Universal Translator

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Randian Republicans: God IS the Free Market

I saw an article yesterday that may help me to understand something about which I've been puzzled for years:  how it is so-called "Randian Republicans" (like Rand and Ron Paul, Paul Ryan, etc.) can simultaneously embrace Ayn Rand and profess to be faith-based, dyed-in-the-wool Christians.  Ayn Rand certainly made no bones about her disdain for all religion, and explicitly declared that "her followers had to choose between Jesus and her teachings."  The American Values Network is now trying to make this a wedge issue for the GOP.

But a recent study by Baylor University sheds an interesting light on this issue.

According to this study, 20% of Americans seem to believe that the unfettered free market is how God expresses His will:
About one in five Americans combine a view of God as actively engaged in daily workings of the world with an economic conservative view that opposes government regulation and champions the free market as a matter of faith. 
They say the invisible hand of the free market is really God at work,” says sociologist Paul Froese, co-author of the Baylor Religion Survey, released today by Baylor University in Waco, Texas. 
“They think the economy works because God wants it to work.  It’s a new religious economic idealism,” with politicians “invoking God while chanting ‘less government,’” he says.
“When Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann say ‘God blesses us, God watches us, God helps us,’ religious conservatives get the shorthand.  They see ‘government’ as a profane object – a word that is used to signal working against God’s plan for the United States.  To argue against this is to argue with their religion.” (emphasis added)

That is certainly . . . interesting.  And it superficially mirrors how a good many religious adherents reconcile their belief in biblical teachings with evidence of evolution:  God created the earth and all life upon it, and evolution is how he did it; if evolution is still occurring, then God is still working.  And I don't have a problem with this formulation.  If that is what someone needs in order to hold onto their faith and yet recognize the scientific facts in front of them then that's okay with me.

But the idea that "God" is the unfettered free market does seem a lot more problematic.  First, the "market" consists of all us humans, interacting with one another.  If one believes that interfering in that aggregate interaction is interfering with "God's Will," then one is basically giving the most powerful economic actors license to run roughshod over the less powerful.

Second - and much more important - the believers who incorporate evolution into their faith don't subordinate further advances in our understanding of evolution to the requirements of that faith.  If new evidence comes to light that requires revising our understanding of how the evolutionary process occurs, they can easily accommodate that new evidence.  Ah, they might say, now we know a little bit more about how God accomplished all this.

But something very different appears to be going on with the Randian Republicans.  According to the Baylor study
Most (81%) political conservatives say there is one “ultimate truth in the world, and new economic information of cost-benefit analysis is not going to change their mind about how the economy should work.”  (emphasis added)
This is pretty scary.  This is the deliberate ignoring of data that do not already fit within these people's predetermined conclusions.  These people are not attempting to enfold more knowledge into a worldview that also has room for God, they are simply declaring that "God" is what they already have decided is appropriate - an unfettered free market - and deliberately disregarding anything that does not accord with their already settled view.

It seems they have taken our most primitive understanding of economics, the first broad strokes sketched out by Smith and Ricardo, proclaimed that understanding - literally - to be holy, and now intend to punish as a blasphemer anyone who dares clarify or refine that understanding.  The only analogy I can think of is that it is as if Christians had immediately embraced evolutionary theory, proclaimed that there must have been room on Noah's Ark for dinosaurs, and then - after it had been demonstrated that dinosaurs and humans never coexisted - declared this new information to be blasphemy and that they would not permit its being taught in our schools.

This seems very bad.  People who can defend the idea of completely unfettered, completely unregulated free markets are silly and a little sad; people who think that doing so is enforcing God's will are scary.

1 comment: