One of the outstanding weekly podcasts that I would recommend to my theological readers is “Econtalk” hosted by Russ Roberts. In the coming months we will be analyzing several of these provocative one-hour discussions.
This week’s podcast merits special attention because it highlights one of the points of intersection between economics and theology. Dan Klein of George Mason University presents ideas from his new book Knowledge and Coordination, including a discussion of the use of metaphors by Adam Smith (of which the “invisible hand” is the most famous).
Klein extends these metaphors into an allegory of the ways that the price signal directs economic behavior and allows order to emerge from seemingly chaotic interactions. While Klein describes himself as “not religiously inclined,” he simply develops an allegory that fits the economic data observed by Adam Smith and modern economists. Nonetheless, he envisions the economy works as if there were a “benevolent figure” whom he names “Joy.” He says:I, in the book, do so, and I call this benevolent figure “Joy.” It’s like a monotheistic God, you might think of it as. She’s universally benevolent. She has superior or super-knowledge–I don’t like to use the word omniscient–but certainly super-knowledge, and also a sort of God-like ability to communicate personally with each individual. And individuals believe in Joy’s benevolence and trust her knowledge and value her love and approval. So, this is all in an allegory. I’m not saying this is the way it is.
And those communications from Joy tell her to take actions rather like the market signals would lead her to take. So, when we talk about the profit-seeking baker doing this, this, and this and it working out good for everybody and it’s being a form of cooperation with society, that she’s following price signals and so on,
Listening to the entire podcast is a worthy investment of an hour of time, and you will see how frequently economic theory is interwoven with an essentially religious perspective. For example:
Just like we talked about the guy actually reading Wealth of Nations and then going out and making a lot of honest profit, appreciating, being proud of himself for his contribution to universal benevolence. At the same time, I think the allegory can help people to see that they must subdue or re-channel the yearning for larger meaning and connection.
Gentle reader, I think you will find ideas in this podcast with which you agree and with which you will disagree. I think all of the economic theory covered in the discussion is sound, but I am intrigued by the essentially religious questions which are being addressed. It is precisely this intersection between theology and economics that will be the focus of dialogue through this blog. Welcome to the discussion!