True Religion of “The Market”

The Golden Calf of Wall Street

The media seems to be continually reporting on the “War on (fill in the blank” labels these days, with lots of finger pointing back and forth, “…they started it…”. These important discussions being framed as “wars” diminishes the REAL WARS that we are waging in Afghanistan and Iraq (if only through private proxies) and the danger of future wars (Iran, N. Korea). Whether it is media labeled or partisan labeled, it would be so refreshing to just discuss the topic at hand without the hype, but there is good reason for the hype. The hype isn’t about women, contraception, or any specific demographic, the hype is around two world views and the prize is your brain.

No, it’s not the zombie bandwagon, what strategist, marketers, and political powers want is for you to dig in and claim their philosophy as your own. They can remind you of how awesome their philosophy is directly through campaigning, or more likely through thousands of more indirect ways. Indirect routes may include planting or calling attention to specific stories in the news,  hints (or commands) from religious realms, marketing at your favorite retailer, new products being developed, through school curriculum, playing specific music, experiencing advertising, through popular books and movies, through social media, by celebrity endorsement. Most of these “nudges” are subtle and disguised as “fun” or being “cool” and the story – the part that someone wants you to buy into – can be written off as entertainment and non-partisan.

What are the two philosophies? We sometimes call the Democratic and Republican, but those labels do not consistently align with their proper story lines, we more often call them “conservative” and “progressive” – but even then the terms can be contested concepts. The two philosophies have moral and spiritual implications which have even more cumbersome labels. I  think the most appropriate categorization is the hoarders vs. the sharers. I wrote about hoarding and the prosperity doctrine here. Even well known Biblically based Christian pastors advocate for hoarding though the Bible directly warns against it (the hoarded manna got moldy).  You will find all kinds of contorted logic at work to get from the give-away-your -treasures-on-earth-and-serve-the-poor message to if-you-give-the-church-tithes-you-will-see-a-financial-return-on-your-investment message. In that sense, the literalist turns figurative to get the facts to fit their frame (of prosperity).

Some might even say a totally different moral code is born from the hoarding philosophy. Here is an excerpt from a great post by Tom Sullivan at Scrutiny Hooligans:

In March 1999, Harvey Cox of Harvard Divinity School wrote of the emergence of a new “Supreme Deity, the only true God, whose reign must now be universally accepted and who allows for no rivals.” — The Market.

Omnipotent: In a kind of reverse transubstantiation The Market transmutes all things once holy into items for sale. Like land. “It has been Mother Earth, ancestral resting place, holy mountain, enchanted forest, tribal homeland, aesthetic inspiration, sacred turf, and much more. But when The Market’s Sanctus bell rings and the elements are elevated, all these complex meanings of land melt into one: real estate.”

Omniscient: “The Market, we are taught, is able to determine what human needs are, what copper and capital should cost, how much barbers and CEOs should be paid, and how much jet planes, running shoes, and hysterectomies should sell for.” Fickle as the gods of old, The Market’s every mood swing – apprehensive, relieved, nervous, uncertain, jubilant – gets reported by the seers of Wall Street and a breathless financial press.

And omnipresent: “The Market is not only around us but inside us, informing our senses and our feelings … it pursues us home from the mall and into the nursery and the bedroom.” Yet The Market itself must also be pursued, writes Cox. It “strongly prefers individualism and mobility. Since it needs to shift people to wherever production requires them, it becomes wrathful when people cling to local traditions.” Your human need for home, family, community must make obeisance to The Market. All men become rootless transients in one global marketplace. For this First Cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to The Market: and the two shall be one flesh.

On the fiscal and Christian right, and among New Democrats and Third Way centrists, the new cosmology of The Market has been largely unchallenged. In fact, it is embraced. The stenographer press repeats econologians’ (Cox’s term) priestly pronouncements about The Market’s will so uncritically that a large swath of the public here and abroad accepted the new faith as dogma. Bill McKibben wrote of the Christian right, “by their very boldness [they] convince the rest of us that they must know what they’re talking about. They’re like the guy who gives you directions with such loud confidence that you drive on even though the road appears to be turning into a faint, rutted track.”

It’s true. Questioning “The Market” today is viewed as some as total blasphemy which merits a panicked finger pointing and blacklisting – “communist!” or “socialist!”  You might not like the President, or apple pie, or baseball, but The Market??? Questioning the morality of The Market is like questioning the presence of God; this is why so many Evangelical pastors have found that conflating the two works really well for their congregations. Even if their parrishoners are struggling with the “laws of The Market”, they can always work harder, run faster, tighten the belt more, be better stewards, take more from the family and give it to work, and submit more readily to please “The Market” – they can do penance and flog themselves.

The argument goes that an “unfettered” market –laissez faire capitalism – will find balance, the bit that’s left out is that the balance found will leave a good number of people out of the picture – dead, marginalized, enslaved, or oppressed. In an “unfettered” market there is nothing stopping a bounty hunter from picking off fat cats and using the pile of money to finance anything. We have had “unfettered” markets – those without the benefits of protective laws or personnel, without safety precautions – the winner usually has the biggest stick and fattest wallet, everyone else can be found face down with knives in their backs – or working to profit the winner.

Silence does not equal peace. A tyrant may be quite good a suppressing dissent, but that does not mean that there is none.

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One thought on “True Religion of “The Market”

  1. lokywoky says:

    I think we should all stop participating in “The Market”. We should all go back to the ‘cash economy’. Stop using credit as much as possible. Pay cash – using actual cash – not plastic (saves the merchant money on fees!). Buy only what we really need – instead of everything we want – which often then only becomes clutter in houses that are too big and that aren’t really homes because we don’t pay any attention to what or who else is in them.

    I remember a woman at the last ‘work for a wage’ job I had. She had her 401-K in a money market fund because she and her husband thought the stock market was too big a risk. We all thought both of them were nuts. Well, turns out she was correct and she still has her entire fund. Unlike all the rest of the “Market” participants who lost almost everything when it all came crashing down.

    As far as all these “Prosperity Gospel Christians” – I hardly know where to begin. I guess I would start with asking if any of them have actually read the Gospels that are in the Bible about the Jesus they claim to be followers of. Seems he was a big proponent of giving away stuff and not being hoarders of things here on earth and that being rich was a very big impediment to getting to heaven and all that. But what do I know?

    And finally – all these people who claim that the government should just let the ‘free market’ work. There has never never never never ever ever ever been such an animal as a free market. Ever. Even in Somalia where there arguably is no government. The market still has rules. Pirate rules to be sure. But rules just the same. Always rules. And the best markets always have the best rules to make sure that things work the best for everyone. That is why they are the best!

    Even the biggest greed-hogs have rules in the current markets. They make their own rules up as they go along but they like rules. That is why they have ALEC and lobbyists and they pay off Congresscritters to write laws (otherwise known as rules!) so that the rules are the ones they like. They like rules. As long as the rules benefit them and not the other guy. But the best markets have rules that benefit both sides equally. That’s called a FAIR market. And that is the true role of government – to make sure we have a fair market, as free as it can be but a fair one most of all. Right now we don’t.

    That’s all.

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