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Economics: Biblical vs. Secular

Written by Gary North on November 28, 2015

It is a matter of historical record that the science of economics has been the creation of theological apostates and atheists. Even in the very early years of the science’s development, during the seventeenth century, the writers most responsible for establishing the terms of economic discourse did so consciously as “neutral” investigators. They did their best to keep their discussions free of theology, precisely so that they could gain a hearing by those who were members of rival churches. (On this conscientious, systematic attempt to purge economics of theology, see William Letwin’s book, The Origins of Scientific Economics [1963].) Even if we date the beginning of economics with the late-medieval scholastics, especially the Spanish “School of Salamanca” (as Margorie Grice-Hutchinson does), we still find that these theologians were using the hypothetically neutral logic of Aristotle to defend their advocacy of free markets.

David Hume, whose influence on Adam Smith was very great, was a philosophical skeptic. Smith himself was a Deist, a Scottish moral philosopher who relied on supposedly neutral human reason to make his cases, both economic and moral. The economists of the nineteenth century were generally agnostics (Jewish and Christian), never theologically inclined, frequently Darwinian, and almost always utilitarian in their defense of markets. This has remained true in the twentieth century, F.A. Hayek, for example, is devoting the remaining years of his life to a study of what he regards as one of the most important intellectual questions of all time: How did man, who was a selfish animal wandering alone or in small packs, ever develop the idea and institutions of a market? The slow evolution of man out of the jungle somehow made a huge leap of progress — a discontinuous leap — into civilization with the idea of voluntary exchange, in contrast to war and conquest, Hayek has always been an evolutionist, and now, at the end of a successful intellectual career, he has decided to concentrate on the relationship between evolution and economics. He is spending his time mastering a whole new field for him, cultural anthropology. In short, his religion is showing. For anyone who ever read his works carefully, it always has.

The Hope of Unity

Religion is seen by atheists and skeptics as a permanent barrier between men. Religious ideas cannot be fused. They cannot be compromised. There is no common ground of appeal by which differences may be reconciled. It is the faith of skeptics, agnostics, and non-Marxian atheists that reason, the arbiter of all human thought, is of one piece. It is the post-Kantian religious commitment of rationalists to believe that the human mind is basically a universal constant. It is the quest for constants, in terms of this one Constant, that has beguiled economists for two centuries.

Professor George Stigler of the University of Chicago, one of America’s more influential teachers, writes: “The reason for assigning such an austere role to economics is this: it is the fundamental tenet of those who believe in free discussion that matters of fact and logic can (eventually) be agreed upon by competent men of good will, that matters of taste cannot be reconciled by free discussion. Assuming this to be true, it is apparent that if value judgments were mixed with logic and observation, a science would make little progress.” (Stigler, The Theory of Competitive Price [Macmillan, 1942], pp. 15-16.) Hayek has stated something very similar: “Yet if we have not convinced them [interventionist economists], the reason must be that our arguments are not yet quite good enough, that we have not yet made explicit some of the foundations on which our conclusions rest.” (Speech in What’s Past is Prologue [Irvington, N.Y. Foundation for Economic Education, 1968], p. 41,) Why is it, then, that Stigler, a radical empiricist (facts-to-theory logic) and Hayek, a logical deductivist (theory-leads-to-properly-interpreted-facts logic) cannot agree about the proper role of theory, not to mention monetary policy? And why can’t either of them seem to convince Keynesians concerning the evils of State regulation? And why can’t all of them convince the socialists about the benefits of private ownership? And why can’t all of them convince the Marxists that revolution is not the way to achieve economic utopia? Because all human thought is religious, and inescapably value-laden. There is no neutral logic, no zone of common ground, no all-encompassing human logic to which all parties can appeal a decision. In short, there is not now, nor has there ever been, nor shall there ever be unity–moral, intellectual, cultural, philosophical-among the rationalists in general or the economists in particular.

(For the rest of my article, click the link.)

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