Tag Archives: Religion and Economics

Indiana and Doux Commerce

Amidst the often disappointingly vacuous cacophony over Indiana’s recently passed RFRA legislation, Jacob Levy, a political philosopher at McGill, raised the fascinating question of how we ought to think about the relationship between religious freedom and commerce.

Levy raises two sets of concerns with Indiana’s law, one of which is largely illusory and one of which merits serious thought. The illusory concern is that the Indiana RFRA is a radical innovation that by applying the compelling state interest test to private causes of action threatens to undermine the basic legal infrastructure – property, contract, and tort – of the market.

It’s important to remember that we have decades of experience applying some version of the compelling state interest test to religious claims. We have the nearly three decades from Sherbert to Smith as a matter of constitutional law, and then the more than two decades from the passage of RFRA to the present as a matter of federal statutory law. Beginning in the mid-1990s some states began passing their own RFRAs, and during this entire period numerous states applied some version of the compelling state interest test as a matter of state constitutional law. If antinomian chaos were going to break forth one would think that after a half century it already would have happened.

In terms of concrete conflicts between RFRAs and basic private law, it seems to me that the most dangerous ones would be cases involving bodily harm or the invasion or destruction of property. I think that in cases involving bodily integrity, courts would have no problem saying that the state had a compelling government interest in protecting bodily integrity and in providing recourse to those suffering bodily injury. I think that for most property cases, we can dispose of them by saying that property law places no substantial burden on religious exercise. Saying that you have to build your sukkah on in your yard rather than my yard is not a substantial burden. There might be issues if we have a property owner who for some reason owned religiously significant land, as has been the case with some Native American claims against the federal government. Depending on the facts, I am not convinced that chaos would result if we granted an exemption from certain rules of property law. To give an analogy, lots of private property owners have land that contains graves. In many states there is a common law doctrine granting descendants an easement on the land to visit the graves. The market has not been threatened.

His rather fanciful legal concerns aside, however, Levy raises a deeper issue, one that deserve far more attention that it has received. His concern is with the way in which allowing religious believers to claim exemptions from otherwise applicable laws might inject the question of religious identity into commerce.  He quotes Voltaire’s famous statement of the doux commerce argument:

Take a view of the Royal Exchange in London, a place more venerable than many courts of justice, where the representatives of all nations meet for the benefit of mankind. There the Jew, the Mahometan, and the Christian transact together, as though they all professed the same religion, and give the name of infidel to none but bankrupts. There thee Presbyterian confides in the Anabaptist, and the Churchman depends on the Quaker’s word. At the breaking up of this pacific and free assembly, some withdraw to the synagogue, and others to take a glass. This man goes and is baptized in a great tub, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: that man has his son’s foreskin cut off, whilst a set of Hebrew words (quite unintelligible to him) are mumbled over his child. Others retire to their churches, and there wait for the inspiration of heaven with their hats on, and all are satisfied.

Voltaire’s insight – one he shared with thinkers such as Montesquieu and Adam Smith – was that markets are more than simply a mechanism for organizing economic production. They are also moral and political institutions that structure relationships and inculcate certain moral habits. For the eighteenth-century apologists for commerce, the effect of markets in this area was largely beneficent. They allowed those of very differing religious convictions to peacefully cooperate and tended to inculcate habits of tolerance and, if not respect, at least peaceful co-existence.

Levy suggests that by allowing religious people to claim exemptions from the demands of contract or property, RFRA statutes might undermine this order. As explained above, I think that this is the wrong thing to worry about. The scope of anti-discrimination laws, however, does raise this issue. As near as I can tell, Levy himself favors rather narrow antidiscrimination laws on largely libertarian grounds. What happens, however, when we apply the doux commerce argument itself to the question of antidiscrimination laws?

Normally we think of contract as structuring relationships in the market. Antidiscrimination laws, however, deprive certain market participants of the ability to avoid contracting. This raises two questions. First, does such forced contracting undermine doux commerce by replacing contractual norms with non-contractual equality norms, or does it enhance doux commerce by requiring people to trade across tribal and religious boundaries? Second, when thinking about religion in our society, how desirable is the Royal Exchange of Voltaire? On one hand it tends to promote tolerance and peacefully mediate religious pluralism. At the end of the day, however, Voltaire was no great friend of religious faith and for him one of the great attractions of commerce was the corrosive effect he hoped that it would have on religious communities, which he wished to see submerged in the universal, secular identity of citizenship.

“The Changing World Religion Map: Sacred Places, Identities, Practices and Politics” (Brunn, ed.)

In February, Springer Publishing will release “The Changing World Religion Map: Sacred Places, Identities, Practices and Politics” edited by Stanley D. Brunn (University of Kentucky). The publisher’s description follows:

This extensive work explores the changing world of religions, faiths and practices. It discusses a broad range of issues and phenomena that are related to religion, including nature, ethics, secularization, gender and identity. Broadening the context, it studies the interrelation between religion and other fields, including education, business, economics and law. The book presents a vast array of examples to illustrate the changes that have taken place and have led to a new world map of religions.

Beginning with an introduction of the concept of the “changing world religion map”, the book first focuses on nature, ethics and the environment. It examines humankind’s eternal search for the sacred, and discusses the emergence of “green” religion as a theme that cuts across many faiths. Next, the book turns to the theme of the pilgrimage, illustrated by many examples from all parts of the world. In its discussion of the interrelation between religion and education, it looks at the role of missionary movements. It explains the relationship between religion, business, economics and law by means of a discussion of legal and moral frameworks, and the financial and business issues of religious organizations. The next part of the book explores the many “new faces” that are part of the religious landscape and culture of the Global North (Europe, Russia, Australia and New Zealand, the U.S. and Canada) and the Global South (Latin America, Africa and Asia). It does so by looking at specific population movements, diasporas, and the impact of globalization. The volume next turns to secularization as both a phenomenon occurring in the Global religious North, and as an emerging and distinguishing feature in the metropolitan, cosmopolitan and gateway cities and regions in the Global South. The final part of the book explores the changing world of religion in regards to gender and identity issues, the political/religious nexus, and the new worlds associated with the virtual technologies and visual media.

Conference: The Economic & Business Case for Freedom of Religion or Belief (Dec. 10)

On December 10, the United Nations NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief in New York will explore the connection between religious freedom and economic growth with a panel discussion featuring Dr. Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, and with responses from Prof. Silvio Ferrari, an expert on freedom of religion and the law, and Jeffrey French, an expert in the peacemaking potential of business.

Get more information here.

Conference at Catholic University: “The Relationship between Religious and Economic Liberty”

On November 10, 2014, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty will hold a day-long conference entitled “The Relationship between Religious & Economic Liberty in an Age of Expanding Government.” The conference is hosted by the Catholic University of America.

Throughout Western developed nations, there is dawning recognition that robust protections for religious liberty can no longer be taken for granted. Less understood are the ways in which infringements of other political, civil and commercial forms of freedom can subtly undermine religious liberty: but also vice-versa. Businesses and other institutions of civil society now need to consider how the restrictions of religious freedom by governments throughout the Western world is likely to affect them. What then is the relationship of religious liberty to other expressions of freedom?

Details can be found here.

“Money as God?” (von Hagen & Welker, eds.)

Last month, Cambridge University Press released Money as God: The Monetization of the Market and its Impact on Religion, Politics, Law, and Ethics edited by Jürgen von Hagen (Universität Bonn) and Michael Welker (Universität Heidelberg). The publisher’s description follows:money as god

The nature of money and its impact on society has long interested scholars of economics, history, philosophy, law, and theology alike, and the recent financial crisis has moved these issues to the forefront of current public debate. In this study, authors from a range of backgrounds provide a unified examination of the nature and the purpose of money. Chapters cover the economic and social foundations of money; the historical origins of money in ancient Greece, China, the ancient Middle East, and medieval Europe; problems of justice connected to the use of money in legal systems and legal settlements, with examples both from ancient history and today; and theological aspects of monetary and market exchange. This stimulating interdisciplinary book, with its nontechnical and lively discussion, will appeal to a global readership working in the interfaces of economics, law and religion.

What’s Your Social Class?

Here is a fun quiz from the Christian Science Monitor that purports to identify one’s socioeconomic status. The questions are about psychology, tastes, and personality traits, not salary. For example, a few test how well one identifies emotions. Our readers should pay particular attention to the religious identity question (number 19) and the diagnostic explanation at the end of the quiz. Do you know which religious group in America is the wealthiest and best educated?

For what it’s worth, my own socioeconomic status, according to the test, is “Middling.” Hey, it’s better than “Upper Class”:

MIDDLING: Your habits and perspectives most resemble those of middle-class Americans. Members of this group tend to be gentle and engaging parents, and if they’re native English speakers they probably use some regional idioms and inflections. Your people are mostly college-educated, and you’re about equally likely to beg children not to shout “so loudly” as you are to ask them to “read slow” during story time. You’re probably a decent judge of others’ emotions, and either a non-evangelical Christian, an atheist, or an agnostic. A typical member of this group breastfeeds for three months or less, drinks diet soda, and visits the dentist regularly. If you’re a member of this group, there’s a good chance that you roll with the flow of technological progress and hate heavy metal music.

H/T: Rod Dreher.

Abend, “The Moral Background”

k10263This March, Princeton University Press will publish The Moral Background: An Inquiry into the History of Business Ethics by Gabriel Abend (New York University). The publisher’s description follows.

In recent years, many disciplines have become interested in the scientific study of morality. However, a conceptual framework for this work is still lacking. In The Moral Background, Gabriel Abend develops just such a framework and uses it to investigate the history of business ethics in the United States from the 1850s to the 1930s.

According to Abend, morality consists of three levels: moral and immoral behavior, or the behavioral level; moral understandings and norms, or the normative level; and the moral background, which includes what moral concepts exist in a society, what moral methods can be used, what reasons can be given, and what objects can be morally evaluated at all. This background underlies the behavioral and normative levels; it supports, facilitates, and enables them.

Through this perspective, Abend historically examines the work of numerous business ethicists and organizations–such as Protestant ministers, business associations, and business schools–and identifies two types of moral background. “Standards of Practice” is characterized by its scientific worldview, moral relativism, and emphasis on individuals’ actions and decisions. The “Christian Merchant” type is characterized by its Christian worldview, moral objectivism, and conception of a person’s life as a unity.

The Moral Background offers both an original account of the history of business ethics and a novel framework for understanding and investigating morality in general.

Alizadeh & Hakimian (eds.), “Iran and the Global Economy: Petro Populism, Islam and Economic Sanctions”

Last month, Routledge published Iran and the Global Economy: Petro Populism, Islam and Economic Sanctions edited by Parvin Alizadeh (Boston Iran and the Global EconomyUniversity) and Hassan Hakimian (University of London).  The publisher’s description follows.

The relationship between religion and the state has entered a new phase ever since the Iranian Revolution more than three decades ago. The recent mass uprisings against autocratic rulers in the Arab world have highlighted the potency of Islamist forces in post-revolutionary societies in the region, a force arguably unlocked first by Iran’s version of the ‘spring’ three decades ago. The economic ramifications of these uprisings are of special interest at a time when the possibility of the creation of Islamic states can have implications for their economic policy and performance again. A study of the Iranian experience in itself can offer rare insights whether for its own features and characteristics or for its possible lessons and implications for recent events in the region. This book is concerned with the economic aspects and consequences of the Iranian Revolution in general and its interaction with the international economy in particular. Many studies have to date dealt with Iran’s economic challenges, policies and performance in the post-revolutionary period but its interaction with the international economy – although of growing importance – has not received sufficient attention. The contributions in this volume by experts in the field address ways in which in the span of three decades, Iran’s economy has evolved from a strong aspiration to develop an ‘independent economy’ to grappling with debilitating international economic sanctions.

Podcast on the Economics of Religion

The Library of Economics and Liberty has posted an interesting-looking podcast by University of Washington Professor Anthony Gill on the economics of religion:

Anthony Gill of the University of Washington and host of the podcast Research on Religion talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the economics of religion. The conversation focuses on the relationship between religion and the State–how does religion respond to a State-sanctioned monopoly? Why do some governments allow religious liberty while others deny it? The conversation concludes with a discussion of how property rights interact with religious freedom.

You can download the podcast, and see a partial transcript, here.

Oslington (ed.), “The Oxford Handbook of Christianity and Economics”

Next month, Oxford will publish The Oxford Handbook of Christianity and 9780199729715_140Economics, edited by Paul Oslington (Australian Catholic University). The publisher’s description follows.

Many important contemporary debates cross economics and religion, in turn raising questions about the relationship between the two fields. This book, edited by a leader in the new interdisciplinary field of economics and religion and with contributions by experts on different aspects of the relationship between economics and Christianity, maps the current state of scholarship and points to new directions for the field. It covers the history of the relationship between economics and Christianity, economic thinking in the main Christian traditions, and the role of religion in economic development, as well as new work on the economics of religious behavior and religious markets and topics of debate between economists and theologians. It is essential reading for economists concerned with the foundations of their discipline, historians, moral philosophers, theologians seeking to engage with economics, and public policy researchers and practitioners.