Reuters is reporting that Vatican, in its infinite wisdom, is calling for a “global authority on the economy” in an official document from the papacy’s creepily named “Justice and Peace Department.”
It condemned what it called “the idolatry of the market” as well as a “neo-liberal thinking” that it said looked exclusively at technical solutions to economic problems. “In fact, the crisis has revealed behaviours like selfishness, collective greed and hoarding of goods on a great scale,” it said, adding that world economics needed an “ethic of solidarity” among rich and poor nations.
But one sentence in particular caught my eye: “The document… should please the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ demonstrators and similar movements around the world who have protested against the economic downturn.”
Think about that last phrase–“protested against the economic downturn.” I agree it’s an accurate description of the OWS protesters, but consider the kind of spectacular ignorance it would take to “protest against” economic downturns, the degree of utter illiteracy and foolishness it implies. It’s on level with Dark Age peasants burning their neighbors for casting the “evil eye” on their crops. It’s the modern equivalent of Greeks marching around Mt. Olympus to protest the weather.
Economies, like the weather or agriculture, are not being directed by some malevolent force from without, although people seem to have an innate propensity to attribute natural processes to conscious agents. Iron Age myths about the “intelligent design” of life once blocked the development of a truly evolutionary theory of biology. Before meteorology, people would read chicken entrails to divine the weather. “Spiritual” theories of illness explained disease before the development of medicine. The President, the Fed, Congress, “Wall Street”—these are just Information Age myths about why the economy runs the way it does.
When Alan Greenspan ran the Federal Reserve, investment analysts would try to divine the future of unemployment by reading the color of his tie or briefcase. People trying to connect the dots between presidential press releases and the ticks of employment and the stock market are being fooled by randomness. Until the “occupants” and the public generally learn how economic order emerges, how the interactions of individuals create the economy, we will suffer from economic superstitions and more magical prescriptions for our ills.
The causes of economic disorder are not this or that act of Congress or “Wall Street” shenanigans, but the corruption of social institutions generally. The laws of economics are not different today than they were 10, 100, or 1,000 years ago, and they are no more to be flouted than the laws of physics. If our economy is to recover, all of us, from Vatican City to Zuccotti Park to Capitol Hill, must reject magical thinking and the myth of the state. We must stop treating our disease with prayer and supplication.
Government is the superstition that explains social order.