While some complain about a lack of faith in the world today, they ignore the largest faith based system of them all: the economy. While this might seem to be an odd claim, the case for it is absurdly easy to make.
First, consider money. While money was once either made from valued metals or grounded in something like gold, today it is entirely based on faith. A dollar or pound has worth because people have faith in them (or, rather, what is believed to lie behind them) and, as this faith diminishes, their value declines. Naturally enough, if all faith was lost in a currency, it would be valueless and have use only in terms of what someone could do with bits of paper or metal (or numbers on a computer screen). Interestingly, this is the same thing that is said to happen to the gods (at least in old movies based on Greek mythology) when mortals lose faith in them-they fade away.
Second, consider the stock markets. As the recent financial crisis showed, the perceived worth of stocks goes up and down based on how people feel about the stocks and the economy. When faith is strong, the market goes up. When faith is weak and people are afraid, the market declines. Not surprisingly, the stock market is very much like currency in this regard.
Third, there is the fact that many economists take a patently false model of human behavior on their faith in such classic models. The standard economic models are, in general, based on the assumption that people act in rational ways when engaged in economic activity. This is true of some people some of the time. However, even a casual examination of how people behave shows that they behave in the economic arena the same way they do elsewhere: mostly in ways that are not very rational. The current economic situation makes that abundantly clear. Even without empirical investigation, reason should indicate the obvious: there is little reason to believe that people would miraculously become rational agents when it comes to economic matters. Since belief in the classic models cannot be based on reason, they seem to be an article of faith among the priests…I mean, economists.
Fourth, there is the general faith in seemingly metaphysical forces such as market forces and the ever popular invisible hand. Crudely put, much of Western economic practice has been based on the belief that such forces will make things work out fine and hence there is little (or no) need for actual human supervision (such as government regulation). The parallels to faith in a divine being making the world run right are far too obvious to even need discussion.
Interestingly, many of the same people who believe in laissez faire economics tend to endorse fairly rigorous social control in other aspects of life. For example, American Republicans are well known for being against the regulation of business but very much for strong law and order. They are also inclined to push for the imposition of their moral views via laws (such as outlawing same sex marriage). In the case of business, they claim that the market forces will ensure that everything works out for the best without regulation and that the power of the market forces will make it all right. However, they harbor no such delusions of faith when it comes to life outside of business: people need to be subject to harsh laws and penalties (including the death penalty) or they will act badly. Perhaps the best explanation for this inconsistent view is pure faith. As Hume might say, reason cannot reconcile their two views of human behavior so they must owe their belief to the power of faith.
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