense of the free market that rises to the level of a moral defense. In so doing, McNerney goes beyond the false dichotomy manifest in our daily economic debates, such as those concerned with inequality, often pitted as a battle between distributivists and libertarians. [...] McNerney discusses an impressive number of thinkers and a great deal of scholarship from economics, but also from philosophy, history, literature, social sciences, psychology, and theology, thereby displaying the breadth he suggests is necessary for proper thinking. [...] At the heart of McNerney’s work is a compelling elaboration of how economic activity represents a fundamentally human mode of being, for it expresses the unique creative capacity of the human person — creativity is an essential, and distinguishing mark of persons, and is manifest in the “entrepreneurial act,” broadly speaking. [...] That said, insofar as creativity is the other side of discovery, McNerney does not address how human dynamism can take us into areas that may otherwise be destructive of human persons, or down pathways that bring the limits of human creativity into question. To the extent that the Great Recession is related to an absence of reflection on the fundaments of human creative power, it is nevertheless something of a product of human cunning — that is, a form of human ingenuity that is creative without being productive, or a matter of investment with little prospect for genuine human flourishing. [...] McNerney generally evades the political problem by turning his focus to action as an economic problem, and one is left wondering about how questions of ruling, authority, sovereignty, and action of a political nature fit into the larger picture, or possibly require consideration to illuminate the larger problem."
Table of Contents of Wealth of Persons
- The Great Recession Points Us to the Crisis of Economics
- The Free Economy at the Crossroads: Still Fit for Purpose?
- Towards a Philosophy of Economic Order: Retrieving the Human Meaning of the Free Economy
- Entrepreneurial Perspectives I: The Primacy of Person-Centered Economic Creativity in the Free Market Process
- Entrepreneurial Perspectives II: A Philosophical Reflection on the Role of the Entrepreneur
- Entrepreneurial Perspectives III: A Movement toward a Higher Anthropological Viewpoint
- Entrepreneurial Perspectives IV: Eastern Awakenings and Western Alertness
- The Real Wellspring of Human Wealth Revealed: An Example from the Foxford Mills Entrepreneurial Project
- Towards a Philosophical Anthropology of the Free Market Economy: Recapturing the Human Wealth of Its Person-Centered Roots
- Being More: A Trinitarian Model Applied to Economic and Social Life
About John McNerney
John McNerney was until recently head chaplain at University College Dublin. Author of John Paul II: Poet and Philosopher (2004), he is also an occasional lecturer to undergraduate and graduate students in the fields of business ethics and philosophy. Currently he is a visiting scholar at The Catholic University of America. He has given talks at various international conferences in North America, Europe, and Asia, and is a member of the national Economy of Communion commission in Ireland.