Markets as Facts


Following up on my recent entry Either-Or, Perry Metzger emailed me to question the truth of my saying that I have no political belief system or ideology. Au contraire, he said: I do have a political ideology and it is called anarchism.

Perhaps I did not make myself clear. Specifically, I think my assertion that I lack a political belief system turned on a subtlety about the meaning of the word "belief". On this topic, consider these wise words from Don Boudreaux's recent post on Facts vs. Faith:

A belief that is founded upon a compelling theory and that is consistently supported by plenty of empirical evidence is not properly described as "faith." As I understand the meaning of the word "faith" -- especially when this word is used in an attempt to discredit a proposition -- it means belief in something for no rational reason and without sufficient supporting empirical evidence. Indeed, truly to have faith in something requires that you believe in that something even if it is illogical and if the empirical evidence is stacked against it.

I see much evidence that most people's political ideas are driven by nothing more than emotivism, and that they are ideological; by which I mean that they are not a matter of facts and evidence, but of faith and doctrine (ask your typical "liberal" or "conservative" what evidence would lead to a change regarding his or her political beliefs, and you will find the answer instructive). Thus the attachment of that "-ism" suffix.

By contrast, we do not attach the "-ism" suffix to the recognition of facts. No one describes themselves as a "heliocentrist" -- they simply recognize the fact that the earth revolves around the sun. To describe one person as a heliocentrist and another as a geocentrist would be to put observable facts and unprovable dogmas on an equal footing, and that's just wrong.

At the age of nine, I stopped believing in the existence of gods, because there seemed to be no evidence for the kind of supernatural power asserted by those around me. I don't see my lack of religious belief as a matter of ideology, which is why I prefer the term "non-believer" to the term "atheist" (one who actively disputes the existence of gods, often in a militant fashion) or "agnostic" (one who doesn't think there is enough evidence one way or another to determine if gods exist).

Now, let's look at markets. To my mind, there is an abundance of evidence that markets are a natural fact of voluntary human interaction. Markets happen in a way quite different from the way that, say, Congress happens. Humans beings are trading animals, and market phenomena emerge in an organic manner. So "putting one's faith in markets" is not a matter of faith at all: it is simply a matter of recognizing that voluntary human interactions lead to peaceful societal orders.

Thus I don't see my lack of belief in government force as a matter of ideology, dogma, doctrine, or faith; and I'd certainly prefer a term that didn't end in "-ism" to describe that lack of belief.

Let me add that I don't think a lack of religious belief necessitates a lack of spirituality; in fact, I think I'm a fairly spiritual person in my own way. Nor do I think a lack of belief in government force necessitates a lack of concern for one's fellow man; in fact, I think working for a fully voluntary society is the truly progressive approach to human interaction.

Peter Saint-Andre > Journal