From the TUC

Is neo-liberalism a religion?

04 Nov 2010, by Guest in International, Politics

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.

9 Responses to Is neo-liberalism a religion?

  1. Alex Andrews
    Nov 4th 2010, 1:44 pm

    Hear, hear. I’m writing my PhD on this precise topic in a Theology and Religious Studies department. I’ve written about this in the Guardian. The IEA are particularly interesting on this as Phil Booth, their director, has long been courting the Catholic press, trying to convert Catholic Social Teaching into some version of Austrian neoliberal economics. A remarkable group of people!

  2. Tweets that mention Is neo-liberalism a religion? | ToUChstone blog: A public policy blog from the TUC —
    Nov 4th 2010, 1:54 pm

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ToUChstone blog, Adam Lent. Adam Lent said: Is neo-liberalism a religion? […]

  3. Adam Lent

    Adam Lent
    Nov 4th 2010, 2:16 pm

    Interesting piece, Alex. I hadn’t seen that. “Remarkable” is certainly one way of describing them.

  4. Mark Littlewood
    Nov 5th 2010, 2:28 am

    If you are concerned about the evidence based nature of the fair trade debate, I commend the IEA’s peer reviewed monograph on the subject which led to the interview on the Today programme. Do let me know which parts of it you think are “religious” rather than properly researched.

  5. Adam Lent

    Adam Lent
    Nov 5th 2010, 10:04 am

    I think it’s pretty clear I was referring to your statement that the best way for poorer countries to develop was to bring down trade barriers not your report or the debate on fair trade.

  6. Mark Littlewood
    Nov 5th 2010, 7:38 pm

    @Adam Lent. You think the assertion that bringing down trade barriers is the best way to help the developing world is a RELIGIOUS assertion??? That is quite mad.

  7. Adam Lent

    Adam Lent
    Nov 6th 2010, 12:57 am

    Oh, where’s your sense of humour? My key point is your assertion has a very weak empirical evidence base. I don’t think you literally worship at a neoliberal church every Sunday. Although there probably are some in the mid-West somewhere!

  8. Mark Littlewood
    Nov 6th 2010, 1:27 am

    You may be interested in the upcoming research report from the Fairtrade Foundation. They pretty much agree with the overwhelming empirical evidence base that free trade is vital in lifting the developing world out of misery. Presumably they are neo-liberal fantasists too? It’s hard to take seriously anyone suggesting that there is limited empirical evidence in favour of the poverty relieving power of free trade. I’ll assume your entire argument is tongue in cheek rather than a serious case for Western protectionist policies having virtually no effect on the world’s poor.

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    Dec 25th 2010, 7:21 pm

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