Doubting the Austerians


In March 1999, Harvey Cox of Harvard Divinity School wrote of the emergence of a new “Supreme Deity, the only true God, whose reign must now be universally accepted and who allows for no rivals.” — The Market.

Omnipotent: In a kind of reverse transubstantiation The Market transmutes all things once holy into items for sale. Like land. “It has been Mother Earth, ancestral resting place, holy mountain, enchanted forest, tribal homeland, aesthetic inspiration, sacred turf, and much more. But when The Market’s Sanctus bell rings and the elements are elevated, all these complex meanings of land melt into one: real estate.”

Omniscient: “The Market, we are taught, is able to determine what human needs are, what copper and capital should cost, how much barbers and CEOs should be paid, and how much jet planes, running shoes, and hysterectomies should sell for.” Fickle as the gods of old, The Market’s every mood swing – apprehensive, relieved, nervous, uncertain, jubilant – gets reported by the seers of Wall Street and a breathless financial press.

And omnipresent: “The Market is not only around us but inside us, informing our senses and our feelings … it pursues us home from the mall and into the nursery and the bedroom.” Yet The Market itself must also be pursued, writes Cox. It “strongly prefers individualism and mobility. Since it needs to shift people to wherever production requires them, it becomes wrathful when people cling to local traditions.” Your human need for home, family, community must make obeisance to The Market. All men become rootless transients in one global marketplace. For this First Cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to The Market: and the two shall be one flesh.

On the fiscal and Christian right, and among New Democrats and Third Way centrists, the new cosmology of The Market has been largely unchallenged. In fact, it is embraced. The stenographer press repeats econologians’ (Cox’s term) priestly pronouncements about The Market’s will so uncritically that a large swath of the public here and abroad accepted the new faith as dogma. Bill McKibben wrote of the Christian right, “by their very boldness [they] convince the rest of us that they must know what they’re talking about. They’re like the guy who gives you directions with such loud confidence that you drive on even though the road appears to be turning into a faint, rutted track.”

Across Europe, country after country followed the econologians’ bold promises that austerity would assuage The Market’s uncertainty and lead to economic recovery. Yet, Britain has gone down a rutted track to its first double-dip recession since the 1970s. Across Europe, there are few signs of the promised economic recovery. But now, The Market’s supposed beneficence looks more like the vulture capitalism Naomi Klein warned of — a chance for a well-heeled few to snap up taxpayer assets at fire-sale prices, as Russian oligarchs did after the Soviet Union collapsed. Europe is doubting the econologian catechism. In Ireland. In France and The Netherlands. In Greece, in Spain, Romania and in Portugal, people are awakening from the Austerians’ trance. Angela Merkel’s Germany appears “increasingly isolated.”

As Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal, it is time to challenge the econologians’ faith in The Market and in the Austerian gospel. A priest friend once had this shtick he used whenever someone presented some bold, unsupported assertion as fact. “Oh, yeah? Name five,” he demanded. Another friend (and another preacher’s kid) would rear up in his seat and, like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, extend his arm full length, aim a finger at the offender and shout, “Defend that!”

It is past time that the press and liberal leaders displayed the cojones to do the same.

And that’s my sermon.


  1. Andrew Dahm says:

    Economics can be a lot more complicated – and humane – than mass market, limited-liability capital can account for.

    We pay extra for things that work well, look nice and taste good, and we create more local jobs and turnover in the bargain. This behavior makes no financial sense, in market terms: There should be one brewery, one bakery, one slaughterhouse for the world. That’s efficiency.

    The worship of power – military or economic – is one of the great deficits of our species, and this deficit is magnified with the aggregation of money, commodities and communications into fewer and fewer hands.

    Inefficient, labor-intensive and quality-obsessed is beautiful.

  2. Ah yes, those dastardly Austrians. What with there deficit spending, their ‘quantitative easing’, their slavish devotion to the broken window fallacy, their fiat currency, they labryinth of regulations for banking…yes, the Austrian ideology is steamrolling across the world.

    Oh, wait.

    Those aren’t Austrian policies.

    Those are policies that Austrian economists have railed against for decades.

    Explain to me how Austrians are in control again?

  3. Tom Sullivan says:

    That’s Aus-ter-ians, Johnny. For austerity. It’s not a typo.

  4. Ohhh. Right. Sorry. *face red*

    Never mind.

  5. Diogenes says:

    What’s all the fuss about those presidential erections?

  6. mat catastrophe says:

    Let’s just light a match and get this over with already.

  7. Amy Meier says:

    Great post, especially the piece about real estate and how everything once holy can be now tagged with a price.

    I’ve always wondered at people that use their houses as houses only. They never take a risk with a paint color, build anything unconventional, or hang a tire swing for fear it will upset the resale value. They seem to forget about the value of having a home you can be yourself in, let your kids grow up in, make your own, and that the quality of life added. It is a symptom of the market being in our conscience.

  8. On the other hand, how many times does Keynes have to win before the Austrians pack up their gold standard canards and their “perfect market” mythology and get the Hell out of town? The amusement factor has worn off already. Embrace reality, it’s nice.

  9. Davyne Dial says:

    “Embrace reality, it’s nice.”

    No it’s not…it’s a real bitch. And not for the faint of heart.

    Which is why so many are living in lalaland.

  10. Matthew Hoagland says:

    Spend all your money, it will make you rich.

  11. Tim Peck says:

    May Day, May Day.

    “Why Marxism”?”