Friday, January 9, 2009

Fundamentalism - Part 1

This post has nothing to do with religious fundamentalism; for a solid discussion of that, see Chapter 2 of Andrew Sullivan's book, The Conservative Soul (2006). When I read that, I said, Aha, I know people like that, and that's exactly how they got there.

No, I'm writing about fundamentalism in general, a mode of thought that comes out of an inability to grasp some piece of the world as it is. The fundamentalist substitutes ritual and cant for thinking and conscience. In religion, the Bible or the Koran or the Pope is seen as inerrant, as the source of all wisdom, and the end of all wisdom.

But fundamentalism is a larger phenomenon, and affects a far greater number of us than we would suspect. We now hear about market fundamentalism, in which commentators sneer at those who believed that the free market could solve all problems, ignoring that those very commentators were on the same band wagon when the Dow was going higher and higher. For those of us who understood economics well enough to grasp the limitations of the markets and the "science" that describes those markets pretty well, it was laughable...except, as it has turned out, it's not funny at all.

And now we see, since market fundamentalism has let us down, a move to intervention fundamentalism, the idea that government money, spread liberally, will fix our problems. That this retreat to Keynesianism is every bit as much an experiment as was the freeing of our markets to do as they will is not mentioned, and won't be until it fails to produce the magical results.

Free trade has been another article of faith, one that is assumed, based on rather simplistic modeling, to represent a win-win-win-...(extend to as many parties as are involved). We have now discovered that certain groups don't benefit by free trade, especially in the nation that is a priori in the lead (that is, the U.S.). Even though we have all paid to establish the conditions that allow the resource-owners to gain from free trade, those gains are not shared, and any suggestion that they should be is greeting with horror.

Except that, as we see today, free trade and its close friend globalization can have some pretty troubling effects, and now the most ardent free traders are arguing for the rank protectionism of bailouts and guaranteed loans and public purchases of stock - but only for multinational companies that have their primary headquarters in the United States. The speed of this switch should be creating head-spinning cognitive dissonance, but that would require an economist to say that he was wrong all along, and that rarely happens.

In Part 2, I'll talk about one more form of fundamentalism - technical fundamentalism.

No comments:

Clicky Web Analytics