Bernardo M. Villegas
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The Fourth and Fifth Rs
published: Sep 27, 2019






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New Approach to Economics Education (Part 1)

          I have been an economics educator for close to sixty years.  Way back in 1961, when I was a graduate student in the Department Economics of Harvard University, I served as a tutor to Harvard undergraduates who were taking their Principles in Economics course which was part of the General Education program for which Harvard is famous.   We were using at that time the best-selling textbook in economics by Paul Samuelson which was first published in 1948 and became the most popular textbook for decades.  Although he was the pioneer in applying mathematical analysis to economics, Samuelson believed that “to be a good economist, you must be a good political economist.  It’s not enough to know the diagrams of supply and demand and the mathematics of econometric regressions.  You have to be able to understand social tensions and conflicts.”  Inspired by this greatest economist of the twentieth century, I have always made sure that in teaching an introductory course in economics to thousands of young people, the majority of whom will not become professional economists, I must always take a multi-disciplinary approach and relate economic theorizing and research to  other relevant sciences both speculative , such as philosophy and theology, and empirical, such as sociology, anthropology,  political science and the physical sciences.     In fact I am an admirer of the founders of economic science in Great Britain who were referred to as political economists and whose writings and teachings were the bases for the famous specialization in Oxford and Cambridge called PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics).

         Over these more than half century of teaching economics, I have witnessed an alarming overspecialization and consequently quantification of the study of the principles of economics.  This trend coincided with the increasing worship of markets as the end-all and be-all of economic progress.  Because of the emphasis on the elegance of mathematical formulations in analyzing economic phenomena, there was an increasing emphasis on the autonomy of market forces and the  exclusion of other equally important considerations in attaining a just and humane society, such as the need for state regulation,  the social responsibility of the private sector, and the societal goal of integral development.  Over this same period, I have written close to a dozen textbooks on economics that have been used in many schools in the Philippines, especially in the private educational institutions.  I have tried to go against the tide and always presented economics as a social science that must take into account the findings of other fields of studies in arriving at the solutions to the fundamental economic problem of scarcity.  I have just written an updated version of my widely used textbook in economics called Guide to Economics for Filipinos.  My co-author, Mr. Luis Molina and I have made sure that in addition to explaining to the readers what Paul Samuelson referred to as “the diagrams of supply and demand and the mathematics of econometric regressions,” we would give as much attention to explaining such vital concepts as sustainable development, inclusive development and especially integral development.

         We have not hesitated to incorporate into this introductory book in economics the rich heritage of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church which contains the major principles of integral development.  These principles, articulated in numerous documents over more than a century and addressed not only to Catholics but to all men and women of good will, are actually deeply embedded in the Philippine Constitution of 1987.  I should know because I was one of those who drafted the Constitution and helped a core group headed by our Chairperson Cecilia Munoz-Palma to include in the preamble of the Constitution such social principles as the common good, the principle of subsidiarity, the principle of solidarity and the universal destination of goods.   In all the chapters of our new book, the principle of the common good, for example is, a lief motif that underlines every discussion of what is good for the economy.  In this new version of what used to be entitled Guide to Economics for Filipinos, the concept of integral development has been fully developed.  In fact, the last and concluding chapter of the book is entitled “Integral Development.”

         Although the seeds of this concept were already contained in all previous papal encyclicals, it was Blessed Paul VI who gave a definitive definition of the concept of integral development.  In his 1967 encyclical entitled “Populorum Progressio” (On the Progress of Peoples), he wrote: “Development cannot be limited to mere economic growth.  In order to be authentic, it must be complete:  integral, that is, it has to promote the good of every man and of the whole man.”  In the language of policy makers today, development must be inclusive, i.e., everyone—especially the poor—must share in the fruits of economic growth.  Over and above the inclusive nature of growth, every participant in the economic development process must consciously contribute to the common good, in the spirit of solidarity.  As I personally emphasized to my fellow commissioners when we were drafting the Philippine Constitution in 1986 under President Corazon Aquino, the common good should not be defined as the “greatest good for the greatest number.”  Instead, it should be defined as a social or juridical order that enables every member of society to attain his or her full human development economically, politically, culturally, socially, morally and spiritually.  This may be a long-winded definition but it guarantees that both government officials and the private citizens themselves will always be working for the good of everyone, especially the marginalized, and will not focus exclusively  on the  material welfare of the citizens but will also take into account the other dimensions of human existence, i.e. political, cultural, social, moral and spiritual.

         Because of the raging debates about the physical environment in the last decade or so, this new approach to economics education we are taking necessarily assigns a great deal of importance to sustainable development defined as seeking the good of the present generation without sacrificing that of future generations.  This has especially been applied to the need to protect the physical environment as we search for solutions to uplifting the standards of living of the present generation.  One of the most valuable contributions to this ongoing debate was made by Pope Francis in his encyclical “Laudato Si.”  As we have tried to do in every page of this book on economics, Pope Francis patiently shows how aspects of reality are related to one another.  One of the first aspects of modern life that the Pope tried to relate with the rest is technology.  In his words: “Technology has remedied countless evils which used to harm and limit human beings. How can we not feel gratitude and appreciation for this progress, especially in the field of medicine, engineering and communications?”    He was quick to point out, however, that there were downside harmful effects of technology: “Yet it must also be recognized that nuclear energy, biotechnology, information technology, knowledge of the DNA, and many other abilities which we have acquired, have given us tremendous power.  More precisely, they have given those with the knowledge and especially the economic resources to use them, an impressive dominance over the whole of humanity and the entire world.”  Needless to say, that impressive dominance has not been always used for the common good.  Pope Francis enumerates only a few of the disastrous consequences of the immoral uses of such technological powers:  nuclear bombs dropped in the middle of the twentieth century, or the array of technology which Nazism, Communism and other totalitarian regimes have employed to kill millions people, etc., etc. (To be continued)