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Terms used to describe people who advocate for free markets: “Free-market fundamentalist”, “monetarist theology”, “market worshippers”, and, in less Christian terms, “voodoo economics”. You see if you advocate for free markets you are a primitive type, not dissimilar to a Christian evangelical fundamentalist with whom, in the 1980s, you might make common cause. From about 1923 onwards you find articles that read: “It’s high time to do away with the antiquated network of little companies, this awkward patchwork, that is completely inefficient and unscientific. We need a modern, centralised, and centrally-planned economy.”

Hence people who advocated for markets were “superstitious”, “Victorian”, and “unscientific”; perhaps also because they would speak up for ideas—such as thrift and sound currency—that have this quasi-biblical tone to them. Yet in a modern interdependent world (yes, people have spoken in that way, as we used to do about “globalisation”, for over a century now) it is high time to do away with parochial habits untested by reason.

However, the markets are more scientific and rational than a central state plan; the markets are an ongoing historical experiment—the markets work just as evolution by natural selection and cybernetics work. The markets are the biggest calculator out there, bigger than any abacus you could fit into a government department. In this sense, the markets are the opposite to “superstition”, “fundamentalism”, or “dogma”—for what organisation is more dogmatic and irrational than a state bureaucracy? The state is the biggest cult and superstition out there—and these accusations are projection in a way.

Indeed, if we are in sceptical mood, there are grounds to doubt there was ever a “Great Depression” as we understand it today—as an economic apocalypse that led to Hitler in Germany and Keynesianism later; both really being the same, so far as economics goes. Western politics is stuck in about 1934, so every year I can remember someone proposes a “new New Deal”—a Green New Deal, for example. The New Deal being seen, somehow, as paramount economic wisdom in response to the Great Depression; except I suspect that this was a slump like all the slumps before, the only difference was that we had democratised so much by that point that all the demagogues—the Communists, the fascists, the Keynesians, the progressives—could whip an already decadent populace into “radical, democratic action”. By 1934, people had already lost much self-reliance and the mob was easy prey for mobilisation to meet the “greatest economic catastrophe ever”.

In another sense, the accusation that free-market ideas are religious is correct. The free market discriminates through elimination: it separates the sheep from the goats. This is why statists find marketeers to be religious, even if the marketeer is entirely secular: the marketeer wants to make a judgement, sinners and saved—profit or bust. The state, by contrast, remains completely non-judgemental; it cannot discriminate—except in war, the bluntest form of discrimination (as you can see when the rockets fire in the Ukraine right now).

So we are back round to a convergence between science, reason, and religion—with the arbiter, the selector, being an Old Testament God who destroys those who fail. Indeed, the effects produced by markets are so uncanny that they could be considered genuine voodoo. The state, meanwhile, constitutes a real superstition engaged in that very human activity, the cargo cult—so that if we produce enough spreadsheets as social scientists we will have done “a science”. The process is the same as the dialectic between skeptics and believers; the skeptics like to pierce a false opponent, a Hitler in politics or a Maharishi in religion, and yet they have their own subtly concealed superstition—a superstition that is all the more pernicious because it is subtle. Ultimately, these subtle believers, these atheist believers, hold that they can escape judgement—so they retreat to the false ark, the state, and pretend that all will be saved. However, you cannot escape judgement—you can only make the cut.

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