We have a need for a mysterious power greater than us. That need was once met by religion—but now it is supplied by "Incredible Hulk" financial capitalismby Julian Gough / July 26, 2008 / Leave a comment
Many prophets foretold the disaster. Rending their garments, they cried that these works of man deviated from all that was good and proper, and would bring destruction. The prophets were mocked. Some were even driven into the wilderness. But then it came—a freezing of markets, a collapse of structured products, a destruction of asset classes and a global credit crunch. Foretold by the prophets, yet somehow unpredicted by the risk models of banks and governments, it wiped trillions of dollars from the value of houses and dumped families out in the street in numbers far exceeding those of Exodus. The crisis threw communities, and commodities, into chaos—from New Zealand to Iceland, from soya to oil—and many bankers were fired and great was their woe.
Of course, the idea of economics as a religion is not new. As Max Weber pointed out early Protestants saw economic success as a sign from God that one was of the heavenly elect. It was a small step from there to seeking success to ensure one would be saved. Capitalism, as Walter Benjamin said, silently took over Reformation Christianity and replaced the religion with itself: it became a religion, the western religion. So when Protestantism arrived in America, in its purest form, so did capitalism: the Catholic Spanish Americas never thrived economically, in contrast to Protestant, Anglo-Saxon North America. My own experience bears this out—the collapse of Catholicism in Ireland in the 1990s mirrored the rise of capitalism: the Celtic tiger was Protestant.
But religions evolve, and recent events show that capitalism has begun to evolve less in the manner of the Galapagos finches (whose beaks adjusted over millennia to suit the berries of their individual island), and more in the manner of the Incredible Hulk. Incredible Hulk capitalism can expand the muscle of its credit so swiftly that its clothing of real world assets cannot stretch fast enough to contain it. Expansion, explosion, collapse—Incredible Hulk capitalism sprawls, stunned and shrunken again, in the rags of its assets.
Or, returning to our religious analogy, if capitalism was a religion, it would now be a delightfully demented pseudo-scientific cult. Incredible Hulk capitalism is to the capitalism of Adam Smith what Scientology is to the Christianity of Christ. Both modern high finance and Scientology use the language and tools of science to ends that are religious, not scientific. Both meet a need, a yearning which…