Friday, June 03, 2011

Markets Do Not Cause Violence

Joshua J. McElwee reports on William Cavanaugh’s (a DePaul University theology professor and author of The Myth of Religious Violence) speech in The National Catholic Reporter HERE

Religion professors discuss sources of violence’’

‘In fact, he argued, "There is no good reason for thinking that religious ideologies and institutions are more inherently prone to violence." Giving a one-hour whirl-wind tour of the history of the development of the division of secular and religious institutions, Cavanaugh told the some 150 professors gathered for the weekend that the notion of religion as the greatest perpetrator of violence in the world was a "myth" -- and that academic study needs to look at "under what circumstances the invisible hand of the market or the idea of the United States as world liberator also produce[s] violence

Without arguing the contrary case about religion being a source of strife, I observe that the Old Testament covering the history of a tribe of religious minded people in the Middle East from the 8th century BCE and the history of Christianity for 2,000 year to now, and Islam from the 8th century CE to now, clocks up a pretty impressive record on both internal and exported violence that would require considerable effort for the so-called ‘invisible hand of the market’ to approach a comparable level of promoting violence on a similar scale. Even adding ‘the idea of the United States as world liberator also produce[s] violence’ (whatever that means) would hardly dent the record of religious-inspired violence.

There is no, and never was any, ‘invisible hand of the market’, which, after all, is an invented myth from the 1950s and wrongly attributed to Adam Smith (see Paul Samuelson, Economics: an analytical introduction, 1948: 29, McGraw-Hill). It was an isolated metaphor used by Adam Smith, which he did not relate to markets, and it has become ubiquitous in modern media.

Indeed, ironically for Professor William Cavanaugh, it was commonly used in the 17th-18th centuries by Christian divines in a multitude of their theological texts; see Professor Peter Harrison (Chair of Theology at Oxford University): Adam Smith and the `History of the Invisible Hand’, Journal of The History of Ideas, Volume 72, No. 1, January, 2011: 29-49.

But even if we conceded the misattribution it still gives a very short historical period for it to clock up mass violence on a comparable scale to that in societies under the sway of beliefs in invisible gods, spirits, demons, and fairies, where violence was experienced daily at the household level commensurate with the lowly status of women and children (sanctioned by the Bible) and upwards at all levels through to the nation state and beyond to others (including the horrors of the 30 years war across north-central Europe, which cost 6 million – mainly civilian – lives and countless rapes).

Indeed, Scots like Adam Smith lived within the social memory of the last religious hanging in Scotland, when young Aitkenhead, a 20 year old divinity student, was hanged for blasphemy in 1697, and the last confused old woman denounced as a ‘witch’ was burned alive in 1727.

For an account of the mainly awesome historical account of life under the regime of Christian violence, inspired by religious superstition among violently squabbling sects, see Graham, H. G. [1899] 1937. The Social Life of Scotland in the Eighteenth Century, London: A & C. Black. This is what everyday folk experienced in Scotland, where the power of the zealots who caused it was well known to Adam Smith and his contemporaries.

Now little of this violence was to do with supply and demand analysis or market behaviour. Markets are neutral; they are not the instigator of violence. People cause violence, under religious influences that they find convenient to hate supposed enemies, who believe in different ideas or God or, as bad, different Gods. The closest analogy to religious violence is that of criminal alcohol gangsters and drug barons, who do not function in open and free markets, under the rule of law.
[See Adam Smith, History of Astronomy, ([1744-50; 1795 posthumous] 1980].



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