Thursday, 9 September 2010

McShane and the Workshop "Towards a New Economic Order", Divyadaan, Nashik


Philip McShane is Professor Emeritus at Mount St Vincent University, Canada, and is one of the five or six most important scholars in the thought of Bernard Lonergan (1904-84), Canadian philosopher and theologian.

Born in Ireland, Phil has a master’s degree in mathematical science (University College, Dublin, 1952-56). He notes that his original training was in theoretical physics, which included working with Lochlainn O’Raifeartaigh who later occupied the Schrodinger position in the Dublin Institute of Theoretical Physics.

After taking a master’s degree in philosophy (St Stanislaus College, Tullamore, Ireland, 1956-59), and another master’s degree in theology (Heythrop College, Oxon., England, 1960-64), he went on to take a doctoral degree from Oxford (1965-68) for his thesis on “The concrete logic of discovery of statistical science, with special reference to problems of evolution theory,” later published under the title, Randomness, Statistics and Emergence.

Subsequently he was Lecturer in mathematics at the University College, Dublin (1959-60), Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the Milltown Institute of Philosophy and Theology (1968-73), Associate professor of Philosophy (1974-79) and then Professor of Philosophy (1980-94) at Mt St Vincent University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and First Visiting Fellow in Religious Studies, Lonergan College, Concordia University, Montreal (1979-80).

His interest in economics began with a request from Bernard Lonergan “to find [him] an economist” – to read one of his economics manuscripts.

His publications on economics include: Lonergan’s Challenge to the University and the Academy (1980); Wealth of Self and Wealth of Nations (1994); Economics for Everyone: Das Jus Kapital (1998); PastKeynes PastModern Economics: A Fresh Pragmatism (2002); with Bruce Anderson, Beyond Establishment Economics: No Thank You, Mankiw (2002); and the recent articles in Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 21/1 and 21/2, including editing the latter issue with the title Do You Want a Sane Economy?

He has lectured on economics at universities in Mexico, Colombia, the United States, Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

At present he is directing research projects on the relation between economic theory and law, education, environmental problems and world hunger.

Among his other publications are the following: The Shaping of the Foundations (1976); A Brief History of Tongue: From Big Bang to Coloured Wholes (1999). A more complete list may be obtained at; several items are also available online.

Besides publications, there are a very large number of “online publications” with strange names: Bridgepoise, Cantowers, Sofdaware, Quodlibets, Joistings, Eldorede, Prehumous, Lonergan’s Model, Method in Theology: Revisions and Implementations, Humus, Field Nocturnes, SURF, Fusion. All these are also available at

His wide range of interests reach out from mathematics, physics, botany, economics and Lonergan to include music, poetry and literature. The music and the poetry are, in fact, continually invading all his writings, which are often characterized by a Joycean mangling of language.

At present, pushing 78, Phil lives in Vancouver with his wife Sally.

I think it would not be wrong to describe Phil as a brilliant man of volcanic energy and enthusiasm, with a passion for the implementation of Lonergan’s project.

We are privileged to have you with us, Phil. Welcome!


The purpose of the workshop is to propose the elements of a new economic order, or to move towards a massive restructuring of present economic praxis.

To speak of a new economic order, or a restructuring of present economic praxis, is to imply that present economic order and praxis are less than satisfactory.

Is that true?

The chief resource person of the present Workshop is convinced that it is.

In support of his stand he might quote from Schumpeter who spoke of the fundamental need for economic theory to ‘cross the Rubicon’: by ‘crossing the Rubicon Schumpeter meant replacing current static economic analysis “by a system of general economic dynamics into which statics would enter as a special case.” [J. Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis (New York: OUP, 1954) 1160. xxv.]

The elements of the proposed new order or massive restructuring are to be found in the work of Canadian philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan. This itself is a strange thing: the very tall claim that a rank ‘outsider’, a layperson in the field of economics, might have something so revolutionary to suggest. But let that pass.

I quote from the blurb of the volume of Lonergan’s Collected Works edited by McShane, For a New Political Economy: “Lonergan’s concept of economics differs radically from that of contemporary economists and represents a major paradigm shift. He takes a fresh look at fundamental variables and breaks from centralist theory and practice, offering a uniquely democratic perspective on surplus income and non-political control.” [Blurb, FNPE, CWL 21.]

“He takes a fresh look at fundamental variables.” That statement could be illustrated by turning once again to Schumpeter, and here I quote from McShane’s Introduction:

Both in his Theory of Economic Development and in his Business Cycles: A Theoretical, Historical, and Statistical Analysis of the Capitalist Process, Schumpeter begins from the dynamics of a stable economy and moves to a consideration of the ‘destabilizing’ effect of entrepreneurial activity. Lonergan, however, focuses immediately on such activity, particularly in its occurrence on the massive scale associated with economic cycles, revolutions, surges. He approaches that focus armed with precise analytic distinctions between basic and surplus activities, outlays, incomes, etc., and it is extremely important to note that these distinctions are equally relevant also to the understanding and control of an economy without major surges. [FNPE xxv-xxvi.]

Lonergan, in other words, begins not from static analysis, but from dynamic analysis: an economy in which entrepreneurial activity is the normal thing.

He brings to this analysis precise distinctions between basic and surplus activities, outlays, incomes, etc.

Such a dynamic analysis is equally relevant “to the understanding and control of an economy without major surges”; in Schumpeter’s words, it is “a system of general economic dynamics into which statics would enter as a special case.”

So this Workshop is not going to enter immediately into practical problems of solidarity, justice, etc. The conviction behind this is that we have to first understand correctly the workings of the economy, before we can talk about What can be done, or What should be done. To put it more starkly, Lonergan and McShane are convinced that economics has not yet become a science. They are not alone in this: I have been quoting Schumpeter, but I could also quote Joan Robinson to that effect, and Robinson, I should note, was Amartya Sen’s doctoral guide.

But enough of that. Let me end with two points.

The first is that the approach of this Workshop will be largely to avoid global and total presentations of Lonergan’s view, and to take instead little steps towards that view. Thus McShane will begin by analyzing a small business, and then go on perhaps to introduce the ‘real economic variables’: the basic and surplus circuits, the corresponding flows of payments, the notion of credit, the idea of money, etc.

The second is the underlying conviction that the goal of the economy is not “making money”, but rather, improving the standard of living for all. And that, I am sure, this audience will agree is a worthwhile goal.

Thank you. 

(Ivo Coelho)

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