Season 1, Episode 6
In episode 6 of the Conversatio podcast, Dr. Hannah Kling sits down with Julia Long to explain how Catholic Economics can help us navigate modern challenges such as the pandemic, inflation, and more.
Hannah Kling, Julia Long
Julia Long 00:06
Welcome to Conversatio the Belmont Abbey college podcast. This podcast focuses on the way of formation and transformation, so that each of us reflects God’s image in an ever more palpable and transparent way. I’m Julia Long and today I’m joined by Dr. Hannah Kling, Assistant Professor of Economics at Belmont Abbey College. We’re so glad to have you here, Hannah.
Hannah Kling 00:27
Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Julia Long 00:29
So today, we’re going to explore what Catholic economics tells us about today’s challenges. But before we jump in, Dr. Kling tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hannah Kling 00:38
Yeah, I was born in Seattle and lived there for a long time. And then I went to undergrad in Michigan. I went to grad school in Virginia. My first job was in Green Bay, Wisconsin. And now I’m here. So I’ve pretty much been all over.
Julia Long 00:54
All Over the Map. Yeah. Great. Great. So I think a really good starting place today as we think about economics and kind of the Catholic views on them. Let’s just lay a foundation. How would you define economics?
Hannah Kling 01:09
Yeah, so a lot of people think economics is about investing in the stock market or making money. But that’s Finance and Business Economics is more about, we have a finite amount of resources, and we have a finite amount of time. How are we going to make the most of the time and resources that are given to us and do the best for ourselves, our families, our communities and the world? And so economics is about making decisions with scarce or limited resources and time. Yeah,
Julia Long 01:45
that makes sense. And I think the delineation there between Finance and Business and Economics, that makes sense. So shifting gears a bit to how would you say economists think about the world? What questions are they seeking to answer?
Hannah Kling 01:59
Economists are definitely realists. So we see a situation and we can see what ideally would be the case, okay. Ideally, everyone in the world would have top notch best medical care that could possibly be right. But we don’t have that we don’t have enough doctors, we don’t have enough, you know, all of the machines and everything that’s involved, for literally everyone have the best medical care, yes, we would like that to happen. But that’s simply not feasible with the resources that we have right now. And so economists are always thinking about what’s attainable, what is the best we can do, given the constraints that we face. And we’ve got lots of different goals, we want medical care, we want people to be clothed, and housed and fed and all kinds of things. We want people to have leisure time, so they can, you know, pursue their their hobbies. And also, you know, contemplate and pray and worship and think and study and do all these things. So we have all these goals in mind. And economists are always thinking about, okay, what are the trade offs that we face? If we want to do X? What do we have to give up in order to make that happen? Yeah, everything has a cost, every choice that we make, means that we give up something else, right? Ignoring that cost and pretending it’s not there is not going to help us make better decisions, right? Which is why people don’t like economists. Oh, but wait, if you do that, you have to give up this other thing, right? So we’re always thinking about the trade offs, what are the costs and benefits of any choice, right? We make a choice. If the benefits outweigh the costs, we don’t make that choice if the costs outweigh the benefits.
Julia Long 03:55
And so you would say that in the hierarchy of decisions. It’s rooted in realism.
Hannah Kling 04:00
Yeah. Yep. So really thinking through and everyone does this to some extent, when you make a big decision, you’re like, Okay, I’m going to make my list of pros and cons, right? That’s thinking like an economist,
Julia Long 04:12
interesting pro tip. As we think about economics, here at Belmont Abbey, I think one of the things that sets us apart distinctively are a Catholic principles. So can you talk a little bit about how the Catholic principles, what do they bring to the topic of economics?
Hannah Kling 04:34
Yes, so with any system of thinking like, Catholicism has its own goals and values. And economics is about how to best achieve whatever your goals or values are. So economics doesn’t bring goals or values to the table economics says okay, given your goals and what you’re most interested in What is the best way to achieve that? And so, when we’re thinking about Catholicism, that is one way to kind of direct our economic decisions, what are some goals that Catholicism asks us to have is care for others and the poor and the least among us. It’s making sure to prioritize, you know, paying for worship and prayer and contemplation and things, big emphasis on the family and supporting the family and those types of goals. So those are kind of kind of the end of the the ends and economics is kind of the means.
Julia Long 05:43
Yeah, yeah. Makes sense. So before we kept this podcast off, you said that you identify as a Catholic economist, what does it mean to you to be a Catholic economists?
Hannah Kling 05:54
Well, I’m Catholic, and I’m an economist. So the first part, but I think, I don’t think they’re in conflict, the way that I think a lot of people feel that they do. So when I talk to non economist, Catholics, they’re like, Oh, you’re an economist, you only care about material well being, and greed and like, conspicuous consumption, all of these things. But that’s, that’s not what economics is about. Like, we can use economics to think about how to improve the material wellbeing of everybody. But we can also use economics to think about all the decisions we make about how to use our time and our talents that we have. Sure. And so Catholics can be somewhat, I guess, skeptical or leery of economists thinking that economists don’t care about other people, economists think everyone is selfish and only cares about themselves. But that’s not really anything to do with economic analysis. Some economists are selfish people. But it’s not it’s not part of being an economist. And then I think economists can be skeptical of Catholics, because they’re like, Oh, your value system is going to blind you to the realities that economics is asking us to face up to write. And so I think, you know, both Catholics can be skeptical of economists and some economists can be skeptical of Catholics. But I think you need to have ends in mind when you’re thinking about economics. And so economics needs Catholicism or something like that, to direct its energies and goals. Again, economics tells us about the means not the ends. And then Catholics. Also, we need to think economically about how to best pursue our goals. Mother Teresa, right, she had a lot of economic decisions to make. She had a limited amount of time and people working with her. She had a limited amount of money. She had to think every day she had to make trade offs, what am I going to spend my time on? Okay, what I’m spending my time on means I’m giving up spending my time on some other things. I’m if I spend my money, getting some shelter for some people, that means I’ve got less money to purchase food for people, she had to make those kinds of decisions all the time. And if she just ignored them and said economics, that’s, you know, lower realm, I’m thinking higher, she’s not going to be most effective at her goal of helping the poor. So Right. Catholics, we do need to think practically. We can’t remove ourselves from the limitations we face in this in this limited world of limited time, and limited resources.
Julia Long 08:57
So for you, you really see Catholicism and economics isn’t beneficial relationships.
Hannah Kling 09:02
Yeah, for sure.
Julia Long 09:03
That’s interesting. You mentioned Mother Teresa, I think we’re all aware of the challenges of Mother Teresa’s time, and the impact that she had on the world. So as we think about that, and knowing the world that we’re in today, can you talk a little bit about the challenges that we’re facing in the world today from an economic perspective?
Hannah Kling 09:24
Yeah, so we’ve got some some short term challenges due to a pandemic. Yeah, but so, yeah, disrupted supply chains, by Oh, sometimes stuff isn’t coming in time because these sort of temporary problems and, and temporarily, a lot of people were out of work here in the United States. So we’ve got a lot of short term problems due to that pandemic, which hopefully are short term. Hopefully we can we can finish this up and have a healthier world soon. But then we’ve got our sort of persistent longer run Problems of war and strife, countries with dictators who are oppressing their people. And those kinds of more persistent challenges. And so, so we’ve got short, short term and long term problems. We’ve got challenges here in the United States and challenges in the world. Yeah.
Julia Long 10:22
You alluded to that there are short term challenges and long term challenges. I think that that’s an interesting perspective. Because I think sometimes when you’re in a pandemic, it can all just seem like it’s all going to last forever. So aside from the short and the long term peace, how would you say that an economist views the challenges of today? From that unique lens?
Hannah Kling 10:46
Yeah, so we’re already seeing actually really low unemployment right now, in the United States, like, you know, McDonald’s down the street is like, Um, how about $13 an hour, anybody, anybody you know, so things have changed a lot with that already. And so it’s actually hard for companies to find people to work for them. So unemployment is really low right now. People are worried about inflation resulting from a lot of the stimulus money that was spent. So you know, all that stuff’s gonna shake out, I’m pretty confident the Federal Reserve is going to do a good job of preventing us from having really bad inflation. So you know, they’re, they’re on top of it, they understand they know, and they’re, you know, they’re pretty good at their job there. I am not super concerned about that. But there are trade offs with that, too. So whenever they’re going to be combating inflation and getting inflation under control, that tends to put the brakes on the economy a little bit. So, you know, our economic growth is going to slow down as as a result of any fed actions to combat inflation. And that’s why they’re kind of trying to sit it out and wait out this kind of short term disruption. But so that that’s kind of a challenge. And I think, some of the more global challenges that are more long term, like go Francis was talked about. There’s lots of people in the world who are desperately trying to get away from really, really dire situations. And so that’s when an economist looks at it and says, Alright, so we don’t have enough people willing to work here in the United States, we need more people to work. And there’s a lot of people in the world who are really desperate to get out of their situation. And so economists, we tend to be very favorable toward more open immigration because, and we look at groups of people. And we see the cooperation that people have when we interact in an economy, I cooperate with my employer, and my employer collaborates with me, we both benefit from the exchange of my work in return for a wage or salary. When I go to the grocery store, I’m not, you know, holding them up taking stuff, they prefer to have what I pay them for the food, and I prefer to have the food. So we’re both better off as a result of that trade. Yeah. And one of my specialties in my research is urban economics. So thinking about cities and the dynamics of people working together, and the innovations that they can come up with, the more people work together and think together, and innovate, think, you know, Silicon Valley for the past 20 years, or whatever, you get a bunch of people together with common interests, and their innovations that they come up come up with are astounding. And when we have innovations, that means that we can use our fixed physical resources that we have in better and better ways, right. So economists are very, very excited about having people be able to work together and live near each other. So yeah, that tends to be kind of kind of our approach to thinking about the challenges both domestically and internationally right now.
Julia Long 14:31
And would you say that the Catholic Church echoes that sentiment?
Hannah Kling 14:35
I do. Yeah. So Pope Francis is very much in favor of that. And I know that, you know, opinions on this have kind of changed over you know, and fair enough. Some Catholics are kind of more uncomfortable with the idea of like completely open borders or something. I’m sure there there are some concerns that that one might have, but in terms of the goal of People being free to move where they want and not kind of at the whim of evil dictators is kind of something that that both the Catholic Church and economists support, then there’s a whole area of thinking is called Catholic social thought or Catholic Social Teaching, that has a long tradition of thinking about how to apply Catholic ideas to the economic decisions that we have to make. And is that a big part of what you talk with your students about? Here? Yeah, yeah. So um, I just wrapped up teaching, basically a history of economic thought class. And we looked at some encyclical, so the first encyclical to really think about economic issues specifically, was rare Nivaran by Pope Leo the 13th, back in the 19th century, so he was responding to Marxism at the time and seeing the dangers of Marxism, as well as kind of the challenges of the Industrial Revolution. So think, you know, the factories and the people being exploited in factories and things. So he was he was looking at both of those extremes and wanting to find a different way. 100 years later, JP to pitch picked up the same themes. And there were a lot of encyclicals between them that built this Catholic social thought. So, John Paul, the second obviously very influential in the fall of communism, right. Um, so he was touching on that and thinking about the challenges of globalization in the fall of the Soviet Union. So the Catholic Church definitely has a lot to say, and a lot to bring to the table. When thinking about economic issues.
Julia Long 16:50
Yeah, yeah, I can definitely see that. And so kind of to close out this segment, Dr. Clean as we think about, you know, from if we look at history, and we see the challenges that that occurred, we can also see kind of reconciliation that can progress, right, they came forward from that. So, you know, knowing now that we are in a global pandemic and happen, how would you say each of us can do our part to create a more stable economy or navigate these challenges? What would your words of advice
Hannah Kling 17:21
be? Yeah, I mean, it feels so hard because the big economic decisions are made by politicians, and leaders of corporations. But what can we individually do? Well, in our lives, we can try to optimize by thinking about the costs and benefits of choices and not ignoring the trade offs that we face. We can pay attention to what’s going on politically. And also think about how to work together with other people, rather than thinking about things in terms of in terms of strife, like if I benefit, that means somebody else loses. Right, right. So rather than thinking about that, thinking, like an economist, how can both parties benefit, like in a trade, you’re not going to trade unless both sides benefit? Friendship? Yeah, exactly. So I And finally, I think economics has has a bad rap as the dismal science. I think economics is actually not that economics is Look how much progress we’ve made. I’m extremely confident we are going to continue to grow and continue to figure out better ways of feeding the world, healing the world, and helping everyone to to lead better and more comfortable lives. Awesome.
Julia Long 18:54
Well, thank you, Dr. Flynn for your unique and uplifting perspective on the state of our world today. We It was great talking to you. Thanks you too. Yep. And we want to thank you, our audience for joining us. If you enjoy Conversatio, please subscribe and tell your friends. Conversatio is available through Spotify and Google podcast until next time, God Bless
About the Host
Marketing Project Manager
In the role of Marketing Project Manager at Belmont Abbey College, Julia’s main focuses are brand development and external communications. This includes oversight of Public Relations, Advertising, and Social Media for the college.
With a Bachelor’s in Journalism and a Master’s in Communication, Julia’s passion for brand and communications led her to positions in corporate and higher education. She lives in Gastonia, North Carolina with her husband Justin, daughter McKenna, and two cats, Einstein and Galileo.