The Market as God

An intriguing little book, which I must get my hands on, has recently been published by Harvard University Press entitled The Market as God, by Harvey Cox.

The book argues, correctly, that markets are seen by its acolytes, most especially neoliberal ideologues and neoclassical economists, as a type of God; omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.

To cite from the publisher’s blurb

It knows the value of everything, and determines the outcome of every transaction; it can raise nations and ruin households, and nothing escapes its reductionist commodification

It goes on

The Market comes complete with its own doctrines, prophets, and evangelical zeal to convert the world to its way of life. Cox brings that theology out of the shadows, demonstrating that the way the world economy operates is neither natural nor inevitable but shaped by a global system of values and symbols that can be best understood as a religion

This kind of reminds me of Bertrand Russell’s The Theory and Practice of Bolshevism, which Russell wrote upon his return from Russia not long after the Bolshevik revolution, where he argued that Marxism, correctly, was a kind of religion. Everything was there. The revered figures, the sacred texts, and the settling of disputes with reference to a quote from one of the revered figures or sacred texts rather than reason or observation.

Markets are all knowing; this the efficient market hypothesis tells us for markets incorporate all available information. They are omnipresent because market prices determine the value of everything and they are all powerful because they turn everything, even life itself, into marketable commodities. We might add omnibenevolent, at least the original Smithian version was, although that aspect to our God has been quietly dropped. Old testament, new testament and all that.

The book goes on to make an argument that neoliberal ideologues and neoclassical economists behave in ways reminiscent of those who profess religious belief.

I agree with this picture, but I don’t think it goes far enough.

Most profess a belief in God and various of religious dogma, but they don’t practice it, in fact they act contrary to the dogma, even though belief can be expressed with the utmost fervour, so demonstrating that they don’t really believe in either God or dogma.

It doesn’t take long to see that the high priests of neoliberalism don’t believe in God and dogma either. For example, the economic system is based on socialising cost and risk and privatising profits, it’s based on a system of state-corporate mercantilism at the global level, what is referred to as “free trade”, and it’s based on state bailouts of supposedly all knowing financial markets.

However, just like religion, dogma is enforced upon the poor to herd them into place, to hoodwink them with the miraculous, to rob and to loot them as they toil away at behest of the masters, to provide them with sufficient opium to keep them from revolting. Free markets, as an objective dogma free glance at reality would show, are for the poor. The rich, meanwhile, revel in orgies, otherwise known as conspicuous consumption, much like priestly castes, made possible by a servile working class who can be relied upon to bail them out after the orgies develop destructive tendencies.

That is, belief in God and dogma is expressed with especial fervour but behaviour demonstrates that the belief is fraudulent. Hayek, Friedman, Reagan, Thatcher, Greenspan, and so on didn’t believe in markets given their actions.

Same thing with the Bolsheviks, for if they believed in socialism they would have handed over the commanding heights of the economy and society to the working class. Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and so on didn’t believe in socialism if by belief we focus on actions.

What of our response to all this? Here we can turn to God as well. The logical positivists argued that discussion of the existence and property of God is a nonsensical exercise, what they called a pseudoproblem. If so, intellectual discussion on the ever knowing, ever present, and ever powerful character of markets is nonsensical, a dumb question not worth the bother.

To quote a sacred figure, for some, the point, however, is to change it.