FAITH & ECONOMICS
NUMBER 69, Spring 2017
A Critical Realist Model of Markets: Understanding the Causality behind Economic Complicity
Daniel K. Finn
St. John’s University
Abstract: Christians have many reasons to care about the harms that occur in the lives of others, but does buying a product generate any moral responsibility for injustices suffered by those who produced it? Economics cannot decide whether first world consumers have any moral responsibility for problems far abroad, but as a science, economics should be able to decide whether there is any causal connection between consumers and the harms caused by markets to distant others. The neoclassical paradigm does not equip an economist to do this, but applying the insights of critical realist sociology to economics makes it possible, providing heterodox economists a view of markets better tailored to their needs. A social structure is a system of relations between pre-existing social positions. Social structures have causal impact on the persons within them by generating restrictions, opportunities, and incentives that shape their decisions. This essay begins with the example of the market for textiles and understands it as a social structure, a long chain of relations among positions from consumer and department store clerk all the way up the chain of production to the relation between factory manager and seamstress half a world
away. Each link in this chain is causally related to all the others and this causal connection can then form the scientific basis for a moral decision, outside of economics, concerning the degree of moral responsibility that consumers may have for the harms which markets cause to distant others.
JEL codes: B41, A13, and A12