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Unread 07-11-2017, 05:38 AM   #1
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Economics as a Religion

This isn't a new way to frame economics; it has been done plenty of times in the past several decades (even Paul Tillich does so). But, nonetheless, this is an interesting little article on the state of economics today, and the place of the 'priesthood.'

How Economics Became a Religion


Several interesting historical trends could have been included in the little reconstruction of the field throughout the past 150 years or so. For instance, it wasn't until around about the 80s that economics departments starting migrating out of broad humanities departments in order to distance themselves from speculation and paint a veneer of science.

And, of course, we can go back to Adam Smith and note that economics was, at one time, interconnected with other disciplines, including (perhaps foremost?) moral philosophy. Questions that were at one time important in the field have all but disappeared (though, I think more economists are paying attention to the relevance of ethics, such as Amartya Sen).

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Unread 07-11-2017, 10:37 AM   #2
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This podcast seems at least tangentially related: Is Money a Religion? | Stuff They Don't Want You to Know
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Unread 07-11-2017, 01:26 PM   #3
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I don't really have anything to contribute (yet) except this quote from Nikolai Berdyaev.
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"The whole economic system of Capitalism is an offshoot of a devouring and overwhelming lust, of a kind that can hold sway only in a society that has deliberately renounced the Christian asceticism and turned away from Heaven to give itself over exclusively to earthly gratifications. ... It is the result of a secularization of economic life, and by it the hierarchical subordination of the material to the spiritual is inverted. The autonomy of economics has ended in their dominating the whole life of human societies: the worship of Mammon has become the determining force of the age. And the worst of it is that this undisguised “mammonism” is regarded as a very good thing, an attainment to the knowledge of truth and a release from illusions. Economic materialism formulates this to perfection when it brands the whole spiritual life of man as a deception and a dream."

- Nikolai Berdyaev, "The End of Our Time" (1919)
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Unread 07-14-2017, 05:35 PM   #4
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And this: at my university, one of the oldest buildings on campus was a seminary that once served the mainline Protestant denominations - Vancouver School of Theology.

As those denominations have become neutered by modernism and their congregations have dwindled, they've become less and less relevant. All the same, they've had a nice, new, modern building built for them, and the building that once housed the VST has been taken over by the UBC School of Economics.
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Unread 07-14-2017, 06:44 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by IsaactheSyrian View Post
I don't really have anything to contribute (yet) except this quote from Nikolai Berdyaev.
This quote was great.

I'd heard of Nikolai Berdyaev before. Now I want to take the time to finally read some of his stuff.
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Taylor, you just got drive-by theologied.
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Unread 07-31-2017, 01:40 PM   #6
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HL Mencken put it succinctly:

"Communism, like any other revealed religion, is largely made up of prophecies."

This applies as readily to the Marxists' visions as those of Alan Greenspan.

The article might gain focus from the constraints of such brevity.

[FWIW, the quantification, scientization, and specialization of economics followed roughly the same progression as that of all the other social sciences -- e.g., religious studies, psychology, and sociology. And yes it is ultimately based in a moral vision, identified narrowly as utilitarianism.]

Fair warning, I have half of two grad degrees, in religion and econ, and I'm not sure how positively I think of either field.

1. Rapley is ambivalent throughout. For his two examples of economics in action he offers derivatives and structured products -- but these are creatures of finance, not economics, and a great number of people in finance think negatively of a great number of people in economics (and vice-versa). He then contrasts the 2008 crash with the 2003 declaration of Nobelist Robert Lucas that Macroeconomics has solved "its central problem of depression prevention." Yet there was indeed no depression, only a crash and recession -- and of course Lucas was well aware that crashes continue to exist, as his remarks were given on the heels of a gigantic crash.

2. Rapley confuses religion with ideology and sociology. Of course ideological adherents exhibit standard tribal behavior, snickering at those in the out-group, welcoming those whose values and habits match their own, and so on. That's because the ivory tower is a type of tribal community. Note well that in Harry Potter's ivied educational citadel the good guys think Muggles are tolerable while the bad guys don't, but nobody thinks the Muggles should be welcomed into Hogwarts. The actual economy is not run by economists; it's run by Muggles. Economists aren't the right place to look if we want to understand how the actual economy works, any more than the commentators on ESPN are the right place to look if we want to understand the logic of Tom Brady's read progression.

3. Rapley thinks too small. Economics as the discipline we have today came part and parcel of the ascendant liberalism of the 19th century -- it's roughly a branch of utilitarianism. He needs to think bigger and get to the root liberalism. Market fundamentalism would be better addressed in the same ideological breath as as the LGBTQi discourse of sociologists. (Note: When I say "liberalism" is refers to a specific intellectual tradition of the 19th century, not the distinction between MSNBC and Fox News.) This is where the scientism comes from. This is why economists affect our lives not by their own operational activity in the actual economy but through government appointments.

4. Rapley then accuses economics of being an academic discipline, and frighteningly misrepresents science, the history of science, the timing of Milton Friedman's Nobel Prize, the forces behind (and actual policies of) the Reagan/Thatcher 80s, and so on. As this is a side rant in the article, I'll not discuss it in detail. Note that his commendation of linear progress, not to mention rejection of the human element in thought (and "science" moreso), is itself a core distinctive of liberalism. Regarding the communal element of religion as irrelevant (as does the article) is also definitively liberal, but Rapley is not actually interested in talking religion -- it's mentioned at best as imagery in this pro-Corbyn piece -- so this is fine. In all cases, he's not seeing the bigger picture, because the bigger picture is the inescapably religious character of liberalism, with which he shares too many convictions to criticize rigorously.

5. Rapley's conclusion might have highlighted the religiosity of every academic discipline, of sports and tabloids, of pornography and social media -- humankind is inherently ordered to worship and community, whether modern dogma likes it or not. Instead he notes that he had some semblance of the significance of all these things I've mentioned ( utilitarianism, liberalism, the difference between finance and economics, the difference between the economy and economists, and even the refusal of prominent economists themselves to accept the doctrines with which Rapley characterizes the economics profession), yet he would rather not mention any of these facts because they are inconvenient for his thesis! Instead, he gestures toward recent anti-technocratic populism and concludes that economists should stay in the academy and let the State run everything. Generic paternalistic church-and-state liberalism.
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Last edited by Chrysostom; 08-01-2017 at 05:14 AM.
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Unread 08-11-2017, 01:02 PM   #7
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This might also be relevant.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, "Crime and Punishment", Part I, chapter 2
“Why am I not at my duty, honoured sir,” Marmeladov went on, addressing himself exclusively to Raskolnikov, as though it had been he who put that question to him. “Why am I not at my duty? Does not my heart ache to think what a useless worm I am? A month ago when Mr. Lebeziatnikov beat my wife with his own hands, and I lay drunk, didn’t I suffer? Excuse me, young man, has it ever happened to you… hm… well, to petition hopelessly for a loan?”
“Yes, it has. But what do you mean by hopelessly?”
“Hopelessly in the fullest sense, when you know beforehand that you will get nothing by it. You know, for instance, beforehand with positive certainty that this man, this most reputable and exemplary citizen, will on no consideration give you money; and indeed I ask you why should he? For he knows of course that I shan’t pay it back. From compassion? But Mr. Lebeziatnikov who keeps up with modern ideas explained the other day that compassion is forbidden nowadays by science itself, and that that’s what is done now in England, where there is political economy. Why, I ask you, should he give it to me? And yet though I know beforehand that he won’t, I set off to him and…”
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Unread 09-09-2017, 06:10 AM   #8
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HA! Yes now that you post it I remember that line, so remarkable.
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Unread 10-08-2017, 05:33 PM   #9
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I'm just here to say that I just finished re-reading Crime and Punishment last week and that I agree with John where I understand him. And where I don't, I assume he's right.

That Mencken quote is fabu.
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