Rev. Andrew (Drew) Christiansen, S.J., was Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Human Development in Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and a senior fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs from 2013 until his death in April 2022. His areas of research included nuclear disarmament, nonviolence and just peacemaking, Catholic social teaching, and ecumenical public advocacy. He was a frequent consultant to the Holy See and a member of the steering committee of the Catholic Peacebuilding Network. He also served on the Atlantic Council's Middle East Task Force and on the Holy See delegation that participated in the negotiation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons during summer 2017.
Classical empiricists like Thucydides also documented the negative impact of the Athenian desire for greater wealth and greater power in "The Peloponnesian Wars." Modern critics of neo-classical economics have pointed out, for example, that for economics to function in keeping with the theory, economists have to assume that participants in a transaction are equally free. But that freedom is very often an illusion, especially at the international level.
The United States is now in the process of advancing a new free trade agreement. In fact, these agreements are not the frameworks for free exchanges, they are, in fact, only rulebooks for differently managed trade. They are usually managed to the advantage of big interests. Workers are not represented; the environmental costs of trade are not included; the needs of poorer groups and regions are not included.
The 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle is famous for the demonstrations which closed the meeting down for a couple of days. But the meeting failed not because of the demonstrations in the streets, but because of the ham-fisted management of the Clinton administration, the meeting’s host. Committee meetings were never held or the organizer only convened rump sessions of leading industrial and agricultural nations. Other medium-income and developing country representatives were excluded.
Economic rationality (as a supposedly universal human instinct) can do its work only when the playing field has agreed markings and all actors play by the same rules. Markets function rationally only when limits are set by “social norms, law and [effective] governance.” Law and governance can’t work without a moral culture in which men and women hold themselves accountable to common standards. So, the more nebulous, less measurable component of a society’s ethos is also of critical importance. The institutions of law and government and the ethos are mutually enforcing. Without an ethos as its life-blood, institutional arrangements will not save the economy from blind self-interest.
The Great Recession of 2007 to 2012 was the result of financial institutions, financiers, and money-managers seeking their advantage in a deregulated and under-supervised environment. The collapse followed an unwarranted belief on the part of financial managers and politicians in the beneficial outcomes of an untrammeled market.
Yale political philosopher Thomas Pogge has argued that the elimination of aggravated inequality depends on fair participation in global institutions. Without progress toward wider and more effective participation in national, regional, and international bodies, the rules of the market will continue to be skewed—and, by universal standards, irrational.