An Anti-Libertarian Reader

December 30, 2008

Religious Capitalism

Filed under: Uncategorized — jimmy0d @ 12:00 pm

Have you ever noticed how Libertarians latch on to Adam Smith’s invisible hand as not just a (incorrect) metaphor but as  gospel truth?  Libertarians of all stripes share a few things in common and their highest principle is “the market is always right“.  From police, to roads, to pollution Libertarians believe that the market always acts so as to produce public goods.  They see the market as a benevolent emperor looking out over the arena and judging the gladiators.  Of course economists, philosophers, and political scientists are quick to point out that the market can and does fail.  Quick to point out the government is a more efficient way to deal with those economies of scale and that the market only produces private goods, not public one.  Yet still they persist that the market is all knowing and can do no wrong.   I wonder who else has noticed this phenomena?

Harvey Cox writes at The Atlantic (of all places) an article entitled The Market as God

A FEW years ago a friend advised me that if I wanted to know what was going on in the real world, I should read the business pages. Although my lifelong interest has been in the study of religion, I am always willing to expand my horizons; so I took the advice, vaguely fearful that I would have to cope with a new and baffling vocabulary. Instead I was surprised to discover that most of the concepts I ran across were quite familiar.

The East Asians’ troubles, votaries argue, derive from their heretical deviation from free-market orthodoxy — they were practitioners of “crony capitalism,” of “ethnocapitalism,” of “statist capitalism,” not of the one true faith. The East Asian financial panics, the Russian debt repudiations, the Brazilian economic turmoil, and the U.S. stock market’s $1.5 trillion “correction” momentarily shook belief in the new dispensation. But faith is strengthened by adversity, and the Market God is emerging renewed from its trial by financial “contagion.” Since the argument from design no longer proves its existence, it is fast becoming a postmodern deity — believed in despite the evidence. Alan Greenspan vindicated this tempered faith in testimony before Congress last October. A leading hedge fund had just lost billions of dollars, shaking market confidence and precipitating calls for new federal regulation. Greenspan, usually Delphic in his comments, was decisive. He believed that regulation would only impede these markets, and that they should continue to be self-regulated. True faith, Saint Paul tells us, is the evidence of things unseen.

At the apex of any theological system, of course, is its doctrine of God. In the new theology this celestial pinnacle is occupied by The Market, which I capitalize to signify both the mystery that enshrouds it and the reverence it inspires in business folk. Different faiths have, of course, different views of the divine attributes. In Christianity, God has sometimes been defined as omnipotent (possessing all power), omniscient (having all knowledge), and omnipresent (existing everywhere). Most Christian theologies, it is true, hedge a bit. They teach that these qualities of the divinity are indeed there, but are hidden from human eyes both by human sin and by the transcendence of the divine itself. In “light inaccessible” they are, as the old hymn puts it, “hid from our eyes.” Likewise, although The Market, we are assured, possesses these divine attributes, they are not always completely evident to mortals but must be trusted and affirmed by faith. “Further along,” as another old gospel song says, “we’ll understand why.”

Normon Soloman of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting writes in his article, Renouncing Sins Against the Corporate Faith:

During his much-ballyhooed speech, the president asserted that “all investment is an act of faith.” With that spirit, a righteous form of business fundamentalism is firmly in place. The great god of capitalism is always due enormous tribute. Yet wicked people get most of the blame when things go wrong. “The American system of enterprise has not failed us,” Bush proclaimed. “Some dishonest individuals have failed our system.”

Corporate theology about “the free enterprise system” readily acknowledges bad apples while steadfastly denying that the barrels are rotten. After all, every large-scale racket needs enforceable rules. Rigid conservatives may take their faith to an extreme. (“Let’s hold people responsible — not institutions,” a recent Wall Street Journal column urged.) But pro-corporate institutional reform is on the mainstream agenda, as media responses to Bush’s sermon on Wall Street made clear.

Jonathan Tasini at the Huffington Post asks Do Democrats Have The Courage To Buck The “Free Market?”

The threat to a progressive agenda is not the lack of hugs and soaring rhetoric. Rather, the challenge is pretty clear: Will Democrats be willing to break from the false worship of the twins gods of the so-called “free market” and so-called “free trade”? This worship has made Democrats quiver, tremble and crumble in the face of policies that have been devastating to our country and the world for the past several decades, and made them incapable of advancing ideas and proposals that people so desperately need.

Here’s an interesting piece on the growth of Free Market Theology from the St. Petersburg Times

As a result, economic advisers have tended to act as cheerleaders of the status quo economic model. In addition, politicians and business people, who also believed in the infallibility of the existing system, made one bad economic decision after another. They had blind faith in the virtue of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” — that market mechanisms would somehow automatically correct their foolish decisions. In practice, however, the cult of the free market turned into a bacchanalia of greed, negligence, irresponsibility and deceit.

And for a laugh; not all Libertarians shy away from the concept of free market theology. Lew Rockwell, the master of libertarian Agitprop himself, writes at Mises.org about the Faith of Entrepreneurs.

He is right that understanding economics does not require faith, but there are actions undertaken by market actors themselves that require faith (and Mises would not disagree with this)—immense faith, faith that moves mountains and raises up civilizations. If we accept the interesting description of faith by St. Paul (“evidence of things unseen”) we can understand entrepreneurship and capitalist investment as acts of faith.

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1 Comment

  1. […] Filed under: Uncategorized — jimmy0d @ 5:59 pm I’ve previously pointed to the almost religious way in which Libertarians cling to the free-market and in that same spirit I recently stumbled upon a blog called Naked Capitalism. My first thoughts […]

    Pingback by The Gods of Greed « An Anti-Libertarian Reader — January 8, 2009 @ 5:59 pm


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