Friday, October 21, 2011

Book Club - God is Back #2 & #3 - Fall 2011

In Part I (Chapters 1-4) of their book, Micklethwait and Wooldrige contrast religion in the United States and Europe. They argue that the commitment by government to maintain a separation from church actually helped enhance religiosity in the United States. This claim is not intuitive for some people because it is thought that religion is in part a public good, and standard economic logic says that governments ought to provide public goods.

In Part II (Chapters 5-7), the authors look more closely at religion in the U.S. The go so far as to claim that
The American religious marketplace is almost a study in perfect competition: there are no real barriers to entry, the domestic market is big enough to support a mind-boggling variety of religious producers, and new religious entrepreneurs are always rising up to challenge incumbents. (P. 174)
Think of this quote in light of my comments about Part I of the book. Remember from class that a public good is defined as a good that is non-rivalrous and non-excludable (a club good is non-rivalrous and excludable). If religion is a public good, why is it provided in such high supply by private suppliers? How can we have such a competitive religious marketplace for a public good? Is religion a public good? If so, how might religion be different from typical public goods that we think ought to be provided by government? If not, why not?

1 comment:

  1. Founders of new religions are examples of persons aquiring religious goods under non-rivalrous and non-excludable circumstances. Religion is readily available to such folks, you can't exclude them from it, and their consumption does not interfere with my own. So it's a public good, much like fish in the sea. For the sake of argument, let's just say there's unlimited fish, and anybody can go get one. Public good, right? But the effort of fishing seems like a cost for me, so if I see a guy who's got a fish, I'll just buy one off him. Now the fish is rivalrous, and seems sort of excludable, if he won't sell. I don't want to clean it myself either, or cook it. I'm going to hire somebody to chew it for me. Is air a public good if I decide I'm inclined to pay an air-pumping service provider to do my breathing for me? Doing your own breathing is for peasants. And of course, what if there's NOT an unlimited supply of fish? What if that fisherman's got the best fish? He just told me it's the last one in all the ocean! Jeez, I don't know what a public good is anymore. I guess it's a matter of faith. I'm just going to close my eyes, step into the water, and cast my line.


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