Market, Most Holy

On Tuesday night while watching Veronica Mars, I saw a commercial for Mazda that had people looking in their rear-view mirrors and seeing an old fogey version of themselves. Their sedans made people believe these 30somethings were 70 and they must immediately buy a new car before something serious happened. On CarTalk, a 35-year-old woman asked for advice on hipster cars because she thought her current car was too old lady. I thought, these people are crazy or! Harvey Cox is right.

In the Atlantic Monthly, Harvey Cox published an article called “The Market as God”. He argues that there’s a new god in town. The Market. It didn’t kill God or fill up the hole left when He died rather we’ve converted whole-heartedly to a new religion and a new God.

I am persuaded that the Market has all the makings of a religion. It defines our value system, our mythologies, “what we believe is important in life, what we are striving for,what we believe is wrong with us and the society and what we are to do”. (Interview with Cox) It requires an abiding faith. When the stock market goes down, plummets even, we are told to wait and see, to be patient because at the end of the long-haul we will receive our rewards. We must trust that, despite financial pains and economic hardships, the Market knows best. The Market provokes evangelism and indeed it can only thrive if we take free democratic markets all over the world. We’re even willing to fight wars to get this Market truth out there. Economic Growth has become the way that we care for the poor, a mandate recognized in most religions, and the Market earnestly works to perpetuate this ideology. In fact, “any mention of the need to end [economic] growth elicits protests that doing so would condemn the poor to perpetual deprivation” (Korten 48).

The Market is omniscient–it knows us, what we need, how to get and what is best for us. It knows what it’s doing even when our human eyes see failure all around. It is omnipotent–with the power to make something from nothing through commodification, er, transubstantiation. Cox believes that soon the heavens will be for sale, since body parts, whole towns, children, adults, and sacred religious relics have already made the transition to being goods. And it is omnipresent which I think goes without saying.

Harvey Cox has admitted to being rather pessimistic in his article, and I completely agree. He is pessimistic. However I will say unflinchingly that “free markets” have become our diplomatic cure-all in international problem solving. We have come to believe that poor countries, and there are so many, must have a free market in order to survive, and if the introduced democracy doesn’t work it’s because they didn’t do it right (see most Southeast Asian economies). I also believe that on a national and local scale what we think is right and good for us is shaped more by market forces and advertising than by our religious traditions. That said, I believe in markets (I vote smaller scale) and I also believe our God hasn’t given up yet. Mark the prophets’ words.

There is nothing more brilliantly anti-Market than keeping the Sabbath day holy. It’s a commandment that takes everyone off the consumer grid for one day every single week. Since Hinckley has been the prophet he has said multiple times that too many people are shopping on Sundays. Stop it, he says. We need to have at least one day when we pay no tithes to the Market God.

Elder Holland (Oct 2005) recently said that Mormons should not get plastic surgery. I have a good friend who wants breast implants because she feels her body so inadequate in her marriage. Her husband also happens to have a severe porn addiction. Who taught her that was what she needed to do to secure her marriage? Who taught her that her body wasn’t good enough? Not our Beehive teacher. I don’t even think Yahweh of the OT, though unpredictable, would have taught his disciples that.

A few years back, Boyd Packer (yes! I am agreeing with him) spoke of his fears about spending among Mormons. He sees all around him people worshipping their houses and their cars, their toys and their clothes. He warned us, in the way only Boyd K. can, that we would be destroyed if we continued this love affair with consumption. He is convinced that the more we get the more we want and the more willing we are to compete with others.

We have also come to embrace the Market’s business tactics in character development. We believe in being highly effective people, habitually. We must be productive and efficient at church and in our spiritual development. It is the Market that teaches us to value product. There is no return in giving our time to the homeless, handicapped, to the sick and the dying. We’ll usually never change their lives, only ease a little loneliness. Christ said that in order to be a part of his body we must comfort those that stand in need of comfort and mourn with those that mourn. In Market terms, crying with people is not very productive. Unless they’ve got a heady investment portfolio.

The Market is the potent god of a heavily structured, faith-requiring religion, and it is currently our default. I believe that we must be very deliberate about our belief and practice of any faith if we determine not to be an acolyte of this god. I believe the prophets are trying to teach us this deliberateness.

Comments

  1. Brilliant

  2. Indeed, this is a wonderful post…and an excellent perspective.

  3. Nate T. says:

    I have a good friend who wants breast implants because she feels her body so inadequate in her marriage. Her husband also happens to have a severe porn addiction. Who taught her that was what she needed to do to secure her marriage? Who taught her that her body wasn’t good enough?

    Her husband perhaps? How is this the fault of “the Market” as if “the Market” has a consciousness that could reach out and tell her this was what she needed to do and she, a “Market Zombie” I guess, had no will but to obey.

    I actually agree with you up to a point. The “the Market” has allot of bad voices out there, and we need to be on guard for what they are saying. The market is not an excuse for not taking care of the poor. That point of disagreement is the projecting the market as active and people as passive receivers of what “the Market” wants.

    We have also come to embrace the Market’s business tactics in character development. We believe in being highly effective people, habitually. We must be productive and efficient at church and in our spiritual development. It is the Market that teaches us to value product. There is no return in giving our time to the homeless, handicapped, to the sick and the dying. We’ll usually never change their lives, only ease a little loneliness. Christ said that in order to be a part of his body we must comfort those that stand in need of comfort and mourn with those that mourn. In Market terms, crying with people is not very productive. Unless they’ve got a heady investment portfolio

    Where did you get this from? And how is this uniquely “the Market’s” problem? People have been finding excuses not to give to the poor since time immemorial. This is just another set of excuses, and who in “the Market” is actually saying this, or is it just an easily demonized straw man?

    To paraphrase Hamlet, “The fault dear Horacio, is not in the Market, it is in ourselves.”

  4. I think you’re confusing markets with materialism. One is an institutional tool that reflects what we want. The other is a preference common to the natural man.

    Materialism has been around for as long as man has worshipped the product of his own hands (idolatry), which is pretty much all the way back.

    Competitive market economies with firm property rights (which are unfortunately rare) are perfectly compatible with a wide range of preferences, even gospel-based, zionistic, charitable ones. If, for instance, people stopped shopping on Sunday, the stores would close on Sunday, without a hitch. Just like stores tend to close for night time if nobody wants to shop there at 3 AM.

    The problem is that market institutions tend to reflect the preferences of the people buying in the market. Since those preferences are on the whole rather materialistic, so are the market outcomes.

    In this respect, well run markets are a form of rule by the people, and so the outcomes can be as grubby or as wonderful as the people’s preferences, like democracy is. Witness, for example, how the market for organic food has grown in response to increased demand for organic produce.

    But what we really want to change are the people’s preferences to be materialistic, and it is not clear that markets are very good at changing that, despite all of Ms. Schor’s talk. But once the preferences change (or people repent) markets follow merrily along.

  5. Frank, materialism isn’t really idolatry, and idolatry isn’t real. The Old Testament accuses people of worshipping idols because it is polemical. But the ancients did not worship idols by showing reverence to physical depictions of deity any more than you worship an idol when you behave reverently toward a portrayal of Jesus and are offended when other people mar or deface portrayals of Jesus.

    Moreover, if someone buys a pricey car to impress himself and his neigbors, it is neither the “product of his own hands” nor is he worshiping it.

    What’s more to the point, competitive market economics with firm property rights do not generally tend to yield results that are compatible with the law of consecration, as demonstrated by the fact that nobody gets a raise and exclaims, “Yippee! Now I can give more money to build the Kingdom of God!”

    You’re being pedantic here, Frank. It’s as though someone complained about the poor state of television, and you take great pains to explain the difference between the actual television set and the programs that appear on it.

  6. Nate T.–My friend’s husband loves her body. I think she hates her body bc she sees so many perfect bodies on TV, in magazines, on the street. She is informed by her world experience that bigger breasts mean more attractive body, more desirable. Granted there are personal issues too, but I know what she believes is largely formed by the Market.

    On your second point, I think it’s too black and white to say that is just faulty, selfish man that is not taking care of the poor. I agree that that definitely plays its part but my assertion here is that the Market defines what is right and wrong, how to approach life, how to be, what we should become. If the Market works through production and the Market instructs us then it is natural that we believe in results. Taking care of the poor doesn’t produce results and so in Market thinking we don’t invest in them. I believe markets and their components (buyers, sellers, advertisers, marketers etc) are very powerful and it seems to me a bit naive to believe that we can easily resist them.

    I also believe that making very deliberate faith choices can help us.

    Frank– I follow what you’re saying on materialism but I think that markets and its ideology is far more potent than something that just reacts to our desires. Why would advertisers hire psychologists to sell their products? Why would the competition of companies require consumer manipulation to succeed if we were confident the market would happily roll along because human nature just wants stuff? I think market ideology has been embraced in the same way that the peculiar people idea has been. America is chosen, blessed, and look how well free market capitalism has succeeded here. So we look at the ideas the propel the market and mimic them in other aspects of our lives and try to spread the market love around.
    And I love Juliet Schorr. Sorry if that makes you hate me Frank.

  7. DKL–yes and yes.

  8. Elisabeth says:

    Hey, Amri! Where are you? I’m hungry for dinner. Get over here :)

  9. Elisabeth, she’s at The Market. Can’t you read??

  10. Great post Amri. I just finished by masters thesis entitled: “Consumerism and the Rise of the Megachurch.” The megachurch has made it possible for people to not have to choose between the “god” of the Market or the Christian God. Why not have both in a church that runs like a business? Brillant, right?

  11. Mark IV says:

    Well, at the risk of being an [], I’m going to jump in and offer a defense of the market.

    DKL, I didn’t think Frank was being pedantic at all. I think he was taking issue with the idea that the financial market is an actor in itself, rather than simply an aggregate reflection of the choices people make. You are correct that competitive markets don’t necessarily yield consecrated lives, but then neither do uncompetitive markets, so I don’t understand your point in bringing it up.

    Amri, I’m not sure quite how to understand you. If you think that the market is being manipulated to entice people to make unwise financial decisions (that is how I read your reference to psychologists and advertising), isn’t that simply an argument for more transparency?

    “…my assertion here is that the Market defines what is right and wrong…”

    It does? The market can give us cues as to how to maximize return on our time, brainpower, and capital, but I, at least, have never looked to Wall Street as a means of determining right and wrong.

    “…If the Market works through production and the Market instructs us…”

    But it doesn’t, or at least not completely. Consumers are also part of the market. Madison Ave. can’t sell something to people if they don’t want to buy it. I think you are ascribing way, way too much power to what you see as manipulation. If Big Bidness really had that kind of control, we would all be drinking New Coke and driving Edsels.

    Here’s the thing. The same freedom that allows stores to stay open on Sunday allows me to stay out of them. If I understand you correctly (and please correct me if I don’t), you are alarmed not so much at the freedom that goes along with market economics, but rather with what looks to you like (and probably is) unfair, damaging, and manipulative behavior on the parts of some actors on the production side of the market. I would ask that you consider whether perhaps some dishonesty and manipulation is also done by those who claim to represent consumers.

    I think you are understanding “Market” too narrowly. My guess is, you have no problem at all with “The Marketplace of Ideas” or with a village Farmer’s market. Is it just when the MBAs and suits get involved that you get heartburn?

    By the way, I think you have a beautiful name. It is the same as one of my nieces, and I have always liked it.

  12. Amri, I really, really enjoyed this post. Recently as I was walking through Temple Square, and was surrounded by suits, a friend noted to me how his FIL disliked the clothing choices of Mormon women at conference. Men had seemed to adopt business dress, why not the women? While I could see the downside of frumpy pastels or bright fuschias, I also kind of wondered why should they aspire to the standards of the business world or as you have put it “embrace the Market’s business tactics” in meetings that are religious or even holy. Just one more way, the market (or for the word police, materialism) invades our culture.

    Of course, I have no solutions. :)

  13. Nate T. says:

    Amri-

    If “the devil made me do it” is not a legitamate excuse, “the Market made me do it” is even less of one. If this simple truth makes me “naive” according to you so be it.

    We are not passive dolls to be animated by the strings of “the Market.”

    I follow what you’re saying on materialism but I think that markets and its ideology is far more potent than something that just reacts to our desires. Why would advertisers hire psychologists to sell their products?

    Because selling things is inherently difficult, one needs to understand who one is selling to inorder to sell.

    Why would the competition of companies require consumer manipulation to succeed if we were confident the market would happily roll along because human nature just wants stuff?

    For the same reason street vendors I saw in China had big signs and would sometimes sing about the virtue of the food they were selling. People need to know what a person is selling, why they should buy that thing (Dumplings over Ramen for example), and package it in the best way possible (hense the singing and the smells that would waft near the carts). You might not be hungry once ou steped onto these people’s street, but once you did there was a good chance, with the singing and the good smells, you would. What is insidious about this “manipulation?” Again, its what merchants have been doing for a long time now. The psychologists are there to help the packageing, getting a better singers or adding something in the food to make it smell better if you will.

    Admittingly there is a differnce in scale and degree, but in essence it differs little from my example, with few exceptions, but there are exceptions none the less. Women, espcially young women, and body image is one that you already cited. This is mot likely because the images of beauty are more or less consistant and persistant, at a great many places. I don’t know why men are influenced by body images in media as much.

  14. It sounds like Amri is bothered by consumerism or materialism, a sentiment which we can probably all agree with.

    But when you frame the issue as an attack on “the market,” you’re bound to get peoples’ hackles up. It sounds like you’re making a public policy statement, and that you want to replace the market with something supposedly better. When in fact it may not be the existence of the market that you are objecting too, but merely some of its side effects. And many of these side effects are really the result of prosperity, more than the market per se.

    So Amri, are you really proposing we do away with free markets, or are you just griping about some of their side effects? If the former, what do you propose to replace the market with?

  15. Markets are generally the best mechanism for allocating time and resources, but only with two very strong conditions:

    1) They rely on rational actors, and
    2) The rely on their participants having good information.

    How often is that the case? for example, there is a market for breast implants, and some of the participants in that market absolutely depend on giving bad information to consumers- namely, that they will be happier with bigger breasts. As a man, I won’t comment further on that issue, because I might reveal a troublesome attitude on my part.
    Anyway, right now, in the oil market, there are producers who like to portray our oil consumption as having little or no negative externalities in terms of national security or the environment, and the same goes for the SUV market.
    And, markets are value-neutral. There was an article in the NYT recently discussing whether we should buy oil from genocidal regimes in Africa. I say absolutely not, because it would offend our moral sensibilities. The Chinese have taken a more free-market approach, signing long-term oil contracts with these countries while taking the position that “we do not meddle in their internal affairs.”
    Living according to our principles is going to often require us to accept inneficiency and dead-weight losses, which is anathema to worshippers of the free market.

  16. But Dan, what is the alternative to free markets? Some kind of centralized government control? What makes you think that whoever is running the government will be rational? What makes you think they will have good information? What makes you think they won’t tend to just serve their own selfish interests, or just make foolish mistakes?

    If people had more respect for the market, it doesn’t mean they don’t worry about externalities, it means they are more likely to accept effective market-based solutions, like gasoline taxes. The reason a sensible policy like gas taxes is unpopular is not because people worship the market, it’s because they don’t understand it.

  17. To answer your question, the alternatives are definitely pretty bad. I would much prefer to see markets sort things out as much as possible; that way, people can have exposure to the consequences of their choices.
    For example, if I make the consumption choice to eat really fattening foods and not exercise, I should have to deal with the consequences of that choice as I get fat, lose energy, and have a diminished capacity to fulfil my mojo with my wife. Those consequences should allow me to learn to eat wiser and exercise, and as I adopt those healthier habits, over time, I become a healthier person. That is how we learn to be moral people.
    The problem with markets is, nowadays there are a lot of markets that are tainted by bad information and are thus deserving of our skepticism. An SUV ad will portray a man being manly, taking his family up into the woods for a camping trip or what have you. What it will not show is air pollution statistics, or the fact that terror-sponsoring countries are hundreds of billions of dollars richer as a result of our increasing demand for oil.
    So I am not saying markets are bad; I really believe that they allow people to exercise their agency and learn to become more moral as a result. I just think that a lot of markets are deserving of skepticism. There are a lot of things that are in demand that should not be supplied, and there are a lot of people in the markets whose prosperity demands on feeding the market bad information.
    When it comes to national security (the field I work in), people who rely solely on free markets to solve the world’s problems are unable to contribute seriously to most discussions.
    So to sum up, markets are great, but often deserving of skepticism.

  18. Amri,

    “So we look at the ideas the propel the market and mimic them in other aspects of our lives and try to spread the market love around.”

    I don’t quite follow what you have in mind here. Do you have some examples? I think most of what I would say to the rest of your comment has been hit by other commenters. But let me just add that I certainly agree that there are people who think that anything that happens in a market is “sanctified”, which is just goofy.

    When markets are incomplete, and they always are, people’s actions will have non-market repurcussions that may benefit from setting up some extra tax/subsidy or developing a new market-based incentive to improve outcomes (social and personal). Gasoline (Dan’s example) is a great example of this. We call these externalities, and they get a lot of attention in economics. On the other hand, sometimes the solution is worse than the original problem.

  19. Dan,

    You realize that our not buying oil from genocidal regimes will not actually affect their income, if other actors are not so offended. In which case, this is like saying you will not buy grapes from an adulterer. OK, shunning has its place, but you are probably not having any behavioral effect on them.

  20. Frank,
    In #19, I think you’re right, in the short term. If we were to come up with a way of doing things that’s cheaper than what those countries are offering us, we would drastically affect their incomes as other countries adopted the new technology. India and China are already racing us to see who can get there first, because it will mean a massive amount of export income. In any case, I think we’re pretty close to that point.
    The difficult thing is, to make this change happen and make it last would require a massive investment in a new way of doing things – a huge interference in the market (notice I didn’t say “free market”- with energy, I think that’s a myth). And a lot of people think the functioning of the market will remedy this problem. They are exercising an amazing amount of faith, as did the Bush Administration when it proclaimed “The American way of life is not negotiable,” and then formulated an energy policy that assumed rationality in the oil market and in Middle Eastern cultures, and thus low prices for the foreseeable future.
    Anyway, sorry about the rant, but I work in Baghdad, so these things hit kind of close to home.
    To further answer your point in #19, there are a lot of situations where that is true. So it begs the question- is a boycott or a set of sanctions the right thing to do, even if it won’t affect the other party materially? For example, the idea of buying oil from the Sudan makes me sick. But according to free-market orthodoxy, oil is a fungible commodity, so if I don’t buy from Sudan, it’s my loss. Should we accept a loss in the name of principle, even when it won’t affect the other party materially?

  21. Dan,

    In a properly functioning market, your moral stand isn’t even your loss. It’s just irrelevant to prices. If it makes you feel better to shun bad people, then I guess go ahead.

    I’m all for new tech, and if we want that new tech because of oil externalities, the obvious thing to do is raise the tax on oil (and lower it on income or something else– we don’t actually need to increase tax revenue), thus encouraging substitution towards other methods. I am afraid, though I don’t know, that a gas tax is probably regressive, or at best proportional. Thus you’d want to pay attention to that possible regressivity when redoing the tax system. An extra $1 tax on gas would probably push hybrids quite a bit. And encourage people to get commuter hybrid cars that plug into the wall at night (which apparently is a readily available tech that just requires the right long term price of oil).

    You seem to be very worried about “rationality”. By this do you mean income maximizing? The definition of rationality in economics is pretty narrow and easy to fulfill. The hard parts are knowing what it is people, and countries, are maximizing. For example, government run oil companies may not be well modeled as profit maximizers.

  22. My understanding (and I could be wrong) is that economics defines rationality as “acting in one’s self-interest.” Again, I may be wrong about that, but that’s where I’m coming from, econ-wise.
    Parenthetically, my solution to the energy crisis is a little bit different; I would do a ten-year moratorium on taxation of alt-energy firms, with a corresponding moratorium on taxation of investment of those firms. And when the price of alt-fuel came down to a good price point below parity with gas, I would put a tariff on foreign oil to prevent diminished demand for oil from driving down its price and putting us back where we started.
    Anyway, to go on another tangent, it’s interesting to see the conflicting arguments among libertarians, at the moment, in the area of gay marriage. Libertarians have a difficult time articulating policies against gay marriage, since those policies reflect an inappropriate government intrusion into relationships that emerge in the free market and have no demonstrable adverse effect on other people.
    People like me, who don’t place complete faith in the market, are free of that particular cognitive dissonance.

  23. Dan,

    In economics, rationality is having some set of preferences which are transitive and complete (meaning you prefer A to B, B to A, or are indifferent). Acting in one’s self interest requires one to define what is one’s self interest — ie, is the agent maximizing income, profit, or some mix of things we’ll call utility. This is where things get tricky. If I define self interest as “making money” then my model is going to work fine in some cases, but not too well for consumers, workers, universities, or governments, etc.

    Your oil solution is not bad, but it requires one to decide that the way to solve the problem is through alternate fuel. Since the real externality is gasoline, taxing oil allows the market to decide how to deal with the problem by internalizing the externality. That could be through alternative energy or carpooling or driving less or anything else. One also does not need to go out and label what qualifies for your alternate energy preference, because you just tax oil. Nor do you have to decide (and deal with politically) when to stop the tax advantage (see, for example, sugar tariffs). Also, you’re cheating because you haven’t told me where the money is coming from to lower taxes on those firms :).

    The idea is to nail the imposed cost as closely as possible to where the externality is. That lines up incentives the best so that things work out as efficiently as possible.

  24. Steve Evans says:

    Dan and Frank, you two want to get a room or something??

  25. Okay here goes:
    I am not anti-market. I believe they have and always will exist. I support that. I have problems with globalization as the Market for the masses of us are ruled by only a few. I think that while markets aren’t necessarily corporate, currently corporations dominate the Market and I think that’s dangerous. I think as the Market constituency grows and fewer people rule then homogenization occurs.

    Since I am not anti-market I think that my major issue here is that the Market is replacing our God and our religion. It informs our wants and needs our desires. When we hurt, it gives us answers for the pain. When other people hurt (say Iraq) then we’re certain that our Market answers are going to be right for them too. I do not think that’s always true, and it is mostly self-serving. The Market doesn’t seem to amble along on its way growing when we’re in the mood, and shrinking when we’re not, but that it is conscientiously working to control our moods for its own predictability. Again, I am not anti-market I think it’s come to dominate our thinking though.

    I’m not suggesting that we take freedom from markets or people to make them do what we think is right perse but if we want to keep our God first our identity as Christians first then we deliberately need to make choices to not be consumers. I think that we are consumers by default.

    And Mark IV, I quite like my name too. Thank you.

  26. Amri,

    Thanks for clarifying.

    What evidence do you see that the market is ruled by only a few? What are the problems you see with corporations, and how would you go about lessening their domination of the market? Are there some aspects of corporate law that you would change?

    Personally, when I look back at the history of the last couple of hundred years, I see that the worst atrocities and abuses, by far, were committed by governments, not by corporations. It’s not even close. Even in a society such as ours, no corporation has anything anywhere near the power we trust to governments, for better or worse. So I am much more concerned about limiting the powers and excesses of governements than I am about corporations. I do worry when corporations and governments are in bed together, but it seems to me the precise solution for that is more “free markets,” not less.

  27. Nate T. says:

    I’m not suggesting that we take freedom from markets or people to make them do what we think is right perse but if we want to keep our God first our identity as Christians first then we deliberately need to make choices to not be consumers. I think that we are consumers by default.

    I like this sentiment. We are here to act for ourselves and not be acted upon. That seems to be the just of what you are saying.

    As far as concentration of power goes. I think its a hard thing to avoid. Generally the market works by awarding people or organizations that do things well, ie deliver the better product cheaper or meeting a certian type of demand. These people or organizations tend to get large and dominate certan nitches in society. If one does something about concentration in this area, you take away the part of the incentive to do well, to provide quailty goods cheaper or to meet certian needs in the market.

    Certian industries, like Oil, for example have high entry costs (the cost it takes to start a new buisness in that area) because of high investment cost in capitol, government barriers, or both.
    If one says they don’t want concentration here one is lible not to have even less competition and thus higher prices.

    Its a hard thing to tackle.

    I also agree with ed. My Father-in-law lived through the worst famine in recorded history. It was a Man made event that came about because of Chinese government policy. BTW he only lived by sneaking into the communal fields and staling Taro to eat raw.

  28. This is brilliant! It explains the odd importance of buying the right thing, and the anxiety or even guilt when I discover I bought the wrong product. Whether it’s shoes or consumer electronics, I feel like I’m measured in my choices.

  29. It is true that government is problematic for all of the reasons being mentioned here. And our government’s ability to borrow actually distorts the market, since it doesn’t allow us to have a very good idea of the consequences of our consumption. Most of us have no idea how or when we will be paying off our national debt, or what the ultimate cost will be. It’s hard to exercise moral agency when the consequences of our decisions are not clear.

  30. davidhunter says:

    Recently returned from China; people seemed to say, “I’m an atheist” the way I might say, “I’m scorpio.” What do they want in life? “To get rich.” If you want to see the Vatican City/Temple Square of the Market as Religion, go to Shanghai

  31. I think people are missing Cox’s point here. No one need dispute the fact that “free” markets allow transactions to occur, resources to be allocated, and even, gasp, a certain amount of “efficiency” to be achieved in those transactions.

    What Cox in particular (and I with him) dispute is the notion that this relatively insipid economic mechanism has the potential to solve our economic and moral problems, order our lives, valorize our activities. It is the reverent way we refer to the Market, the way we think about the activity of the capitalists and their students the economists. The purely theoretical, value-neutral market of the economists’ apologia seem to me a more likely candidate for straw man than Cox’s Market.

    In prior periods, greed, materialism, and mercantilism coexisted with religious traditions that robustly provided explanations for behavior, goals to aspire to, constraints on moral or selfish behavior. Now, these traits have been subsumed into a worship of Market, and there are substantially fewer alternative religions available in America today.

    I agree with Boyd K Packer on this, though I would say that I also see Steven Covey and the mercantilization of the Gospel as large components of the threatened encroachment of this new religious tradition. In a sense, this is more insidious than the old proselytizing campaigns on Utah by RLDS or Evangelical Protestants, which would get everyone so up in arms. Because this is less visible, more easily integrated into our sense of religion.

    It would be naive to think that Joseph Smith and his colleagues did not engage in mercantile activity. He did after all introduce the endowment in his red brick store, and he was a huge real estate investor. Hard to dispute that.

    But he was also no devotee of our Market. His entrepreneurial spirit was exclusively to build up the Kingdom of God, and though he was constantly creative and eager to establish a city that could attract and entertain royalty from all across the world, he ran businesses that disrupted the Market continuously. He stipulated who could sell and be sold to. He routinely took from inventory to give directly to the poor, not in the insipid and insidious “lick the crumbs from my shoe leather” of trickle-down theories, but in the “you’re a hungry Latter-day Saint, here take some food from the store” way
    in constant struggle with competing businessmen in Nauvoo.

    So hurrah for the Sabbath and hurrah for the boycott of the Market once each week. And hurrah for ordering our lives without regard to our Market merit.

  32. re: Amri’s reference to breast augmentation, I think it is relevant though surely the woman’s husband’s callousness is a part of the problem.

    Cosmetic surgery represents the commoditization of the human body, its integration into the Market. So of course does pornography in an even crasser, fouler way (I include this disclaimer because I worry that women undergoing cosmetic surgery, while driven by demons, are not the same as women participating in pornography, at least in terms of the level of disrespect for the human body).

    This is surely part of Cox’s point. When there is no part of us, not even our bodies (or in the case of megachurches and covey-ism), that is not free of the Market, the Market truly has become an all-encompassing Religion.

  33. Can anyone provide the Boyd K. Packer citation being referred to here?
    BKP is my favorite apostle, so I’m eager to find out what you’re referring to.

  34. I don’t mean to sound freaky, but I think governments are run more and more by corporations. I think Bush makes many decisions based on how it will affect certain corporations, certain business propositions and it seems to me that there are corporations that he definitely wants to please or wants on his side. I’m not trying to villianize him I just think governments are heavily heavily influenced and even run by corporate entities.

    Another reason I feel that the Market is so powerful is that I make loads of decisions to try and separate myself. 95% of my clothing comes from thrift stores, I never buy from corporations I feel do bad things (like Phillip Morris which means I don’t buy Kraft, Nabisco, Post etc)I go on spending fasts, I mostly only spend my money in local business. But I know that I do this to make me feel like I’m doing right in the world, not because it affects places like Phillip Morris at all. The number of people that would have to make those same decisions is enormous and feels impossible, if not highly unlikely. Because of that the Market makes me very nervous. It seems to have much more power than just exchanging goods.

  35. Amri, it sounds like when you object to “the Market,” you’re really just objecting to the decisions made by millions of individual consumers, each of whom (like you) has very little power, but who taken together determine what gets bought and sold.

    I still don’t see why you frame this as an objection to “the Market,” especially given that you offer no alternative way of running things that would be better.

  36. Nate T. says:

    Amri-

    I think you need a bit of a historical perspective to really look at what ed and others are talking about.

    First, on government: The Governments most resposible for killing and devistationb were ones that were demostrably free from any kind of “corporate” intrests, the Soviet Union, China, the Chamer Rouge, etc. Centralization of power in the government is, to me, a much more scarey proposition that groups of cormporations influencing government. Around 40 million dead under Stalin, 30 million to 60 million under Mao, the elimnation of 1/7th (around 1.3 million If I remember correctly) of Cambodia’s population by the Chamer Rouge (the worst loss of life when scaled), the current problems with the North Koreans starving their own populance. How can Corporations compete with that?

    I just don’t think of Corporations as much as a problem as you do. Why? Because our founders actually anticipated this. Madison’s thoughts on “faction” in the federalist papers reflect this. He proposes a wide array of intrests at work on the government, most of which end up opposing one another. Indeed, coporate intrests are not of one mind and almost allways oppose oneanother, and by other groups, like labor, enviromental grops, religous groups, etc.

    As to the comment on favorable treatment, speaking generally, corporations are responsbible for a large chuck of America’s economic activity and directly affects the lives of a large amount of people. Would it not make sense to treat some of them favorably for the benefit of the economy?

    As to spcific incidents, yes bad things do go on, but I we need to be wise in sperating out these bad instances from the normal and useful.

    Part of your post makes me think you fear what you do not know (I mean this most respectfully) and perhps reading some differnt things, in addition to the anti-Market stuff, would lend some perspective, if you have not done that already.

  37. Steve Evans says:

    Note to Nate T: SPELL-CHECK!

    and pedantic-check, too. Do you really think people on this blog are as ignorant of history as you claim? Please spare us your misread of Madison, as well: the “Founders” (even if you just mean Madison) could never have imagined megacorporations and their sheer influence and dominance not just of American politics and culture, but multinational influence as well. Perhaps you’re the one that needs to do a little reading, and gain a little more time and experience as to the actual workings of the U.S. political system.

    Ed: I can understand objecting to the personification of the Market, instead of approaching it the way an economist or government statistician might. Indeed, your hackles seem to be up, as you predicted in your first comment. But does a person who is wary of corporate intrusion into private life and the other symptoms Amri mentions really required to come up with an alternative economic model to the free market system in order for their objections to hold any weight in your eyes? That’s an impossible burden, as I am sure you can see. Even if she had proposed an alternative, I’m equally sure that you would be inclined (and fully capable!) to rip it to shreds.

    In other words, I am afraid that you are hiding behind your expertise and specialized interests instead of just telling it like it is: you LIKE corporate America, you work for the current government and things are just groovy in your opinion.

  38. Nate T. says:

    smb,

    Although I am no fan of Augustine, I think his discussion in the City of God is appropaiate. Both the Heavenly city and Worldly city exist in such close proximity that they draw things from eachother, but ultimately are devided.

    It is too much of a characterture that someone who belives in free markets or the “trickle down” theory of economics (I will chalenge you to actually find a theory by that name in economic text books BTW the name is little more than a straw man) does not believe that charity, giving to the poor, and all kinds of good works is not good, or indeed necissary in a free market society. Again, its a mischaraterization, a kind of ugly characeture.

    This is surely part of Cox’s point. When there is no part of us, not even our bodies (or in the case of megachurches and covey-ism), that is not free of the Market, the Market truly has become an all-encompassing Religion.

    A religion would imply a set of unifing principles and beliefs. There are no such thing in the “the Market.” Rahter one can find a great diversity of ideas, beliefs, and actions out there. Yes the market touches on all aspects of out lives, but that is because it is a method of delivery of goods and services, and since we d o not produce everything we need now we all participate in it. The market’s message, unlike that of Mormons, Baptists, Buddhists, etc. factious and contradictory in the extreme. There are people and services in the market that advocate advoidence of plastic surgery for example, some of these would be the very megachurches you talk about, some might be psycologists, some might be from other places in the market. Sure you could hammer together some kind of ideology as Cox has done in his cherry picking but it ignores that are out there in the market.

    What is more signifigant to me is that most of the phenomia cited existed before what we called “the Market” ever did. You talk about commoditization of the human body, this has existed since Cosmetics, slavery, prostitution, bound feet in China, etc. I fail to see how “the Market is resposible for sometihng Humans were doing on a large scale for quite a long itme.

  39. Nate T. says:

    Note to Nate T: SPELL-CHECK!

    I have ieSpell on my browser, but I forget to use it, because I am so caught up in what I am saying. :(

  40. Ed, apologies the harsh tone of my comment. I have negative experiences with economists, and secretly believe that the entire discipline exists to disregard the opinions of common folk.

  41. Nate T. says:

    Please spare us your misread of Madison, as well: the “Founders” (even if you just mean Madison) could never have imagined megacorporations and their sheer influence and dominance not just of American politics and culture, but multinational influence as well. Perhaps you’re the one that needs to do a little reading, and gain a little more time and experience as to the actual workings of the U.S. political system.

    SO i guess we should discard what they say and there is only one authoritative reading of Madison ie yours. Perhaps I should bow to your superior intellect because I am obviously stupid compared to your JD. Arrogance check for you perhaps?

    Personally, I think factions opposing interests tend to balance each other out. In the long term, but then again this is not what the thread is about really.

    Do you really think people on this blog are as ignorant of history as you claim?

    I just think putting things in a historical context helps frame arguments and put things in perspective. I am trying to explain more about why I think the way I do rather than claim anyone else is ignorant. If that means citing things you are already familiar with, please forgive me. I am trying to do this with as much charity (in the great sense of the word, the pure love of Christ) as possible, I hope that everyone else takes the same attitude.

  42. Nate, I’m not claiming to have any read of Madison here, just to debunk yours, which I find specious. My JD(s) have little to do with that.

  43. Nate T. says:

    One more thing (aggh no edit function) forgive me for the tome of the first part of my response, I should have put more thought into it.

  44. Nate T. says:

    Nate, I’m not claiming to have any read of Madison here, just to debunk yours, which I find specious. My JD(s) have little to do with that.

    I think that without Madison, my point still stands. Forgive me if you find my reading less than satisfying, I have been studying Chinese history for quite a whole, so my American stuff is a bit rusty.

  45. Steve, I have no particular stake in “corporate America,” whatever that means. I might even like it a lot less than you do, judging by your affection for corporate Hollywood product that I’ve seen you express on various blogs. And I certainly can’t be held responsible for the government, much less the current administration. What in the world gave you the idea I even approved of them?

    I’m just honestly interested in understanding what is behind the antimosity towards “corporations.” That’s why I ask questions like “are there some aspects of corporate law that you would change?” but I never get any answers. And yes, I do think it’s a bit silly to loudly complain about how bad something is if you have absolutely no idea how you might make it better.

    By the way, as an economist, I attach exactly ZERO importance to is good for corporations. All that matters is what is good for people.

  46. Nate T. says:

    I agree with ed on this. I, too am not condoning the current sutiation, only stateing its useful to sperate out whats normal and good, and what is hurtful and bad, which often, completely anti corporate types do not do.

  47. “your affection for corporate Hollywood product that I’ve seen you express on various blogs”

    Guilty as charged!

    As for your approval of the current administration, etc., that’s just my take on writings I’ve seen you express on various blogs. My impressions could cartainly be mistaken.

    “I attach exactly ZERO importance to is good for corporations. All that matters is what is good for people.”

    Now, that’s just being coy. Both of us know that notions of “good for people” and “good for corporations” are empty vessels, ready for us to fill as we will. Let’s not have delusions of objectivity!

  48. Great topic, Amri.

    It doesn’t look like anyone has linked to President Kimball’s seminal talk on this subject yet. It was given in 1976 and is called “The False Gods we Worship“. It is a fantastic read — I highly recommend it.

  49. Geoff, I was thinking the same thing. Re-reading the talk, it seems to me that he is talking about being materialistic, and that that Amri et al are claiming that “the Market” makes us materialistic by offering things for sale (so in this case “the Market” means, more or less, advertising?).

    Then there is the idea that some people think spending will make them feel better. This seems like classic materialism, and certainly advertisers don’t seem to discourage it. But I don’t know of much evidence on how much this tendency is actually caused by advertising, as opposed to being a natural part of our natural man temperament.

    Further, some people present economic growth through competitive markets as a solution to various problems in the world (such as Iraq or global poverty) and Amri et al find this disconcerting, not because Amri et al worship the Market (they don’t even appear to like it), but because somebody else they know puts faith in it as a solution. In this case, I think Amri et al would do better to address the pros and cons of growth as an engine for solving problems, and competitive markets for creating growth, rather than labeling supporters of that view as idolators. I don’t think economic growth is a panacea, but it is worth thinking carefully about.

    Next, “the Market” might refer to corporations, which are scary because they are very large and with size comes power. I think this is reasonable, but agree with Ed that corporations pale in comparison to governments. Indeed I would agree with Amri that some of the worst corporate abuses are when the corporation cozies up to the government to have them do their dirty work or give them an edge. But this is the antithesis of free markets, and is called rent-seeking. So I think for clarity’s sake, it helps to be clear that one is objecting to corporations “rent-seeking” from the government in order to use the power of the government. One can call this “the Market” but it has nothing to do with free markets and is roundly despised by those who study markets. Solutions to this would be, I suppose, to make it harder for the government to affect corporations, such as stripping out payments and taxes to corporations.

    Lastly, Amri, you seem a little paranoid about “the Market”, in much the same way some people are paranoid about government, others about Christians, or TV, or books. But the categories tend to be too broad to really support the paranoia.

  50. That is a good talk thanks Geoff.
    So some of you might think this is semantics and others might think it’s my un(mis)education but while I believe that materialism and consumerism are evils and in part fuel the market, I think the Market is more than that, more powerful, more pervasive.

    Nate–I’m not saying that gov’ts haven’t done the egregious atrocities of human history. They have. Certainly. But I believe that gov’t today is very wrapped up in the will and design of corporations. I think that can provoke to war and imperialism, and oppression.

    Also, I am full of contradictions. I have a sinister addiction to Diet Coke. I also love pop culture and I”m mostly a services consumer. I’ve seen dance companies funded by Phillip Morris and I see concerts all the time that are backed by Clear Channel. So while I make a lot of choices to avoid corporate consumerism, I am a full participant as well.

    And though I am not trained in economics, I have read lots and lots and I’m just not persuaded by the other side. I worry about us Mormons. I worry that corporate America and the Market has come into the way we see and do Mormonism.
    And should I say again? I am not anti-market.

  51. When you say you have read lots and lots, I hope this refers to something more substantial (and economically sound) than Juliet Schor’s diatribes. :)

  52. rather we’ve converted whole-heartedly to a new religion and a new God.

    Sounds like Ba’l, who was a god of the marketplace.

    What is interesting, is not acknowledging market forces, but the embrace of fast markets vs. slow ones.

    I keep meaning to write about that.

    http://www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/notebooks/socialism.html

    Making rational economic decisions about really big, unavoidably political issues, like, say, education or public health is hard enough; there’s no reason to add to the burden any more than it has to be, and markets are very good at letting us live our economic lives without thinking too hard about them. (As Whitehead said someplace, it’s a profound mistake to believe that we should think about what we are doing.)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_market_economy

    market socialism

    (20th century)

    Advocacy of markets as an element of socialism.

    Markets are effective ways of distributing goods and services, and responding to actual wants. But they are not neutral, and the results they give depend upon the structure of laws and the distribution of wealth within which they operate.

    Appropriate legal and economic structures can make markets an effective means of achieving the aims of socialists.

    http://www.economyprofessor.com/economictheories/market-socialism.php

    Anyway, the entire market system is more complicated than it looks, and the limits are not as stringent.

  53. Wow. I love it when the economists show up to ruffle some feathers. Just when I’m ready to point fingers and assign blame, I realize that it’s a bit more complicated…

    It’s discussions like this that make me the proverbial fence sitter. It can be so enticing to take a side, join a political party, put up a sign in my yard, etc. But then I have this strange knee-jerk reaction to supporting actively anything that’s flawed. And since everything is flawed, I sit around passively as the person to whom the blame finger can be pointed.

    It’s a hard life, but someone must.

  54. For the record, I happen to also be a fan of free market economies. I think we are free to choose for ourselves and “The Market” doesn’t force me to be greedy any more than any other environmental or genetic factor compels me to be greedy.

    I do think that “The Market” (nebulous as that term is) and its social and psychological pressures is surely part of the even more nebulous term from scriptures: “Babylon”. We are supposed to flee Babylon and establish Zion… But details of how the exactly that process works for each of us remain pretty fuzzy I’m afraid.

  55. “Now, that’s just being coy. Both of us know that notions of “good for people” and “good for corporations” are empty vessels, ready for us to fill as we will. Let’s not have delusions of objectivity! ”

    Steve, this may be well be true in many cases, but not economics. There is a precise meaning for what is good for people as opposed to good for corporations. Those meanings are not perfect, but they are precise. Good for people is what makes people happy, where one defines “happy” to finish the definition. Good for corporations would be raising their profits. Thus Ed is saying he gives not a fig for the profits (or existence) of corporations as an end in itself, only for what makes people happy.

    Also, you’re getting a little excited about how economists deride the common man. As you may have noticed, there are plenty of non-economists on this thread who have interacted successfully and pleasantly with the dreaded economists and the economic arguments at hand.

    Offhand, I can’t remember the last time you actually engaged the arguments as opposed to calling “foul!” and complaining about the messenger. I am not sure why the animosity, but I think it is misplaced.

  56. As it turns out, Frank, that economics is still just a social science. Soft science as they say and it’s hard not feel a little attacked when soft scientists fight with you to the bitter end about how they’re right and you’re wrong and they’ve got hard data, hard facts and ‘science’ to back them. I don’t feel attacked by you on every point, but as a soft scientist you should be a little softer. More Pillsbury-like so as to better coincide with your choice of study.

  57. Steve Evans says:

    “I can’t remember the last time you actually engaged the arguments…I am not sure why the animosity”

    Frank, are you honestly confused as to why the animosity, given the last comment you made? Maybe my problem isn’t with ALL economists after all, but the given messenger, as you said.

    Your answer, Frank, is far from satisfying. First, it’s overly simplistic to claim that what is good for corporations is simply raising their profits. I assume you’re getting at maximizing value for shareholders rather than just pure profit. And of course the definition of what makes people happy is just as empty a vessel as they come, so how exactly does that preserve your objectivity? Or are economists objective because the definition of happiness is not up to them, and they’re mere number-crunchers for other people’s agendas?

    I fully believe Ed can speak for himself as to whether or not he cares about corporate profits. I suspect his employers certainly do.

  58. Kevin Michael Grace/a>, a year ago, also identified “the economy” as a new god.

    Watching Neil Cavuto’s show on Fox News yesterday, I heard the most extraordinary thing. Cavuto’s panel was discussing the real estate bubble, and the speaker was one Scott Bleier, described as “president and founder of HybridInvestors.com”: “Let people make money. Stop fighting this. At some point people are going to lose money. It’s called speculation. It’s good for the economy.”

    Bleier did not explain how, as a general principle, speculation is good for the economy. I don’t understand how this can be true, but Bleier spoke in the manner of one delivering a dogma. It is even more mysterious to me how higher real estate prices benefit the economy. They are obviously beneficial to realtors, banks and Ditech. And higher property taxes benefit governments. But to most people, real estate is their largest fixed cost besides taxes. No one needs shares in Google or any other speculative enterprise, but everyone needs a home. It seems a truism to me that the more money people are forced to spend just to secure a place to live, the less money they have left to save, invest or buy goods and services.

    The real estate bubble is good for successful speculators, so long as they own more than one house. Those who don’t are forced to trade their houses for condos or become renters or move to cheaper neighbourhoods or cities in order to realize their profits. The real estate bubble is said to be good for Ditech’s customers, who have traded their “equity” for cash. But home equity loans are just that, loans and not profits. And unless these borrowed monies are invested in productive activities, they can hardly benefit the economy. Perhaps the Chinese economy but not ours.

    Such were my initial thoughts, but then I gave my head a shake. My foolish assumption had been that when Bleier said “good for the economy” he meant good for the American people. I had forgotten that the “economy” is now an absolute good in itself, that it has become the LORD our god, which brought us out of the land of societies, out of the house of bondage and that we shall have no other gods before it.

  59. Frank, maybe people feel “animosity” towards you because you view all the world through your private lens of dubious McIntyreconomics, call others “paranoid”, trump up other’s comments in an effort to belittle them and accuse them of never addressing the arguments at hand. Perhaps?

  60. “The Market” and “corporations” are merely institutions that allow people to organize themselves. No more and no less. I’d honestly like to understand Amri or Steve’s position, but so far I haven’t seen one single suggestion for how these institutions might be modified or replaced, even in general terms.

    (And don’t infer from this that I think everything is perfect the way it is.)

  61. Mark IV says:

    Amri, this thread reminds me of one of the frustrating things about the bloggernacle that I consider to be a good thing, ultimately. That is the way we sometimes talk past each other, (sometimes it seems that we are not even speaking the same language) but if we persist, some kind of breakthrough in understanding is reached, even if no minds are changed.

    I share your uneasy feelings about some market outcomes, but I don’t blame the market itself. Irving Kristol wrote a book called “Two Cheers for Capitalism” in which he argues that free markets deserve two hearty cheers, but only two, because they are good at solving some problems, but they don’t address all human needs, and, as you note, they have no conscience.

    I continue to think you are attributing too much power to advertising. Every season, new TV shows are launched with hundreds of millions of bucks in production and promotion costs behind them. And some of those shows get cancelled after only one or two weeks. Businesses and products fail all the time. I don’t think it is quite as easy for consumers to be led around by the nose as seem to imply, although I agree that we ought to be deliberate consumers.

    It is my belief that much of the problem with the choices we make has to do with the strong tendency towards mediocrity and backsliding that is part of being human. A free press gives us the ability to spend our time reading Shakespeare, Homer, or Amri’s posts at BCC. Instead, most of us spend our time reading gossip rags, TV Guide, and shallow romance novels. Competitive markets give us citrus fruit, grapes and spinach in winter, but many of us still choose to eat frozen pizza and corndogs. Blaming the Market for those outcomes seems like blaming the mirror for the way my mug looks.

    I doubt any of us has a problem with a free press, freedom of religion, freedom to assemble, free speech, freedom to move where we want, and so on. All those freedoms have downsides, but we defend them vigorously, nonetheless. The definition of capitalism is simply the freedom to acquire, hold, and dispose of property according to our own judgment. Why do we feel so ambivalent about the freedom that allows consenting adults to engage in voluntary financial transactions?

  62. I’d like to take exception to DKL’s rant in #5 about idolatry and worshipping the works of your own hands. Isaiah 2:8 makes it clear “idols” are a lot more than just literal figures that are intended to represent some pagan deity. There, Isaiah is playing off the prohibition of creating an altar of carved stones in Deut. 27:5. He is presenting anything that humans make and value, anything of gold or silver or treasure, even chariots and horses (see Deut 17:16 for relevance) as being idolatrous.

    What it boils down to is worship. Whatever you worship is an idol. Look at the etymology of the word: [Middle English worshipe, worthiness, honor, from Old English weorthscipe : weorth, worth; see worth1 + -scipe, -ship.] So, the etymology means whatever you worship is whatever you give what you value most to, or whatever you value most. That is what Jesus was talking about when he said you cannot worship two masters, you cannot give you best, your heart to two, there is only one that you invest yourself, your time, your money, your everything into. You cannot worship God and mammon.

    And, guess what, DKL, if you worship mammon, then that is your idol. You can disagree if you like, but I personally consider Isaiah a better judge of the matter than you.

  63. Ed, I’m not sure how I want things changed, I didn’t know that was requisite to noticing a problem. My point is that I think we worship the Market more than we worship God and that as Christians we need to pay special attention to our faith to maintain it. Otherwise we let the Market, corporations, business whatever form the way we think and view the world and ourselves in it.

    I think Americans must consume less. I know that is general but we just take in and use so much that it seems you could apply that specifically to any one part of our consumption. I think something needs to be done to keep corporations small. Corporations have devasted almost all of the local business in OKC (where I’m from and that’s the kind of free market I believe in)and to me regardless of the quality of the corporation. Even if they’re really good ones I think they should be capped. I’m not certain we should legislate advertising but I wish that we could become more aware of how it forms our thinking. Anyway, I’m rambling but I was trying to point out something that I see as a problem for our faith even though I don’t have solutions for every problem.

  64. Steve,

    “First, it’s overly simplistic to claim that what is good for corporations is simply raising their profits. ”

    Your claim was that Ed’s statement was vacuous, I pointed out that it was not. It may or may not be too simple for the discussion at hand, but it is well defined and objectively meaningful.

    “Maybe my problem isn’t with ALL economists after all, but the given messenger, as you said.”

    That’s probably true.

    Amri,

    Should I take your response as meaning that Juliet Schor really is the kind of person you’re reading to learn about the market? I wish I knew better what books to recommend. I don’t actually know the field of popular economics well enough to say what is well written and thought out and what isn’t.

    Is your complaint about “hard data” because Ed, I, and others are dubious about your claim that advertising drives preferences and wonder what evidence there is to support that view? If you find it offensively “hard” to ask someone for if they have any evidence then surely many of us are going to come across as very offensive people.

    E.D.

    I think you are being uncharitable in how you’ve characterized my comments. I don’t think I have tried to misrepresent anyone and certainly not in an effort to belittle them. Also, McIntyreconomics is very diffcult to say, so I don’t think it exists.

  65. Okay, time to jump back in.
    In Frank’s defense, I do not think he has been dogmatic about the infallibility of the market. In fact, I think he has been very fair-minded.
    Personally, I’m one of those people who thinks economics is primarily useful for employing economists. But it does have secondary usefulness, in that it demands better definition in our arguments, and it allows us to prioritize by putting our idealism in the context of limited resources (scarcity).
    To ed (#59), I don’t think Steve and Amri are suggesting that markets and corporations need to be replaced, only that they are deserving of skepticism.
    I don’t think Frank or anyone else here is arguing that the outcome of the free market is sacred in some way; the problem, though, is that I know a lot of people who argue exactly that. I know a lot of people who maintain that if a product or service or decision causes no demonstrable harm to others, then it should be available for people to choose in the market. I think harm is a very difficult thing to establish in a lot of cases, so I reject that as being the sole standard for prohibiting transactions.

  66. Frank, you can quibble over the other stuff if you like, but since when is “paranoid” a well-intentioned compliment? Can I accuse you of being “paranoid” and have you take it as a compliment?

  67. Amri, thanks for your comment. That helps me to see where you’re coming from.

    I do think, though, that if you have no idea how things could be changed, then it’s not clear that you’ve identified a “problem” at all. You might as well be complaining about the weather, or the fact that people get sick, or (in this case) the fact that people are often selfish.

    But in your last comment I see that you do present some ideas…you believe we should consume less, and you are concerned about big companies and would like to explore ways to limit their bigness. I would be interested in understanding why exactly you think we should consume less (less of what? everything? less internet, for example?), or in why you think big companies are worse than little ones, but I understand if you don’t want to go into it here.

    Regarding the idea of what’s “good for corporations,” I’ve actually heard on more than one occaision people (who think they are being wise and moderate) talking about the need to balance the needs of workers/consumers with the needs of corporations. I find this ridiculous, since the “needs” of corporations should get no weight at all.

    Anyway, you should all know that I enjoy reading your posts and comments even more than gossip rags and shallow romance novels.

  68. Steve Evans says:

    Dan: “I don’t think Steve and Amri are suggesting that markets and corporations need to be replaced, only that they are deserving of skepticism.”

    Dan, that’s right, for me at least.

    Ed, if you want at least a single concrete example as to how these institutions or their interactions might be changed, here’s one: mass advertising of prescription pharmeceuticals. I don’t believe you can make a strong case that the television placements for advair or crestor are the simple result of consumer demand; consumers have little access to the various realms of prescription medication, and therefore lack the capacity to demand the advertising for products which they do not understand and cannot directly buy. So something else must be behind their mass “market” presence (a paranoid person might suggest an immense drug company lobby system).

    In any event, the advertising is unquestionably destructive because it tends to skew consumption of prescription medications towards those most heavily advertised, rather than towards those most recommended by doctors as appropriate. So, I’d do away with them and restrict such advertisement.

    Ed, I am not advocating (for now) the abandonment of the current system; rather I have in mind a loose series of minor adjustments as additional legislative or regulatory checks. That’s the main reason why I haven’t laid forth in my replies to you my master plan for corporate reform; it’s just a bunch of little things I’d change.

  69. Frank, I was kidding. But you economists take yourselves very seriously.
    And I agree with Dan in terms of how he reads both Frank and me.

    Mark IV–I agree that we don’t talk/listen to each other very well on blogs, tho I sorta think that’s that nature of the beast. I didn’t mean to give the impressions that I’m anti advertisement. And you make good points that there are good things about capitalism (I am not a communist, does everyone think so?) and about chances in the market to try and maybe succeed and maybe fail and that we have many options to make choices. But I am a little worried(and maybe paranoid like Frank said) that the Market has much more power than we can easily detect and we should look at it. And maybe that economic growth does not seem to me to be the answer to everything.

  70. Amri,

    Glad to hear it, I now see that you were as I look at your comment, but coming next to Steve and E.D. I lumped you in with the “Frank eats children” club.

    E.D.

    “but since when is “paranoid” a well-intentioned compliment?”

    People call each other “a little paranoid” all the time. A delicious case in point would be when our own Steve Evans called Adam and I paranoid. I’d forgotten about the incident, but turned it up in a google search for “paranoid” on T&S. All hail Google!

    Amri appears to have understood what I was trying to say. but naturally if she’s offended I profusely apologize. I was not actually meaning to imply that Amri suffered from some kind of mental illness :).

  71. Amri,

    I don’t think you are a communist.

    (just paranoid)

    E.D. — that was a joke.

  72. “the advertising [of prescription medication] is unquestionably destructive”

    No it isn’t. I hereby question it’s destructiveness, thus disproving your assertion :-).

    I’ll bet lots of people go to the doctor and ask about a treatment they’ve heard about, when otherwise they would have just suffered in silence. That’s probably why Viagra has been so heavily advertised…if you didn’t hear about it somewhere, you might never even tell your doctor about your “problem,” and you’d miss out on the solution.

  73. Steve Evans says:

    ed, I’m sure you can see that’s a secondary effect of such advertising, rather than its primary purpose; you can probably also quite easily see how that secondary effect could be easily achieved through other means that don’t hawk potentially dangerous drugs to uninformed citizens.

  74. Mark iIV says:

    Amri, I think we mostly agree.

    [cue the flying pigs]

    Steve, in your example of manipulative pharmaceutical advertising, who is primarily at fault, the drug company or the media company which runs the ad? I see them being both at fault, but the drug company is easier to pick on, because the media company would defend itself on first amendment grounds. Either way, your proposal would keep lots of lawyers busy for lots of years. A paranoid person might suggest that a lawyer was behind this proposal. :-)

  75. Steve Evans says:

    In any event: this thread isn’t about any of the particular notions of solutions that I have in mind, and enumerating them and discussing them would be a threadjack. Ed just seemed unwilling to take us seriously without a good faith showing that we have such notions in mind, and I think I’ve shown that.

  76. Steve,

    We all agree there are two groups of itnerest:

    1. Advertisement causes them to get the medication when they should not.

    2. Advertisement causes them to get the medication when they would not otherwise, but should have.

    You claim that it is obvious that group 1 is larger than group 2 because of course people get the medication they should from their doctor? I don’t think this is obvious at all. It seems to me that this might be true for some drugs and not for others.

    The relative size of the two groups probably varies wildly by drug, so that advertising is net socially beneficial for some and a net social loss for other drugs. At which point, advertising pharmaceuticals as a whole may or may not be a good idea.

  77. Oh, I just saw Steve’s comment, so I’ll just leave my comment as a little orphan bonus for future generations.

  78. Steve Evans says:

    *sigh*

    Read comment 74.

  79. read comment 76?

  80. Mark iIV says:

    Steve, agreed.

    My comment in #73 was intended to show how free markets are closely tied to other freedoms, and The Market has become a kind of shorthand and whipping boy for all the sub-optimal results of the other freedoms we have. We talk more easily about restraining pharmaceutical companies or Big Oil than we do about restraining the press. Why is that? Anyway, no threadjack intended.

  81. The Market’s become a whipping boy? For whom? Me? because I really can’t hit that hard. One of my problems with The Market is that it’s not anyone’s whipping boy and that’s what has launched it into religion status.

  82. Mark IV says:

    OK, now we’re getting somewhere.

    In your original post, you mentioned a friend who is considering cosmetic surgery. You said, or implied strongly, that The Market was causing her to consider this action. Apparently, she feels some unease as she compares herself to other women she sees around her. But people have been comparing themselves to others for centuries, even before Adam Smith was born. The fact is, some people are more attractive, or smarter, than others. I have no doubt whatsoever that everybody else on this thread is smarter than I. Why is that the the market’s fault? So yeah, I think you have made the market a whipping boy for conditions that have their origin outside of the market. Am I misreading you?

  83. Mark IV says:

    Just to follow up, I think our differences can be accounted for by the expectations we have of the market.

    You seem to want the market to enable, or encourage, good choices, or to at least discourage bad choices.

    I don’t think the market has that kind of power in the first place, so my expectations are lower.

  84. Steve, if all you want is a few tweaks to the market system, then wouldn’t the original post seem a bit overwrought? I’m sure Frank wants a few tweaks, too.

    But I suspect that Amri wants larger tweaks than you do.

  85. Steve Evans says:

    ed, I’m sure Amri wants HUGE tweaks. Massive tweaks.

    and all my tweaks are comparatively small, but taken as a whole it’s like piranha fish attacking a cow. look out, Market!

  86. Frank, you google search opponent’s comments as fodder for arguments, and you call others paranoid?

    Frank, who is laughing at your joke? While it is likely people here find you amusing, I doubt it is because of your “joke[s]”.

  87. Steve Evans says:

    E.D., you must be Fiery Habanero Doritos today as opposed to your usual Spicy Nacho self.

  88. I’m no economist, and I do like much of Amri’s thoughts here. But from what I’ve read, capping corporations’ sizes and/or regulating (is that what “must consume less” means?) consumers’, uh, consumption is a really bad idea and will end up hurting more than helping… on a utilitarian basis, that is. If you’re a moral relativist, then perhaps it’s not as much of a problem.

    But mostly I wanted to say that I’d like to be included as part of the fan-of-free-markets-even-if-tweakage-is-necessary. But, of course, we’re all in that category, right?

  89. Mark IV says:

    we’re all in that category, right?

    Sorry BobC, obviously you’ve missed the whole discussion. Either you worship The Market as diety, or you vilify It as The Great Satan. In the future, please keep you sensible solutions to yourelf, you moral relativist, you.

  90. Thanks for setting me straight, Mark.

  91. BobC., “But, of course, we’re all in that category, right?”

    yeah. Except for Mark IV, cuz’ he’s a zealot.

    Dorito: I googled “paranoid”, not “Steve Evans”. The fact that the comment was by Steve, directed at me, just made it all the more relevant. Like I said, you seem to be taking a rather uncharitable view of my comments. And hey, did you just call me paranoid? You’re “like a piranha fish attacking a cow”!

    Amri,

    Your views would probably be bordering on majority views in most private university faculties, or if not, then humanities faculty. And for being so rampantly pro-free market in the U.S., we sure do have an awful lot of tariffs and trade barriers, not to mention market regulations. Even here, in the heart of Utah county, they run their own government telecom backbone for phone, internet and cable TV. So I don’t think you (and Cox and Schor and the many other people who say the same thing) are quite the lone voice in the wilderness preaching the doom of the market.

  92. Frank, E.D.’s not the pirahna. I am. As for an uncharitable view of your comments, well, it’s safe to say I rarely take a charitable view of your comments.

  93. Frank,

    Oh, come on, that was just a joke! Why is it you get to be uncharitable and then brush it off as a joke, and I cannot?

    As far as googling “paranoid” on T&S, the present conversation is on BCC, is it not? Why were you googling it at all on T&S? Not looking for “Steve Evans”, eh? Then who were you going after, or do you just have a persistent interest on paranoid people residing on T&S?

  94. Steve, too true. Leave me alone, you piranha!

    E.D., I’m glad to hear that you were just joking, because you were starting to sound like a lunatic.

    (That’s a joke).

    “Why were you googling it at all on T&S?”

    I did T&S because the BCC links brought up by Google went to dead spots. I’m guessing the recent re-do at BCC was throwing archive searches off. You will be fascinated to know that currently T&S has far more links to the word “paranoid” than bcc does. T&S (and that Steve Evans guy) must be hopelessly vicious in your eyes. Either that or BCC’s re-do is throwing off the search results.

  95. Paul Mortensen says:

    There seems to be a lot of unjustified fear of large corporations among Amri et al. I’ll give 1,000 blogopoints to the first person with the answer to the following:

    How many corporations from the original Dow Jones Index continue to operate independently today? Bonus points to the person who can put name(s) to the list.

    Knowing the answer should dispell a lot of the irrational fearmongering that appears to be plaguing this post.

  96. Paul Mortensen says:

    Steve re #37:

    You wrote, “…the “Founders” (even if you just mean Madison) could never have imagined megacorporations and their sheer influence and dominance…”

    I think even a casual review of history would show that all of the founders were quite familiar with the British East Indian Trading Co.– perhaps the largest, most powerful corporation to ever exist and that, perhaps sadly, has gone the way of the dodo.

  97. Steve Evans says:

    Excellent point, Paul! I’m uncertain, however, how they viewed themselves in relation to the Companies.

  98. Paul, I’m not sure that would be a good test. I mean, how many of the totalitarian government regimes from the first half of the 20th century survive today? Not very many. Does that mean they weren’t a problem?

    But, like you, I wonder what it is that people fear from big companies. Are they aware, for example, that big companies pay higher salaries and provide more benefits?

    Also, note that all the extra regulation that some people seem to like so much favors big companies over small companies, since there are often economies of scale in complying with complicated regulations.

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