Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Christian Realism Judges "Free" Market Theory to Have No Clothes

Back in 1932, America's greatest public theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, made the following observation about a theory of the free market (and it is just theory) that seems to apply to the ideas of free marketeers today:
A laissez faire economic theory is maintained ... through the ignorant belief the general welfare is best served by placing the least possible restraints upon economic activity .... Its survival is due to the ignorance of those who suffer injustice from the application of this theory to ... life but fail to attribute their difficulties to the social anarchy and political irresponsibility which the theory sanctions .... The men of power in modern industry would not ... capitulate simply because the social philosophy by which they justify their policies had been discredited. When power is robbed of the shining armor of political, moral and philosophical theories, by which it defends itself, it will fight on without armor; but it will be more vulnerable, and the strength of its enemies is increased.

No matter how you gild theories of free enterprise in academic jargon, the realities of the way the market actually operates is much closer to anarchy and irresponsibility than it is to providing fair and impartial opportunities for people. It says something when free marketeers go on fighting against conservative government partnerships with small businesses, even as they promote giving the children of wealthy families a head start that they did not earn (via estate tax cuts), but were fortuitously born into. It says that their theories are unclad.

09/07/2006, 5:30 p.m. Update: GD is up to his typical overreaction after reading something on Enclave that threatens his devotion to the illusion of a free market. But both Dan Trabue and Michael the Leveller are doing an admirable job of challenging GD's unquestioned assumptions about faith and economic life in general and about my argument in this post specifically. They have stimulated an important theological and economic debate to which I cannot lend any better argument. Kudos, boys!

1 comment:

  1. How do you know Glen Dean's beliefs in the free market are "unquestioned assumptions." They very well could be, but I think you are, well, making "assumptions."

    When you assume the motives behind someone's beliefs, it makes it easier for you, in your own mind, to knock them down.