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Have Faith

Late the other night I had the tv on in the background turned to Fox News.  I can’t remember what show it was but it was a business show and there were like five free-market Wall Street types ganging up on one lady that was associated with the Whitehouse somehow.  At one point they were talking about banks renegotiating mortgages and she said (I’m paraphrasing) “I thought you guys believed in the free market.  If they would renegotiate these mortgages themselves we wouldn’t have to step in.”  I’d like to take a moment to examine the type of thinking which seemingly leads to statements like this.

In my mind to have faith in something means that you believe it is right even when it comes to a different conclusion than you would have.  My mind is recalled to when I was a kid and it seemed like every time I was upset about something that had happened someone would come around and tell me something like “don’t worry it’s all part of God’s plan.”  Now let’s put aside the question of whether there’s a God with a plan.  My first reaction to this after some thought was “well how do you know God’s plan doesn’t suck for me?”  Nobody really had an answer for this at the time.  I later figured out what they should have said (interestingly it was Adam Smith who provided the insight but not in the Wealth of Nations).  They should have said “you know what, it’s not really about you.”  If you believe that there is a God and he has a plan (that is, if you have faith) then what are you saying when you complain about part of that plan being lousy for you?  You’re saying that you think God should have made a different plan to convenience you, even though you have no idea what his plan actually  is.  If you had faith in God you would assume that his plan is good for the universe, even if it sucks for you and you would gladly accept your role in service to the larger plan whatever it was.

A different conception of faith is having faith that something will come to the same conclusion as you.  This is the kind of faith that is vulnerable to arguments like “if there is a God why does he allow so much suffering in the world?”  A person with the first type of faith, when faced with this question, would probably respond: “I have no idea…what’s your point?”  Only the latter type of faith leads to a response like “I can’t understand why God would do that, therefore I renounce my faith in God.”  

Now I can’t speak for everyone who proclaims to have faith in the free market but I can say that my faith in it is the first kind.  I don’t make some judgement as to what prices “should” be and then consider it a test of whether or not the market works.  I have faith, due to much careful study of the nature of markets, that they tend to gravitate toward efficient outcomes.  This means I consider the market price of something to be the best guess I could make at what it’s price “should” be no matter what that price is. The statement above only makes sense if you have the second definition of faith.  This is how these people think and speak (recall George W Bush claiming to be a “free market guy until someone tells me….”).  They have faith in the free market so long as it provides exactly the outcome that they want.  If not, they will step in and tell it what to do.  Is that really a free market?  When your wife/girlfriend tells you to “do what you want” (go ahead try to picture your wife/girlfriend saying those words in an unthreatening tone,  I dare you) does it really mean “you are free to do what you want” or does it mean “I’m not going to tell you what to do because it would look bad but if you don’t figure out what I want you to do and do it, I’m going to make your life a living hell?”  These people think that they are the ultimate authority on right and wrong and that attitude is precisely what destroys the rule of law.  In the end it’s a matter of faith either way.  Which would you rather put your faith in, these guys or freedom and the rule of law?

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