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Was the Good Samaritan a Bad Economist?

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When one thinks about religion and money they typically think of a metaphor like oil and water; they don’t mix. Those in the spiritual realm do not often attempt to concern themselves with monetary values and might have a difficult time analyzing biblical parables through an economist’s eye. In the case of the Good Samaritan, however, analyzing his behavior with respect to economics can actually clarify the rationality in otherwise irrational behavior.

The two worlds collided when economic scholars Daniel Condon and Peter Alonzi gave a presentation titled “Is the Good Samaritan a Bad Economist” at the Caritas Veritas symposium. After the opening prayer, Professor Condon took the stage and all eyes focused on a white-haired, short, stocky man at the front of the room. His voice echoed throughout the chapel as he said, jokingly “is my teacher voice working? Microphones make me nervous.”

The professor started his discussion with a reading of the Good Samaritan parable from Luke 10:25-37. As he proceeded into his topic he used confusing economic words like “supply and demand” or “utility” and “capital” more and more frequently. Condon explained that everyone has a very limited amount of utility, which in the case of human beings would be the time they have available. We can do different things with our time to produce different outcomes, what he called capital. “We combine time and commodities and produce goods,” he said. So in an economic sense, people use their utility to produce capital. Professor Condon then went on to connect these economic principles to the parable of the Good Samaritan. He claimed that the Samaritan used his utility, or time, to produce a capital; except for his capital was not profits or wealth. It was the satisfaction of knowing that he had helped the beaten and robbed man along the side of the road.

Professor Alonzi addressed the other side of the issue. He claimed the “bad” Samaritan is a bad economist as well. In the terms of business operations, when your only capital value is revenue and profits, any ethical and moral guidelines set in place will eventually deteriorate. A corporation like Enron was a clear example that Alonzi used to demonstrate how capital greed can encourage the decay of honest values. The equation he used was, “Success= Ability × Effort × Integrity.”

Condon called the satisfaction in charitable behavior “Caritas capital.” He said we all could learn a lesson about taking value in the production of “Caritas capital.” Condon closed by saying, “The Good Samaritan was a rational, maximizing, caritas infused, economist.”

Jacob Walters, Contributing Writer


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