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Gods and economists

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William Crawley | 11:44 UK time, Saturday, 2 May 2009

karl-marx-adam-smith.jpg'Capitalism is nothing but a false religion, with Mammon as its god and Adam Smith as its high priest.' Discuss.

'Communism is nothing but a false religion, with [INSERT] as its god and Karl Marx as its high priest.' Discuss.

'Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite.'
-- John Kenneth Galbraith


  • Comment number 1.

    Capitalism and Communism are not religions, they are economic theories. Capitalism is based on the most basic of animal needs of survival, the instinctive protection and hording of sources of food and of food itself. If humans didn't have a natural propensity to store more food than their immediate needs so that it would be available in hard times, they would have starved to death and the species would have died out. Even dogs bury bones and squirrels bury acorns. Predators protect their hunting territory from competitors while humans protect the land they cultivate from tresspassers and thieves who would steal their crops. Greed is a key element of survival. Looking at it as a moral defect has it dead wrong. Without greed there would be no surplus wealth at all, we'd produce only what we need for the moment and consume it immediately in the expectation that we could always do that.

    Communism is based on the principle that humans will evolve to a point where they will work equally hard to contribute to the collective good of society and will be satisfied with only their needs of the moment being met. It is summed up in its mantra; "from each according to his ability to each according to his need." It postulates that those workers who will become desperate under capitalism as wealth becomes increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands will violently overethrow the government order which maintains the capitalist system and start their own enlightened communist regime. It fails because it flies in the face of basic human nature. Those in power in Communist societies are no less greedy than those in capitalist societies and those who do not keep the rewards of their own efforts but are paid in return for them what those in power see as sufficient for their needs generally do the minimum they can get away with. Another saying in Communism is; "we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us." As a result, Communism fails to produce the kind of surplus wealth Capitalism does unless brute physical force is imposed making slaves and captives out of its citizens. Communism rationalizes this by contending that because society has invested in the education and upbringing of each individual, it owns them and they owe a debt to society in return. It's similar to the concept of original sin in Catholicism, you are born, therefore you are guilty and you must pay your debt or atone for your entire life. Also, like all other centrally planned societies such as socialism, decisions of what to produce and how are left to the ignorance and stupidity of a central planning board of elites who invariably make gross blunders. In capitalism, the decisions are left to what the market demands producing more of the goods society places high value on, less of those it doesn't. Every communist society has failed.

    Apologists for failed Communist and Capitalist societies insist that the reason they failed is because those societies were not true to the principles of those systems or that the leaders were corrupt. Corruption is an inherent part of the human condition and will be with us in all systems always. Overlooked in China for decades, its most dire consequences such as poisoned baby milk or damage to the reputation of China Inc. are now punishable by death. None of us lives in a purely Communist or Capitalist system. There were private farm plots in the USSR where people cultivated their own little plot of land and brought their produce to market. This accounted for one third of the USSR's produce output. In the US there are social welfare programs that forcibly redistribute wealth from those who create it to those who need it through a graduated income tax system.

    The recent economic failures in the Capitalist word does not prove that capitalism doesn't work, just the opposite. Left to its own devices the way it was in the 1920s and then early 1930s, failed business models will collapse and die as they should. Later new ones will take their place. But the social upheaval as a consequence of leaving this process unchecked is unacceptable to society because it is so disruptive of so many lives and so regulation and periodic interference in the system is required to prevent the wild swings that is periodically characeristic of unregulated capitalism. That is where the system broke down, the removal of effective regulation and failure to interfere early on under the failed theory that self regulation of the market would be satisfactory and maximize profits. As in the 1920s and 1030s it maximized short term profits at the expense of long term inevitable bankrupcy on a systemic scale. Keep in mind, all those who run major businesses around the world were taught the same business models in MBA programs in Universities. They'd better take a hard look at what they are teaching when one of their most highly regarded products, Alan Greenspan testified before Congress in explaining his disasterous policies "there is something about markets I don't understand." Talk about understatement. The stimulus and bail out packages governments are instituting are desperate attempts to prevent the consequences of those swings from having dire impact on most of society. Society is no longer prepared nor will it politically accept such extreme swings but it is questionable if government interference now can be sufficiently effective to compensate to make up for the mistakes it made over a period of decades without causing its own upheaval such as massive inflation. My own personal financial planning having seen this coming for a long time is a bet that it can't.

    No, these are not religions and it is trite and dangerous to mislable them that way. Nor are they in any way equivalent or comparable to each other.

  • Comment number 2.

    The answers to your 3 questions are :

    1. Amen, Brother. Preach it !
    2. Probably yes.
    3. Part 1 Yep
    Part 2 Communism SHOULD APPEAR to be the
    opposite of Capitalism.

    Picking up on my corinthian friend's comments, Capitalism + Communism may not be religions (ie what you would stake your life on) but they exclude religious belief, so are tantamount to religious substitutes at the very least.

  • Comment number 3.

    for the INSERT, I'd suggest that LABOUR is the god of communism

  • Comment number 4.

    Capitalism pretty much works. Communisms kills lots and lots of people.

  • Comment number 5.

    Communism/capitalism can put a new suit on every man.

    Christianity can put a new man in every suit.

    I wonder how much money could be saved in the economy through adhering to biblical teaching on abuse of sex and alcohol?

    A police inspector told me once that 99% of crime in their district, which mostly happened on weekend nights, was alchohol related.

    (I enjoy a nice wine or beer BTW, but thankfully I am able to do so in moderation).

    If we think of all the money spent on police, courts, probation and prisons, criminal compensation, how much could be saved if we did not abuse alcohol?

    During the Kells revival in NI many of the courts closed for lack of business!

    Ref sex, if we practised only sex within marriage how much money would be saved ref medical treatment for STDs, infertility, HIV, abortion, treating abortion related depression, supporting single mothers, etc.

    I am not for a second condemning anyone who finds themselves caught up in any of these situations, BTW, I believe in a God of forgiveness, redemption and second chances (70 x 7 anyone?).


  • Comment number 6.

    .... I should also have mentioned the historical impact of what Max Weber called the Protestant Work Ethic on economic history.

    Bascially it means that in countries where people understood and accepted that they were required to do their daily work as an act of worship to God, their productivity was very high.

    Today these countries also tend to be countries with the highest levels of civil liberties and freedom of speech, btw.

    Part of the legacy of this can been seen in the precision of the swiss watch industry, which grew out of the swiss reformation.

  • Comment number 7.

    The defining mark of a truly civilised society is how it treats those who, through no fault of their own, are poor, weak and vulnerable.

    What sort of truly civilised country can say that it is right for a man who kicks a bag of wind around a field to receive 100,000 pounds a week, while another man, who works just as hard, if not harder, has to struggle on the minimum wage? Or what civilised society can say that it is right for a CEO or chairman of a company to receive a million pounds or more as a golden handshake, even if his decisions have caused his firm to fail, while hundreds of his workers (who have done nothing wrong) have to pay for his mistakes with their jobs and who receive nothing more than the legal minimum redundancy compensation?

    Communism may be oppressive and soul destroying, but no morally sensitive person can possibly endorse unfettered capitalism.

    What a civilised country needs is a sensible balance between enterprise and social justice, to ensure that the system both rewards enterprise and aspiration while at the same time counteracting the above-mentioned obscenities.

    Can economic systems be "religions"? It depends how we define "religion". Certainly these systems, and the ideologies that undergird them, can provide the moral justification for greed and corruption. In the sense of providing a moral framework (albeit a dubious one), they can indeed function, in a sense, like religions.

  • Comment number 8.

    [violence & revolution]


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