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II. Economics and Christian Faith -- Economics -- the meaning of the words


The word economy comes from two Greek words: oikos, meaning "house" or "household" and nomos, meaning "rule', "law or "custom'. Put together they point to the "management" or "stewardship" of a household. An oikonomos, the person involved, was a steward or manager; and "economics" was originally the management of the resources of a household: how goods were produced, distributed, shared and consumed for the wellbeing of the household's members.
The contemporary understanding of "economics" as an academic discipline leading to professional and analytic competence that is useful in industry, finance and government, can be traced back to Adam Smith, the Scottish thinker and moral philosopher often referred to as "the father of economics'. In 1776 he published his classic An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Smith was just as interested in what we would probably consider the politics of it all as in the economics. Later, a narrower and more mathematically technical approach to economics came to predominate. In this paper we shall be following a broad definition: Economics deals with the production, distribution and consumption of material goods and services and the way in which these various processes are controlled.
"Economics" is by no means a separate part of reality on its own; rather it is one way of considering large complexes of social and community realities, including the personal relationships and expectations, the loyalties and senses of priority that govern the processes of production, distribution and consumption. A steel firm, a communal bakery, a street vendor, a family farm -- all are as much "economic realities" as today's interest rates or a government's policy about the money supply.


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