Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Excess of Faith

Responding to k-punk's response to Barbara Ehrenreich's piece on "How positive thinking wrecked the economy", Mark Thwaite writes:
A considered and detailed debunking of the term "confidence" really needs to take place. That the global economy is in such tatters because of a lack of "confidence", a lack of faith in other words, is astonishing proof of the validity of Marx's theory of reification, but beyond that it shows that a profound irrationality sits at the heart of the global social system. A social system that claims it can never be bettered or changed or destroyed is, it clearly turns out, based almost entirely on our faith in it! The astonishing amount of energy -- and money -- being mobilised by governments, politicians and journalists to try to keep us keeping the faith shows clearly that it is time for us all to dream again of better worlds.
I would say, rather, that the economy is in tatters not because of a lack of faith, but because of an excess of faith, a misplaced faith in capitalism. This faith isn't limited to those traders who, in fits of panic or elation, cause the stock market to bounce up and down in such dramatic ways as we've seen so much of in the last two weeks. This faith is just as much in evidence in those of us who invest in the market in our own, perhaps small, ways. We have "confidence" that the market will recover, sure, but we have, ironically, ultimate faith in the rationality of capitalism. We're sold a bill of goods about freedom, about the naturalness of the capitalist economy (economic Darwinism, you know: competition is only natural, etc.), and we buy into it wholesale. How many of us who would call ourselves resolutely anti-capitalist nevertheless have bought into the chimera of the 401(k)? We can all retire rich, is that it? All of us? We'll all draw out at the height of the market? How do we think it's possible? How did we ever think there was ever going to be enough money to cover us all in our dotage, with the fantasy of compound interest? This is misplaced faith, potentially far more damaging than what most religions cook up.

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