Moral Monopolies of Church and State

Benito Arruñada has a fascinating post at Organizations and Markets:

Moral codes can be produced and enforced through markets or through organizations. In particular, Catholic theology can be interpreted as a paradigm of the organizational production of morality. In contrast, the dominant moral codes are now produced in something resembling more a market.

The organizational character of Catholicism comes from its centralized production and enforcement of the moral code by theologians and priests and the mediation role played by the Church between God and believers. (…)

Instead of centralized decisions by popes, councils, and theologians, the moral code is now written by millions of human decentralized interactions of all sorts. Now that there are thousands of gods, including the environment, mediation has also been transformed or disappeared. These market features make for lesser specialization. Most morality producers also play many other functions, from teaching to advertising.

Thinking about the production of moral norms in these terms certainly seems like a useful way to approach the problem, but I’m not so sure production is really so decentralized today.

My historical knowledge is weak, but I doubt that the moral authority of the Church was anywhere near complete in even the most ardently Catholic societies. The Church claimed a monopoly on morality, and many people went along with it to a greater or lesser degree. This seems pretty close to what government does today. The state doesn’t simply create laws aimed at resolving the inevitable conflicts among people, but attempts to influence public opinion through various types of propaganda – telling people not to smoke or get drunk and dance, for example.

Of course, government is the emergent (and I would say dysfunctional) product of the decentralized interaction of many individuals, rather than a unitary decision-making entity. I would suggest, though, that this is also true of the Catholic Church. The church claims to derive its authority from God, but the economics of religion teaches us that churches do not survive unless they meet the needs of practitioners. The Catholic Church would not have become so dominant in so many places if it weren’t attuned to the preferences of many people, even if its later market power increased the slack available to the clergy.

Church and state both claim a monopoly over legitimate morality, and have often done so quite successfully. Catholics in Ireland and Italy will almost universally pay lip-service the religious diktat against birth control, for example, and it will affect their behaviour somewhat. The same seems to be true of contemporary government diktats against smoking or getting drunk. The moral scope of the government in Western democracies is probably less than that of the Catholic Church at various times and places, but that scope is endogenous and increasing.

2 Responses

  1. […] Taylor doubts in his reaction to my previous post on organizations and markets in morality that: The moral authority of the […]

  2. I can’t say the ILLEGAL ALIENS are completely to blame for the shape of our economy, but they are a BIG part of the problem. The ILLEGAL ALIENS send BILLIONS upon BILLIONS out of this Country every year, money we will NEVER see again. Does this help our economy?

    How about the BILLIONS the American taxpayers fork out for the ILLEGAL ALIEN BABIES, the schooling of them, the medical care and the list goes on, and on, and on.

    How about the MILLIONS upon MILLIONS paid to jail ILLEGAL ALIENS for the crimes, then the cost to deport them. Does this help our economy?

    Then you have these activist groups, the Catholic Church and the ACLU that want AMNESTY for these ILLEGAL ALIENS. It would be absolute suicide for this Country if AMNESTY were granted to the 20 million or so ILLEGAL ALIENS. We have more and more people out of work everyday and they want to add another 20 million to this Country? I say, “NO”!

    If AMNESTY were ever granted to these 20 million ILLEGAL ALIENS, you can bet big money that 3 years from now, there would be ANOTHER 3-5 million ILLEGAL ALIENS demonstrating on our soil for AMNESTY.

    An end MUST come to this illegal immigration. The perfect tool we have so far is E-Verify. It MUST be used by ALL businesses and Government Social Services. EVERY employee must be checked! If they are illegal, they are to be dismissed!

    I believe it is time for all 50 States to pass a State law, like Arizona, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina and a few others. It is time for these ILLEGAL ALIENS to go back to their home Country and get out of this Country. The problems they are causing will not go away until the ILLEGAL ALIENS are out of this Country. I think that is plain to see.

    It’s time for ZERO TOLERENCE with these ILLEGAL ALIENS. It’s time for them to get back to their own country where they belong. If they truly want to be part of America, let them apply and wait their turn like the millions of others who want to come to America LEGALLY. They will then be welcomed with open arms.

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