One of the great American myths is that we live in a “free market system” and, as a result, the Republicans, Sarah Palin and the Tea Party fringe need to protect it, while the Dems want to choke it to death. We are up to our eyeballs in talking about free markets, so much so that even President Obama last week said that the big bonuses of Wall Street Bankers are part of the free market, just like baseball players getting multi-million dollar contacts.
The idea that free markets needed protection started way back in the 1920s and ‘30s. At that time, a campaign was produced by some of the first public relations companies, supported by big business, to sell the idea to the American public. The big PR firms, law firms and the US Chamber of Commerce have been carrying the torch ever since. Problem is, the idea is actually more false than real.
We have markets that are freer, less constrained, than some places in the world, such a Europe, but we don’t have wide open, free markets. We have regulated markets, we will always have regulated markets no matter if the Republicans take Congress and the White House for the next hundred years. Those regulations would be lessened, but they would not go away. Even the Republicans, after the banking disaster, would be talking more regulation today if they had won the White House in 2008. The need for some degree of regulation has been made apparent again and again, from the stock market crash of 1929, through the tech/dot com bubble in 2000 and the housing bubble that began to end in 2005 and crashed in ‘08.
The degree to which we have “free” markets is a discussion for another day. It is too involved to lay out in detail right now and, no matter, someone will always come up with an argument on the finer points and then say the larger point is wrong, too. So be it.
HERE IS MY QUESTION OF THE DAY: Where is the “free market system” in the Bible? Where do we find god or Jesus endorsing free markets? Yeah, I know, Jesus chased the money lenders out of the Temple. What else is there in the Bible? Now instead of driving banks out, we give money lenders tax breaks, bonuses and bailouts, because they took us so deep into trouble we would have to dig out with dynamite if they had gone under. The belief that the Bible somehow or another supports free enterprise is spreading, but there is no clear evidence behind that belief.
Despite this, support of free markets has been made into a test of fundamentalist conservatism. Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia requires its students to exhibit loyalty to free markets as part of its basic principles listed as “aims” of the school. Officials at Liberty have stated in public many times that students who don’t believe in those aims don’t belong at Liberty. Period. They used that argument in support of excluding certain student led groups. If you want to believe in highly regulated markets and try to organize a student group, they will shut it down.
The idea of the holiness of free markets is also creeping from religion into text books, too. Recently, the NY Times quoted a member of the Texas State Board of Education as saying that the roots of free market ideals can be found in the Bible. Yeah, where? If so, does that represent an endorsement? This same school board member , a dentist by trade, works with other Christian fundamentalists to bend text books in the direction of his narrow views of religion, government and history, to the exclusion of counter views.
It is fairly astounding to me that free markets are being turned into actual religion, a vital part of fundamentalist religious ideas. Who started this thing? Where is it going to stop? Why should anyone who doesn’t believe that free market capitalism is not the most wonderful thing on earth want to be part of such a religion? What if you are living out of your car, sleeping in a store parking lot because you’ve lost your home and job to free markets, do you want to worship capitalism and Jesus on Sundays? Come on down.
All of this can be seen as the antipode to what communism did in Russia: first there was communism, then there could be nothing else, no free thought, no religious practices, very little family, no enterprise. The religious zealots in America now want us to believe it is their way or the highway, that everything they believe is backed up by the ultimate authority, the Bible. They would leave us, in the end, as stripped of the ability to think for ourselves as communism once did around the world. If you question their business practices, you are also questioning their religion. What a deal.
I say to them, where is the free market system in the Bible? Prove it, Charlie. Show me how the Bible endorses the brutalities of take no prisoners capitalism. Where does the Bible say that no matter how an employer treats the employees, if there is profit, that is good? Where does the Bible say that, as cable and satellite companies do, they have a responsibility to their share holders to show pornography if that results in maximizing profits? Where does the Bible say that cheating and charging every last fee you can imagine from the poorest banking customers is, overall, a wonderful thing? Does the Bible endorse running your competition out of business in the most direct, efficient way possible so you can make more money, faster? Does the Bible praise operating commercial aircraft that are unsafe, just so long as the stock holders get their money?
The people who are pushing the belief that free markets are part of the Bible and, thus, “god’s plan” for the world are in the process of turning their religious beliefs into a joke. They are working backward from their political views and trying to turn them into canons of religious duty. This is not just nonsense, it is dangerous nonsense. In reaction to changes brought about by the modern world, they want to take us back a hundred or two hundred years.
It is a way of stunning the brains of their followers into believing that what can often be evil (rampant, unchecked power of corporations) is somehow good for them. In effect, they are endorsing everything that capitalism does and calling on their believers not to oppose any of those actions, but rather to lie down, willingly and happily, and submit in the name of the greater good. Otherwise, they would be interfering, interfering I tell you!, with the holy free market system.
Free markets are nowhere to be found in the Christian Bible. Nor is it any way factual to suggest the principles of free markets were inspired by the Bible. That is little more than fantasy enlarged to fit the evident need for belief. The closest analog to the teachings of Christ, to many who have studied the New Testament closely, can be found in the ideals (not the practices) under which communism raised its ugly flag: from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. In a sense, it would be grand if we could look to one book written a thousand and more years ago and know the answer to the complex questions of our times, but we can’t.
Doug Terry, 2.15.10
A list of quotes referenced in this analysis is found below