Fun with Adam Smith: Five Things Some May Wish He’d Never Said

Adam Smith (via Wikimedia Commons)
Adam Smith (via Wikimedia Commons)

A lot of people talk about Adam Smith. Very few have read him. Capitalists uphold Smith for recognizing that people act in an economy out of their own self-interest, but he also said some things about poverty and income inequality that would make doctrinaire market libertarians throw up in their mouths a little. Here are five of my favorites.

#1: Poverty is Relative

“By necessaries I understand, not only the commodities which are indispensibly necessary for the support of life, but whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without” (III.ii.4). Continue reading “Fun with Adam Smith: Five Things Some May Wish He’d Never Said”

Three Reasons Why Market Liberalism is a Religion

Like all fundamentalist faiths, Chicago School economics is, for its true believers, a closed loop. The starting premise is that the free market is a perfect scientific system, one in which individuals, acting on their own self-interested desires, create the maximum benefits for all. It follows ineluctably that if something is wrong within a free market economy – high inflation or soaring unemployment – it has to be because the market is not truly free. There must be some interference, some distortion in the system. The Chicago solution is always the same: a stricter and more complete application of the fundamentals.

 

– Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

Several years ago I read Fr. Sergei Bulgakov’s claim that Marxism is not social science but a kind of religion. Recently I realized his argument could also be applied to the laissez-faire capitalism promoted by “market liberalism” (which is basically libertarianism). Beginning with Bulgakov, here are a few reasons why I think market liberalism is a religious movement. Continue reading “Three Reasons Why Market Liberalism is a Religion”

My Childhood Experience of Poverty

 

 

An old photo of me at a disappointing Christmas (courtesy of Linda Dunn)

When you are a child, there is a lot you do not understand about money. You notice that your mom scolds a bit louder and cries more often. Sometimes you pour water on your cereal instead of milk, you eat lots of things from cans, and you get a smaller, dingier room in a new neighborhood. You understand that your mom needs money. So you color her something resembling a green rectangle, and you watch a sad smile spread across her face as she thanks you, then tries to explain why you don’t need to color green rectangles anymore. Continue reading “My Childhood Experience of Poverty”

Eastern Orthodox Consumerism

 

 

Today, I thought I would sum up some basic points from a paper I presented at the Wesleyan Theological Society Meeting a few years ago. What follows are a few thoughts on consumer culture and how liturgy might help you to live with it.

One of the things I love about the Eastern Orthodox Church is that we get consumption right. I am under no delusions that we are “perfect.” We have our problems, but I think our spiritual practice can help a person live more authentically in modern consumer culture. Continue reading “Eastern Orthodox Consumerism”

What’s Wrong with Christian Politics

 

Warning, the following post contains an image that may trouble some readers. If it doesn’t, then there’s something wrong with you.

This video captures pretty much everything that is wrong with Christian politics today. The hammer of the blacksmith pounds out important issues, issues that are surely on the mind of the woman marching toward the voting both (in a very small polling station): jobs, taxes, and energy (gas prices?). But then, with about as much subtlety as a California forest fire, the blacksmith urges us to commit those concerns to the flames. For Catholics (the target audience of this video), and by extension all Christians, this election is about three things: gay marriage, abortion, and “freedom.” Continue reading “What’s Wrong with Christian Politics”

Against Thrift

 

James Livingston, Against Thrift: Why Consumer Culture is Good for the Economy, the Environment, and Your Soul

James Livingston has published a timely and provocative book in Against Thrift. He is not an economist but teaches history at Rutgers, and his argument is basically that everything you think you know about economic growth is wrong. Continue reading “Against Thrift”