Is neo-liberalism a religion?
It’s the census next year and there’s always some debate about what religions should be monitored. In 2001, of course, thousands of people described their religion as Jedi Knight. But after listening to Mark Littlewood, the Director of the Institute for Economic Affairs on the Today programme, this morning, I’m thinking it’s time to start tracking the rise and fall of ‘neo-liberal’ as a religious identity.
Mark had decided to lay in to the superb Fairtrade Foundation on the grounds that it misled people because it didn’t argue that the best driver of growth and living standards was free trade. Leaving aside that this must be one of the lamest shots at a bit of media coverage by setting up a fake conflict, it struck me that anyone who can still make that claim in today’s world has simply given up on any evidence based reasoning.
I’m very wary of protectionism but it is blindingly obvious that the countries that have generated huge leaps in living standards for themselves over the last three decades (e.g. Korea, China, Japan) did so by developing domestic industries and capacity behind barriers before very slowly opening themselves up to the world market. Indeed China, currently growing at around 8% per year, still operates behind considerable restrictions on investment for example. And I’m sure if Mark were to lecture Asian countries on the benefits of the current inflationary free flow of Western money into their economies, he’d get a pretty big flea in his ear as well.
So if religion is really about faith in certain principles without recourse to evidence (and I mean no disrespect at all here – to religious people, at least), then surely neo-liberalism fits the bill. However, if I had to choose, I’d much rather be a Jedi Knight.