The Market Religion

A recent article by Time columnist James Poniewozik highlights “The Market” as the focus of ideology, especially as expressed by commentators on financial cable network CNBC. (See CNBC Under Fire: Sticking Up for the Big Guy?):


… CNBC looks at everything, particularly politics, in terms of how it will affect “the Market.” The commentators on CNBC murmur about the Market as if it were the Island on Lost: a mystic force that must be placated, lest it become angry and punish us. “The Market doesn’t like …” “What the Market wants to see is …”

And, oooh, is the Market cranky at Obama! The Market doesn’t like raising taxes on the wealthy (even if [Warren] Buffett does). The Market doesn’t like government health-care reform or cap-and-trade environmental policy or big budgets or limiting bonuses at bailed-out banks. And don’t get the Market started on bank nationalization. That ticks the Market off!

From the Bubbleconomics point of view, I would suggest that this kind of religious fervor about markets plays a role in the formation of economic bubbles at all levels. It reminds me of one of the oversimplifications that come up in discussions of intelligent design: A given condition exists, therefore the believer thinks God must have made it.

But simply because markets can offer certain benefits in some circumstances, it doesn’t follow that they should be trusted blindly as if they were one of the marvelous creations of the Deity. The greater Market is just a function or outgrowth of the human civilization we live in. While it is true that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, that doesn’t mean that the whole is somehow naturally virtuous.

AB — 23 March 2009



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