I’ve been reading with interest some of the materials David Jones and Chris Blosser posted the other day about the debates between Tom Woods and Tom Storck over economics and Catholic Social Thought. From what I can gather, one of the major areas of dispute has to do with economics status as a science, and specifically with the question of whether economic principles have any universal validity.
For Woods, there are certain economic principles (such as, say, the law of supply and demand) which are valid at all times and in all places, though of course how such principles are applied may vary (for instance, the law of supply and demand would still apply in a society with price controls; it’s just that what would be predicted by the law – shortages, black markets, etc. – would be different than where prices are set by the market). Storck, by contrast, seems to think that economic laws are historically contingent, and cites the German historical school of economics, among others, in support of his view.
I have to admit that I am more in sympathy with Woods here (big shocker). In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis argued against moral relativism by asking the reader to “[t]hink of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double crossing all the people who had been kindest to him.” In a similar vein, it’s hard for me to picture a society in which increases in the supply of a good or service make it more expensive. Perhaps, though, this is just the result of my own ideological blinders. Sure, economic principles appear to work in modern capitalist economies, but would they still hold in radically different circumstances?