Calvin, the Free Market, and Poverty
Chip Berlet printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Jan 22, 2007 at 11:25:29 AM EST
Max Weber noted the synergy between fundamentalist Calvinism and Free Market ideologies in his famous book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.~1. In the United States this created a particular frame in which the idea of personal initiative and rugged individualism was linked to a blame-the-victim narrative. Anyone who fell through the cracks of a Free Market economy had no one to blame but themselves. This frame shifts attention away from structural, institutional, and systemic causes of poverty and toward individual failure.

The idea behind “Faith-Based Initiatives” is to remove the government’s communal responsibility to design an equitable economic system. This is justified by the underlying ideological claims of fundamentalist Calvinism and Free Market ideologies.

Holly Sklar argues that instead of writing about “poverty,” progressive authors should write about “impoverishment” to highlight the economic processes through which people are made poor and kept poor. In her essay "The Dying American Dream and the Snake Oil of Scapegoating," Sklar writes:

As the American Dream has become more impossible for more people, scapegoating is being used to deflect blame from the economic system and channel anger to support reactionary political causes. Talk-show demagogues have built their careers on a rising volume of hate.

The cycle of unequal opportunity is intensifying. Its beneficiaries often slander those most systematically undervalued, underpaid, underemployed, underfinanced, underinsured, underrated, and otherwise underserved and undermined--as undeserving and underclass, impoverished in moral values, and lacking the proper "work ethic."~2

Sociologists Somers and Block see the growth of “market fundamentalism” as the continuation of an ideology long promoted by some conservatives.~3 To demonstrate this, they picked two examples of legislation—in 1834 and 1966—in which “existing welfare regimes were overturned by market-driven ones.” They concluded that “Despite dramatic differences across the cases, both outcomes were mobilized by "the perversity thesis"—a public discourse that reassigned blame for the poor's condition from "poverty to perversity."~4 In this way, says Somers and Block:

…structural blame for poverty is discredited as empiricist appearance while the real problem is attributed to the corrosive effects of welfare's perverse incentives on poor people themselves—they become sexually promiscuous, thrust aside personal responsibility, and develop longterm dependency. This claim enables market fundamentalism to delegitimate existing ideational regimes, to survive disconfirming data, and to change the terms of debate from social problems to the timeless forces of nature and biology.

Fundamentalist Calvinists and Free Market ideologues may seem like strange bedfellows, but under the sheets they share some basic body parts, and both end up screwing the poor.

Notes

1 Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism; Chip Berlet, "Calvinism, Capitalism, Conversion, and Incarceration.”

2 Sklar, “The Dying American Dream and the Snake Oil of Scapegoating.”

3 This section is pilfered from Berlet and Chamberlain, Running Against Sodom and Osama: The Christian Right, Values Voters, and the Culture Wars in 2006.

4 Somers and Block, “From Poverty to Perversity: Ideas, Markets, and Institutions over 200 Years of Welfare Debate.”

References

Chip Berlet and Pam Chamberlain, 2006, Running Against Sodom and Osama: The Christian Right, Values Voters, and the Culture Wars in 2006. A Report from Political Research Associates, October, 2006, http://www.publiceye.org/christian_right/values-voters/vv-toc.html

Holly Sklar. 1995. “The Dying American Dream and the Snake Oil of Scapegoating.” In Chip Berlet (Ed.), Eyes Right! Challenging the Right Wing Backlash (pp. 113–134). Boston: South End Press, online at http://www.publiceye.org/eyes/hs_econo.html

Margaret R. Somers and Fred Block, “From Poverty to Perversity: Ideas, Markets, and Institutions over 200 Years of Welfare Debate,” American Sociological Review (70)2, (April 2005): 260-287. See also, Alexander Hicks, “Comment on Somers and Block, Free-Market and Religious Fundamentalists versus Poor Relief,” American Sociological Review (71)3, (June 2006): 503-510; Margaret R. Somers and Fred Block, “Reply to Hicks: Poverty and Piety,” American Sociological Review (71)3, (June 2006): 511-513.

Max Weber. [1930] 1999. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, translated by Talcot Parsons. New York: Routledge. See also, Chip Berlet, "Calvinism, Capitalism, Conversion, and Incarceration,” The Public Eye, Political Research Associates (18)3, (Winter 2004), http://www.publiceye.org/magazine/v18n3/berlet_calvinism.html.

See Also:

God, Calvin, and Social Welfare: A Series

Fundamentalists Embrace Darwin!

The Christian Right, Calvinism, and Free Market Ideology


Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates

The Public Eye: Website of Political Research Associates
Chip's Blog




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The whole concept of a "free market" needs to have the light of day to shine upon it, as what we have come to call a "free market" is actually a rigged system that benefits the anti-regulatory crowd. I guess that makes it as ethereal as any deity.

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I like to say that the "invisible hand" of the "Free Market" is palpable to the impoverished who feel it when it slaps them in the face.

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WWW Talk To Action


Cognitive Dissonance & Dominionism Denial
There is new research on why people are averse to hearing or learning about the views of ideological opponents. Based on evaluation of five......
By Frederick Clarkson (325 comments)
Will the Air Force Do Anything To Rein In Its Dynamic Duo of Gay-Bashing, Misogynistic Bloggers?
"I always get nervous when I see female pastors/chaplains. Here is why everyone should as well: "First, women are not called to be pastors,......
By Chris Rodda (119 comments)
The Legacy of Big Oil
The media is ablaze with the upcoming publication of David Grann's book, Killers of the Flower Moon. The shocking non fiction account of the......
By wilkyjr (73 comments)
Gimme That Old Time Dominionism Denial
Over the years, I have written a great deal here and in other venues about the explicitly theocratic movement called dominionism -- which has......
By Frederick Clarkson (72 comments)
History Advisor to Members of Congress Completely Twists Jefferson's Words to Support Muslim Ban
Pseudo-historian David Barton, best known for his misquoting of our country's founders to promote the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation,......
By Chris Rodda (72 comments)
"Christian Fighter Pilot" Calls First Lesbian Air Force Academy Commandant a Liar
In a new post on his "Christian Fighter Pilot" blog titled "BGen Kristin Goodwin and the USAFA Honor Code," Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan......
By Chris Rodda (109 comments)
Catholic Right Leader Unapologetic about Call for 'Death to Liberal Professors' -- UPDATED
Today, Donald Trump appointed C-FAM Executive Vice President Lisa Correnti to the US Delegation To UN Commission On Status Of Women. (C-FAM is a......
By Frederick Clarkson (88 comments)
Controlling Information
     Yesterday I listened to Russ Limbaugh.  Rush advised listeners it would be best that they not listen to CNN,MSNBC, ABC, CBS and......
By wilkyjr (66 comments)
Is Bannon Fifth-Columning the Pope?
In December 2016 I wrote about how White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who likes to flash his Catholic credentials when it comes to......
By Frank Cocozzelli (207 comments)
Ross Douthat's Hackery on the Seemingly Incongruous Alliance of Bannon & Burke
Conservative Catholic writer Ross Douthat has dissembled again. This time, in a February 15, 2017 New York Times op-ed titled The Trump Era's Catholic......
By Frank Cocozzelli (48 comments)
`So-Called Patriots' Attack The Rule Of Law
Every so often, right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan lurches out of the far-right fever swamp where he has resided for the past 50 years to......
By Rob Boston (68 comments)
Bad Faith from Focus on the Family
Here is one from the archives, Feb 12, 2011, that serves as a reminder of how deeply disingenuous people can be. Appeals to seek......
By Frederick Clarkson (151 comments)
The Legacy of George Wallace
"One need not accept any of those views to agree that they had appealed to real concerns of real people, not to mindless, unreasoning......
By wilkyjr (33 comments)
Betsy DeVos's Mudsill View of Public Education
My Talk to Action colleague Rachel Tabachnick has been doing yeoman's work in explaining Betsy DeVos's long-term strategy for decimating universal public education. If......
By Frank Cocozzelli (41 comments)
Prince and DeVos Families at Intersection of Radical Free Market Privatizers and Religious Right
This post from 2011 surfaces important information about President-Elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. -- FC Erik Prince, Brother of Betsy......
By Rachel Tabachnick (152 comments)

Respect for Others? or Political Correctness?
The term "political correctness" as used by Conservatives and Republicans has often puzzled me: what exactly do they mean by it? After reading Chip Berlin's piece here-- http://www.talk2action.org/story/2016/7/21/04356/9417 I thought about what he explained......
MTOLincoln (172 comments)
Fear
What I'm feeling now is fear.  I swear that it seems my nightmares are coming true with this new "president".  I'm also frustrated because so many people are not connecting all the dots! I've......
ArchaeoBob (71 comments)
"America - love it or LEAVE!"
I've been hearing that and similar sentiments fairly frequently in the last few days - far FAR more often than ever before.  Hearing about "consequences for burning the flag (actions) from Trump is chilling!......
ArchaeoBob (99 comments)
"Faked!" Meme
Keep your eyes and ears open for a possible move to try to discredit the people openly opposing Trump and the bigots, especially people who have experienced terrorism from the "Right"  (Christian Terrorism is......
ArchaeoBob (101 comments)
More aggressive proselytizing
My wife told me today of an experience she had this last week, where she was proselytized by a McDonald's employee while in the store. ......
ArchaeoBob (115 comments)
See if you recognize names on this list
This comes from the local newspaper, which was conservative before and took a hard right turn after it was sold. Hint: Sarah Palin's name is on it!  (It's also connected to Trump.) ......
ArchaeoBob (107 comments)
Unions: A Labor Day Discussion
This is a revision of an article which I posted on my personal board and also on Dailykos. I had an interesting discussion on a discussion board concerning Unions. I tried to piece it......
Xulon (120 comments)
Extremely obnoxious protesters at WitchsFest NYC: connected to NAR?
In July of this year, some extremely loud, obnoxious Christian-identified protesters showed up at WitchsFest, an annual Pagan street fair here in NYC.  Here's an account of the protest by Pagan writer Heather Greene......
Diane Vera (76 comments)
Capitalism and the Attack on the Imago Dei
I joined this site today, having been linked here by Crooksandliars' Blog Roundup. I thought I'd put up something I put up previously on my Wordpress blog and also at the DailyKos. As will......
Xulon (97 comments)
History of attitudes towards poverty and the churches.
Jesus is said to have stated that "The Poor will always be with you" and some Christians have used that to refuse to try to help the poor, because "they will always be with......
ArchaeoBob (88 comments)
Alternate economy medical treatment
Dogemperor wrote several times about the alternate economy structure that dominionists have built.  Well, it's actually made the news.  Pretty good article, although it doesn't get into how bad people could be (have been)......
ArchaeoBob (60 comments)
Evidence violence is more common than believed
Think I've been making things up about experiencing Christian Terrorism or exaggerating, or that it was an isolated incident?  I suggest you read this article (linked below in body), which is about our great......
ArchaeoBob (112 comments)
Central Florida Sheriff Preached Sermon in Uniform
If anyone has been following the craziness in Polk County Florida, they know that some really strange and troubling things have happened here.  We've had multiple separation of church and state lawsuits going at......
ArchaeoBob (67 comments)
Demon Mammon?
An anthropologist from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the god of this world is Mammon. (Or, rather, The Market, as depicted by John McMurtry in his book The Cancer Stage of......
daerie (84 comments)
Anti-Sharia Fever in Texas: This is How It Starts
The mayor of a mid-size Texan city has emerged in recent months as the newest face of Islamophobia. Aligning herself with extremists hostile to Islam, Mayor Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Texas has helped......
JSanford (81 comments)

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