Hi. Welcome to the site. Please check out the About Us, and if you have a question about crime and/or punishment, perhaps look at some previous questions along those lines first.
Welcome to Anarchy101 Q&A, where you can ask questions and receive answers about anarchism, from anarchists.

in what ways is economics a religion (or not)?

+2 votes
asked Sep 22, 2016 by seraph9888 (370 points)

It probably wouldn't really met the requirements of a religion, but it depends on what you mean by both of those terms. If you mean economics as in the study of the means of production, distribution of goods, and the consumption of goods, then I'd say no. It lacks certain distinctions of religion like a spiritual leader, super natural powers, but not necessarily set doctrines. Although, socialists of different stripes, like social anarchists, for example, are "believers" perse in the economics of how production shall be maintained, distributed, and the consumption of said goods.

Are some people zealots when it comes to economics? I'd say yes and it may come off like a religious devotion to it, but I wouldn't say economics itself is a religion.

Again, it really depends, at least to me, on how you're defining economics and religion. You and I and others may have different points of view on your question.

i believe the point at hand with this question is, how much do people treat "the market" or "market forces" as a spiritual entity/god, as a thing that moves in mysterious ways, that we must be in awe of and submit to (either willingly or unwillingly). there is an argument that even those who fight the market (anti-capitalists, perhaps) are in the position of believers, just as satanists are believers.

those are the positions that i would find interesting about this question, if someone else wanted to take them up. ;)
dot, i agree with your first point (i'd like to explore it too), but can you say a little more about the second argument about anti-capitalists as believers.
not sure how to be clearer. being against something doesn't mean that one doesn't overimbue it with power and significance.

my comment is in the context of syrphant thinking that we're all afraid of this thing (i can't remember exactly what it was, but something money-/economy-related), but also just because dualities are tricky in exactly this way.
i guess i don't see the satanism comparison, which to me seems like a belief in another entity/religion....in contrast to not having a belief in religion.

anyway, thanks for your explanation.
I read it in a different way, but your point is also one to explore. I did mention that people are zealots when it comes to economics, but I suppose that was vague. A lot of people do treat the "market" and "economics" as these mythical entities, rather than what it really is. As you said, both anti-capitalist and capitalists do this. Like your example of satanism requiring a belief in the said thing they may or may not oppose. I think opposing pretty much anything requires some sort of belief in the said thing they're opposing, or else it wouldn't make much sense as to why they oppose it, at least to me it doesn't.
yes dot pretty much summed it up. i also would add that i'd like to know in what ways are economists are like the priests that can interpret the will of the market (or not).

human: "I think opposing pretty much anything requires some sort of belief in the said thing they're opposing, or else it wouldn't make much sense as to why they oppose it, at least to me it doesn't"

i reject the monetary system and the legal system, not because i have some belief in them, but because they surround me, and i feel the painful effects of those systems in my life and the lives of others i know.

when i relate to people, animals, or the earth without law and money involved, i feel much more creative, joyful, playful...and when i relate through the systems of money and law, i feel more fearful, adversarial, constrained, etc.

my opposition to those systems comes from my experiences living among them, not because i have some "belief" in them. 

thinking about it a little more....i'd say that rather than "opposing" the state, capital, etc., i feel the urge, the desire, to relate differently in my life than those systems allow, and i try to follow those feelings as i live. one could certainly describe that as opposition, and that in itself creates a binary...you either believe in something, or you oppose it. but i view my desire for anarchy as impulses. a bird doesn't "oppose" laws or capitalism...although it lives without perpetuating those concepts. my constant exposure to those concepts of domination and control doesn't automatically mean i "believe" in them just because i don't want to live by them. 

i don't describe any of my life or thoughts as "beliefs" these days...so perhaps that has a lot to do with the comparisons of belief and opposition not resonating with me.

i like the question....hope to get around to an answer...

I only consider economics to be a religion in the eyes of people whose profession revolves around "the market". "The market" is their god, and economic theory (like supply and demand) is tenets, laws, dogmas, ect. There was this book I read a while back recommended to me by a sociologist friend by a sociologist called "Liquidated" and one of the points of the book was that the people who were selling the financial instruments that led to the sub-prime mortgage crisis also believed that they were good things to sell to people, that they were not these clever manipulators who simply fooled everyone but were just as fooled by their own rhetoric. Finance is ultimately an un-productive field, and this is why a religious belief in it is necessary to continue perpetuating it.

For everyone else, "the economy" doesn't really exist except by as election time talking point, so I guess "the economy" is like a seasonal religious ritual in which all the politicians ask people to make sacrifices to. People lose their jobs and livelihoods to the mysterious entity of "the economy", so in another way it's like Pascal's threat, something that hangs over the heads of people so that they continue voting and obeying.

"i reject the monetary system and the legal system, not because i have some belief in them, but because they surround me, and i feel the painful effects of those systems in my life and the lives of others i know."

It would seem to me that the distinction between those systems and the gods/religious tenants, is that the systems themselves very much exist, but the shibboleths that they perpetuate as a precursor for their existence (what "justice" is to the legal system, what "the economy" is to the financial system) do not upon examination. The laws that the legal system is based on very much do not exist but the people who are part of the legal system pretend that they do, and they can use them whenever they see fit, or don't see fit. There are many laws that are still in the books that the courts don't charge people on due to their antiquated nature (like in georgia it's illegal to have sex with the lights on I think), but if the people in the legal system want to lock someone in jail they will use whatever they can find in the books.

edit: I originally said "if the state really wants to lock someone in jail..." but then I realized that the state doesn't actually exist either except some vague concept/entity, so I changed it, lol

walter benjamin has a wonderful essay, or maybe you would call it a "fragment," on this topic, called "Capitalism as Religion", which I will link you to rather than paraphrasing --->  http://www.rae.com.pt/Caderno_wb_2010/Benjamin%20Capitalism-as-Religion.pdf

1 Answer

+1 vote
Ways in which economics is a religion... I feel qualified to jump in with an attempt at an answer since my university degrees say I'm an economist and my psychiatrist says I'm obsessed with ethics (which is kind of related to religion).

Economic training provides a framework for observing and trying to understand the motives and consequences of infinitely complex actions and interactions of living things. Specifically, that framework is based on the idea that, in theory, all behavior and its effects can be explained -- and predicted -- with the help of mathematical (essentially multiple regression) models: The level of this is a function of the levels of these variables, which we line up in order of decreasing importance, according to their respective coefficients.

In theory we can discover "laws" that govern life; living things have objectives: maximization or minimization problems subject to constraints.

It's all too complex, of course, so we have to simplify by focusing only on the most important variables. In reality it is impossible to assign values to many variables, much less figure out the coefficients that explain their relationships to the objective. Furthermore, we usually have to make unrealistic assumptions, so most economists' insights are worthless.

Still... there is a "religious" faith in the potential usefulness of mathematical modelisation of behavior (usually human, but the approach can be used to observe any self-willed actors with goals/objectives).

Non-economists, or even reductionist economists, tend to view the field as concerned only with money. Well, that's just because a lot of people have objectives to maximize wealth, consumption, utility, production, and minimize costs -- in monetary terms. the economics framework is well suited to such obvious profit-maximization or GDP growth problems. But economics is really much larger. In its larger form it is a fundemental belief in the theoretical possibility of modelisation of behavior and its consequences. Considering there is no real reason to believe this, it feels a lot like a religion.
answered Oct 7, 2016 by Syrphant (560 points)

i gotta say, you talk a good game when you're in your element. :-)

i upvoted this answer as many times as i downvoted it, so you almost ended up with a net zero. but these stuck out:

"In its larger form it is a fundemental belief in the theoretical possibility of modelisation of behavior and its consequences. Considering there is no real reason to believe this, it feels a lot like a religion."

" there is a "religious" faith in the potential usefulness of mathematical modelisation of behavior"

although you apparently still believe in this religion, at least you do see it as such. so ultimately, you got my upvote.

...