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ECONOMY/ Saint Thomas defeats the credit rating agencies

January Fri 27, 2012

(Infophoto)  (Infophoto)

Of St. Thomas’ five ways to prove the existence of God, my favorite without a doubt is the fourth. In short, the reasoning of Aquinas is as follows: in our lives we are engaged in continuous assessment. We say of certain things that they are better than some, and worse than others. If we can sort the things we encounter in terms of what is best and what is worse, there must be an ultimate good in reference to which we evaluate and classify all the rest. This ultimate good is God.

Perhaps those who say that the fourth way does not prove the existence of God but only the existence of a final subjective standard to which each person refers in their evaluations (a quid for which life is worth living even for just 5 minutes, as Luigi Giussani would say) are right. Admitting, though not conceding that the criticism could be correct, if nothing else, it is estimable that St. Thomas explicitly states his final standard: God. When he uses the words "good" and "appreciable", or "evil" and "deplorable" in the rest of his work, the reader is, therefore, duly informed of his meaning.

In a country like the United States, rankings, ratings, and evaluations are almost daily practices. For almost all services received or provided, an assessment is required. A university professor who agrees to write a letter of reference for a student who is applying for a post doctorate is required to numerically quantify the quality of the student in question in relation to the other students of the same year. If this professor is writing letters for several students who are applying to the same university, he is asked to be explicit: Julia is better than John, but is not as good as Anna. Universities are also subject to continuous rankings from influential national magazines such as U.S. News and World Report and any downgrades involve substantial economic losses caused by the immediate drop in requests for admission.

As one drives into town, one sees the vans of various service companies (gas, electricity, etc.) exhibiting a bumper sticker that asks "How Am I Driving?" and indicates a phone number to call to communicate any grievances. This is the human and cultural milieu in which the famous credit rating agencies, currently in the eye of the storm, were born.



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