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BORN AGAIN ECONOMICS
Putting the money changers back in the temple

BY SAM SMITH

The Progressive Review, July 2005

WHILE A LOT OF attention is being paid to evangelical Christian extremism, far less is directed towards an equally dangerous religious sect - the practitioners of evangelical economic extremism.
Although the latter faith is not often regarded as an actual religion, it has far more in common with evangelism than it does with rational intellectual inquiry or thoughtful academic analysis. Along with the Christian extremists, the economic evangelists share an arrogant certainty, single factor fetishism, missionary mania, belief in intelligent design, an unlimited desire to impose their myths on others, and a rhetoric that is only meaningful if you already accept their premises. Their arguments are largely based on iconic folkloric texts and ignore the true variety of human existence and its communities and families. And they both speak in tongues, which they consider a good thing. The big difference is that while the Christian bible has the money changers being chased out of the temple, the free market bible wants them back in again.

One sect blasphemes its namesake by practicing such unchristian traits as bigotry, intolerance, and aggression. The other mocks its namesake by fostering an economy that is free only to those who manipulate or steal from it.

In the end, both share an extraordinary narcissism with one putting their own salvation before everything else, the other doing the same with their own power and fiscal fortunes.

There are, of course, plenty of nice economists just as there are plenty of good Christians. The former practice their faith for the betterment of society just as good Christians practice love, charity, and forgiveness. They use their faith as a guide for themselves rather than as a weapon against others.

Increasingly, however, both Christians and economists have been tarnished by roving bands of heretical Talibanic bullies who have left the sanctuary of church and classroom to enforce their narrow and mean will upon the land. The one would have us believe that abortion and gay marriage are more important than housing, health and a breathable environment; the other that salvation lies in letting the robber barons do just what they want.

And as their false doctrine has caused countless suffering to others, these false prophets have gained status and wealth, an issue so profoundly raised by Ray Stevens in his epic work "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex":

Would Jesus be political
if He came back to earth?
Have His second home in
Palm Springs, yeah, and try
to hide His worth?
Take money, from those
poor folks, when He comes
back again?

For twenty five years, while one sect has increasingly controlled what we watch and read and how we mate, the other has helped create an ever more monopolized economy, indifferent to either conscience or consumer. One believes that their particular God and Jesus reveal all truths. The other says it's the market and money that does it.

In fact, it is hard to imagine a free market in a real world, and certainly not in Washington where 35,000 corporate lobbyists work hard to make sure the market is anything but free, as the politicians they have indentured and the media they have fooled prattle endlessly about said market's virtues.

Although free market advocates parade themselves as - and often appear to be - highly intelligent people, they are either exceptionally deluded or are perpetrating a massive fraud. As Robert Kuttner has pointed out, "There is at the core of the celebration of markets a relentless tautology. If we begin, by assumption, with the premise that nearly everything can be understood as a market and that markets optimize outcomes, then everything else leads back to the same conclusion -- marketize! If, in the event a particular market doesn't optimize, there is only one possible inference: it must be insufficiently marketlike. This epistemological sleight of hand is an astonishing blend that blurs the descriptive with the normative. It is a no-fail system for guaranteeing that theory trumps evidence."

In fact, any moderately observant person, not brainwashed by a quarter century of contrary missionary zeal, would notice that in addition to money, humans are affected by such things as community, religion, family, friends, social ambition, politics, virtue, and psychological faults and strengths. In short, the market driven society is just another form of false salvation being foisted on the unwary citizen, in this case by the Elmer Gantries of rightwing economics.

As with various forms of religious excess, the media has played a deeply enabling role. From the moment the Jerry Falwells of free markets - Thatcher and Reagan - commenced their con, the media bought into it with hardly a scintilla of skepticism. To this day one can easily assume from the media that there is a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a free market.

The damage evangelical economics has done of the country has been stunning, ranging from the extreme monopolization of American business to the disintegration of our language into a collection of corporate cliches. It has destroyed pensions, made decent healthcare and housing ever more difficult, and threatened social security. And yet none dare call these tyrants bullies, fools or liars.

In the end, it may be argued that all promises of salvation are false, but if a Christian evangelist and a market missionary should happen to ring your door at the same time, go with Jesus. Even the most extreme Christian advocate will at least offer you food, shelter, and warmth. The free marketer will leave you dying in the gutter, and standing over your last gasps, proudly tell you that the market was right again.