Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Religion and the Market

Protestantism is Capitalism
An Economic Analysis of the Protestant Reformation

"This paper seeks to explain the initial successes and failures of Protestantism on economic grounds. It argues that the medieval Roman Catholic Church, through doctrinal manipulation, the exclusion of rivals, and various forms of price discrimination, ultimately placed members seeking the Z good "spiritual services" on the margin of defection. These monopolistic practices encouraged entry by rival firms, some of which were aligned with civil governments. The paper hypothesizes that Protestant entry was facilitated in emergent entrepreneurial societies characterized by the decline of feudalism and relatively unstable distribution of wealth and repressed in more homogeneous, rent-seeking societies that were mostly dissipating rather than creating wealth. In these societies the Roman Church was more able to continue the practice of price discrimination. Informal tests of this proposition are conducted by considering primogeniture and urban growth as proxies for wealth stability."
Protestants explain their religion of capitalism as neo-platonism. The marketplace of vice and virtue, and God gives you free choice. Which is why the Calgary School and the Harpocrites embrace neo-platonism.

Social conservatives want morality to dominate the market while promoting the idea of free choice. Their free choice of course is not for the social good but for oneself, their morality some idealized version of the 1950's as we can see in the debate over child care.

On balance, I conclude that the market economy allows more people more of the time to achieve more of the goals they set for themselves. I think this is not only arguable from economic theory but seems to me to leap from the pages of history. Conversely, I have learnt that, beyond its essential function as policeman, judge and welfare-provider-of-last-resort, the state is a very ineffective means of enabling people to achieve their ends. It lacks the flexibility and tacit knowledge that is needed to coordinate the revolving kaleidoscope of people's valuations, plans and choices. It has great difficulty in replacing profit with another barometer for measuring the quality of its services. A large state attracts undesirables who use its apparatus as an instrument to exploit others for their own selfish ends.

But it is nonetheless true that market capitalism permits the greedy person, the hedonist and other moral reprobates, at least within the basic rules of property and life, to pursue their chosen ends of self-gratification. In a free society, the possibility of making immoral choices is a real possibility. The sun of liberty rises on the evil and the good, as the rain of misfortune falls on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Yet the liberty to make immoral choices allowed by the free society should not lead us to conclude that immorality is the norm in free societies. To draw this conclusion is to commit a logical fallacy. The liberty to commit immoral acts is at the same time a liberty to perform virtuous deeds. So, in a society where people are free to choose their lifestyles, the heedless acquisition or conspicuous consumption of material wealth, or the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake, need not be preferred choices. I can choose to live for myself or for a higher principle―to pursue extrinsic or intrinsic goals. Even if I choose to make money, it may be for my own pleasure or I could emulate Andrew Carnegie and earn it for the benefit of others.

So a community of monks or nuns, having embraced voluntary poverty and individual ownership, is just as authentically part of the market economy as is the board of directors of a multinational company. Both ways of living are marked by their respect for the lives, rights and property of others, and are thus distinguished from the lifestyle of the swindling business executive, the petty thief, the mafia boss and the hired killer. We can conclude that, if everyone in our free society renounced the possession of anything beyond the mere essentials, or adopted the technology-free lifestyle of the Amish, our society would nevertheless be just as authentic an example of market capitalism as would a community populated with clones of Gordon Gekko.

Understood in this way, market capitalism cannot be equated-as it so often is-with materialism. Materialism is the genuine foe of Christian morality, rather than market capitalism, which can be both friendly and inimical to Christian morality depending upon the choices people make. As I have already mentioned, the very freedom of the market facilitates all sorts of responsible, even self-denying behaviour, which must be set alongside the irresponsible and selfish actions chosen by others. Some observers discern a greater preponderance of materialist attitudes among the less affluent, non-capitalist societies―their more affluent, capitalist cousins having discovered that, 'All that glitters is not gold' and having the time and resources at hand to pursue non-material ends in life.

But, while market capitalism may provide for and even encourage virtue, it cannot guarantee virtuous behaviour. There is another side to the symbiotic relationship between freedom and virtue. The free society confines its legislation to the enforcement of justice. But in order to survive, the free society requires a critical mass of the community to value virtue and to behave virtuously. There must be more than a minimalist adherence to virtue.

We can begin to reflect on the necessity of virtue for freedom by looking more closely at choices-not from an economic, but from an ethical point of view. Our choices have consequences, not just for our material but also for our moral well-being. Our choices live on in us to shape our characters. Good choices make us virtuous while bad choices make us vicious. In other words, as we continue down a path of good or bad actions, we inevitably become different people, for better or for worse.

The latest endeavour of Christianity. God is your financial counselor.


Prince of Peace?

Pauline Origins of Social Conservatism

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1 comment:

leftdog said...

This is a brilliant analysis and I tip my hat to you for this post! It should come as NO surprise to anyone with brains that our society has walked up to the edge and looked over into the prospect of right wing, ultra capitalist totalitarianism. And why should it come as a surprise that the upsurge and rise of evangelical fundamentalist christianism is directly related to the state of affairs we currently are encountering.

This is all far from over.

Bush and Harper are symptoms.