Economics as Apologetics?
By Matthew Green at Jan 27, 2008
Economics as Apologetics
I wrestle with questions of economic justice and democracy. A strong driving force in my life is the question of which political economy is best consistent with Secular Humanism? I believe that Humanism holds that every human being is an end unto him or herself and that every human being is fully deserving of the rights, privileges, and the same freedom that others enjoy and that to use another person as a means unto one’s ends is to exploit that person. I tend to advocate a “Participatory Economy” and my views tend to reflect that of economists Robin Hahnel and Pat Devine and numerous others who advocate a “participatory planning” model of libertarian socialism in sharp contrast to the market economics of capitalism and the command economics of Communism. It is participatory planning that I believe is best consistent with Humanist ideals and values.
There is a strong question that I wrestle with though. I realize that my views are indeed, quite radical. In fact, they put me in opposition to the mainstream consensus opinion of economists. This makes me feel uncomfortable because I don’t know whether the mainstream consensus opinions are right or wrong much of the time. There are times where I definitely agree with the mainstream consensus opinions of experts such as scientists in fields of biology and physics but I don’t always believe that the mainstream consensus of expert opinion is necessarily right. There are times where the mainstream expert opinion can be wrong. I don’t like the idea of going against mainstream expert opinion because it causes me to constantly wonder if perhaps I am following a truly crank idea.
I could be mistaken on this point; perhaps there is no expert consensus opinion in economics. Perhaps it’s evenly divided between the monetarists and the Keynesian economists. Perhaps there is a slight majority of one camp over another. Perhaps I have nothing to worry about. But the thing is that I am wondering whether economics has truly become a system of apologetics for capitalism or whether alternatives to capitalism should rightfully judged as being the works of cranks. Let me explain my position here. First of all, I am convinced that socialism is more consistent with Humanism than is capitalism. Secondly, it seems to me the defenses of capitalism seem to mirror the system of apologetics devised by some Christian theologians to defend Christian doctrines such as biblical inerrancy, the resurrection of Christ, and creationism.
One biblical scholar, Hector Avalos has recently argued in his book The End of Biblical Studies that what passes for biblical studies these days tends to function as an apologetic for faith-based doctrines than an objective study of the Bible. Apologetics in Christian theology is the art of defending the faith, usually by taking a doctrine in need of defense and making it one’s preferred conclusion, then scavenger-hunting history, science, and philosophy to defend these conclusions and rationalizing away contrary data by coming up with ridiculous far-fetched explanations for difficulties in one’s religious doctrines such as discrepancies in an inerrant and inspired holy book or evidence of the common ancestry of all life when one believes, instead, that all life has been divinely created.
Thus there is biblical criticism and biblical apologetics. The former looks objectively at the Bible in terms of how its books were written, by whom, when, and for what purpose and genre and studies the sources involved and the evolution of such texts while the latter defends a given and preferred doctrine by accepting only facts which might support the doctrine and dishonestly rationalizing away anything contrary to the doctrines, treating such evidence as if it’s not allowed to exist. The former starts with reasonable presuppositions while the other is intellectually dishonest to its core.
I cannot help but wonder if I am seeing a strong parallel here. I am wondering if what passes for “economics” these days is simply capitalist apologetics. I am wondering if capitalist economics starts out by trying to legitimize private property, the hierarchical nature of capitalism, the income inequality, and the exploitative nature of market competition. I cannot help but wonder if it is Hahnel and Devine who are right and Schlesinger, Galbraith, and Krugman who are wrong or if the situation is the reverse. Perhaps it is Schlesinger, Galbraith, and Krugman who are right and Hahnel, Albert, and Devine who are wrong.
I am skeptical of Keynesian economics after having read Stephen Kates’ book Say’s Law and the Keynesian Revolution. I also believe that some of the libertarian capitalists are probably wrong in regards to economic justice, particularly when it comes to economic rights such as those outlined by FDR. If Krugman, Schlesinger, and Galbraith are wrong to defend Keynesian economics, perhaps they are wrong to defend the existence of private property. I am convinced that Keyensian economics is flawed. After reading Hahnel’s book Economic Justice and Democracy, I am convinced that Milton Friedman was dead wrong to propose that the only alternative to a centrally-planned economy is a market economy. This is a false dichotomy and it seems to me to be ignorant not only of the anarchist tradition of libertarian socialism but also of the modern proposals that have been made in contrast to market and command economics, particularly of participatory economies, whether of that advocated by Hahnel or Devine or whoever.
I am on a political journey. I intend to keep on accumulating books and educating myself, revising both my suppositions and conclusions in the process. Right now, I am currently a philosophical anarchist and a participatory socialist and I will remain one until I see a justification of private property and market economics.