Alfred Nobel never endowed a prize for mathematics. Legend has it his mistress left him for a mathematician. I doubt it is true. But if it is, mathematicians got even with the Nobel Prize for Economic Science. I like the term “hard sciences.” The sciences of biology, chemistry, and physics require work that can be reproduced from the practitioners. There are two messages we hear about the American economy. The first is it is the world’s strongest. The second is that it suffers from extreme fragility. A literature professor said to our class that America would be suspicious of a “pure economist.” An economist who limited the work to merely explaining what is happening and why it happened. We chuckled knowing that politicians wanted economists to make predictions.
The Fragility of the Idol
Levi-Strauss and Company once employed me. One time I went to work and was immediately directed to attend a mandatory meeting. The plant manager told the gathered employees that some major employment decisions needed to be made in the future. Why? Because LS&Co. had too much inventory.
I was one of two people present from our department. We created patterns to be cut on the shop floor for many facilities. When the floor opened for questions, my coworker asked, “If inventories are high, why were we told to increase production by 34%?” No one answered him. But I already knew why. Levi’s was changing its business model. It was moving from a manufacturer of clothing to a “marketing label.” Our factory and others with union contracts were being closed. Production was going to “contractor” factories that paid minimum wage and no benefits.
We attended another meeting not quite a year earlier. Balloons and ice cream sandwiches were distributed. It was a celebration. The company made a promise. We would be paid a large bonus is we stuck with the company five more years. We sat still. The plant manager asked, “Why aren’t you all excited about this?” No one said anything. We knew the company was lying to us. They exposed their own lie a year later.
The Father Of Lies
“You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)
It is often said, “the hardest part of lying is remembering which lie you told to whom.” The Economy is an idol because it relies on falsehood to work. It is a bad master that creates excuses for servants to commit evil.
The temptation is understandable. Governments, businesses, and banks want a means of reducing human behavior to numbers. Mass human behavior is difficult to predict. Economic modeling is the astrology of the masses. “The Economy” is an idol that relies on falsehood to give assurances. The promises involved provide a feeling of security against scarcity and the unknown future.
The Temptation to Control
“But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5) With these words, the serpent tricked Eve. Didn’t the promise come true? Adam just went along with things.
Economics is properly the study of how goods and services were exchanged. Adam Smith was not a professional economist. He was an academic moral philosopher who asked how “the good” of the community was accomplished. His book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations is an exhaustive explanation of political economy in pre-industrial Britain.
Karl Marx gives the best explanation how Smith’s work applies to assembly-line production in The Capital. Karl Marx was a big fan of Adam Smith. But Marx, like many in his time and later, made a fatal error. He knew Political Economy and Industrialization were powers that changed the world. He assumed it had altered the nature of humanity making people cogs in an historical machine.
People began viewing The Economy as a natural phenomenon. Studying natural phenomena is a scientific endeavor. Natural phenomena are controllable. And then the working of the mass of people would be predicted.
The Uncontrollable Monster
Smith observed that the wealthiest people would always find a means to influence governments. Contracts are sacred and inviolable. But magistrates allow wealthier parties to do so. Essentially, the popular idea of “The Economy” is it provides all good things to human beings is false. And yet, a virus exposes the mask on the monster.
The peoples of the West and the East have put their faith in bad ideas. We must face the lies. And we should call them what they are. Christians speak the truth is in love. We desire a realm that eliminates fear with faith. We seek a frame of mind where we stop to ask why the snake is talking.