*The Enchantments of Mammon*

The author is Eugene McCarraher, and the subtitle of this Belknap Press book is How Capitalism Became the Religion of Modernity.  Here is one excerpt:

The world does not need to be re-enchanted, because it was never disenchanted in the first place.  Attending primarily to the history of the United States, I hope to demonstrate that capitalism has been, as Benjamin perceived, a religion of modernity, one that addresses the same hopes and anxieties formerly entrusted to traditional religion.  But this does not mean only that capitalism has been and continues to be “beguiling” or “fetishized,” and that rigorous analysis will expose the phantoms as the projections they really are.  These enchantments draw their power, not simply from our capacity for delusion., but from our deepest and truest desires — desires that are consonant and tragically out of touch with the dearest freshness of the universe.  The world can never be disenchanted, not because our emotional or political or cultural needs compel us to find enchantments — though they do — but because the world itself, as Hopkins realized, is charged with the grandeur of God…

However significant theology is for this book, I have relied on a sizable body of historical literature on the symbolic universe of capitalism.  Much of this work suggests that capitalist cultural authority cannot be fully understood without regard to the psychic, moral, and spiritual longings inscribed in the imagery of business culture.

I remain wedded to the traditional Weberian view that capitalism represents a discrete break away from such modes of thought, and I believe this perspective supported by the work of Joe Henrich and co-authors on WEIRD.  Nonetheless, this is a book of note, and it has a clearly stated thesis on matters of direct relevance to what is explored on Marginal Revolution.  Due out in November, pre-order at the link above.


We will eventually acknowledge the truth, capitalism is about keep the number of people in the queue as short as possible.

Back to the abstract tree. When Walmart manages the checkout queues, both clerks and customers, then congestion is stable and flow equations are accurate, pricing then works.

The checkout counter is the tree trunk, the shelves and stocking process are the hologram, that is where pricing happens, in the hologram. And that pricing happens that happens after the tree trunk is round. Homo economicas has one and only one motive, avoid long lines. Capitalism is about keeping the line short, did I say that? All of finance, retail, logistics can all re reformulated as a multi step queue stabilization process in which congestion must be optimum enough to allow enough commutative property in the tree trunk to get the hologram. The entire world, everything that exists follows that model.

Someone talking sense around here

Capitalism is like a law of nature it just is. It isn't a political system or good or bad it is natural and inevitable. What people really mean when they discuss capitalism or compare it with socialism is "freedom", i.e. the freedom to use capitalism. Make no mistake in socialist/communist countries capitalism is still practiced but it is only practiced legally by the government. The serfs and hoi polloi can't legally practice capitalism but the elite and the government does.

There's no country on Earth that doesn't allow any private transactions, including North Korea. And thank God for that.

It is useful to differentiate between capitalism and materialism.

The former is an external system that seems to spread the wealth distribution more optimally than some other alternatives.

The latter is internal and an object of idolatry in many.

A third problem is the conflation of individuals and ideas that really seems to drive much lousy analysis these days.

That's an impressive deluge of abject nonsense for only two short paragraphs.

Alas, this pile of nonsense is not self-recommending ...

Psychologists get called out, shamed, and exiled for the BS they publish but Poly. sci./econ. nerds can publish such nonsense and still get tenure.
Where's the justice!?

The author of the above, Eugene McCarraher, is not an economist. He's a professor of humanities and history.

Psychologists get called out, shamed, and exiled for the BS they publish but humanities and history nerds can publish such nonsense and still get tenure.
Where's the justice!?

'and it has a clearly stated thesis on matters of direct relevance to what is explored on Marginal Revolution'

Love letters instead of worship?

"I remain wedded to the traditional Weberian view that capitalism represents a discrete break away from such modes of thought"

You're more positive about the contents of Weber's disenchantment thesis than I am.

Henrich's work on the WEIRD is no doubt interesting, though I'm more hesitant about considering it as support for a Weberian sort of rationalization.

It seems that the anomalous nature of the WEIRD condition remains an open question.

Are we anomalous because of a peculiar predominance of rationalization? This is also consistent with the thought that we're WEIRD rather because we're expressing a commitment to a different sort of ideal. Rationalization, of a sort, but still not quite a departure from the enchanted world.

Marcel Gauchet once wrote some interesting books on this topic. McCarraher seems to be barking up that same tree.

WEIRD is just an accident and a viewpoint of a moment. At the peak of the Spanish Empire people, merely 400 years ago out of millions (for man) or billions (for earth) every aspect of this question looked different.

The sort of people who worry about WEIRD now would probably be worrying about eternal hellfire.

According to this link, "The Enchantments of Mammon" by Dr. Eugene McCarraher was to be published in 2006(!). Better late than never I suppose.


We all want human flourishing; evidently some among us either wish the bill to be footed by others, or they don’t believe there’ll be a bill.

“And now economics is the opium of the people...”
Hemingway 'The Gambler, The Nun, and The Radio'

I think a resistance to "handouts" can be tied to that kind of quasi-religious belief .. that markets sort individuals by merit. When people express "faith" in the invisible hand, the word might not be misused.

Prosperity theology is an extreme version of a very American culture.

As opposed to subsistence agriculture?

In First Corinthians, St. Paul said "I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some." The same might be said of Paul's religion, Christianity, and of the system we call capitalism. Sometimes the two merge, as with the popular Christian movement known as the prosperity gospel, which promises capitalism's rich rewards in this life and eternal peace in the next for the faithful.

JC was pretty explicit about Mammon...

Historically, the emerging orders of capitalism and free(ish) markets have done more to elevate the poor, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and care for the sick than any conscious force in history. How is that not Christlike and Godly?

I don't think such a thing as "capitalism" exists. It is an outdated term. Instead, there exists societies that protect private property and enforce contracts more effectively than other societies. All societies in human history had property and contracts since all societies are constituted by individuals who own stuff and make deals with others. What differentiates our modern society has been exceptional in its capacity to maintain a social order that consistently enforces these basic individual rights.

Religion is a thing distinct from the degree of effectiveness in which basic individual rights are enforced in society. Among modern religions, I would include things like Marxism, Veganism, Identity Politics, and even subcultures like fans of Star Wars or superhero comics/movies.


"All socieities in human history history had property and contracts..." Really? How about USSR under Stalin or China under Mao or North Korea right now? Or maybe they are all part of alligator history.

As it is, there are parts of religion that neither capitalism nor any other economic system remotely address, notably all that life after death stuff and getting saved from hell and so on. However, there are interesting interrelationships between religion and economics systems as the existence of such things as Islamic economics and papal encyclicals addressing economic issues makes clear. Of course none of this seems to be what this author appears to be about.

As it is, the one economic system that seems to have consciously set out to replace religion was Marxist socialism, with organized religions being banned outright in some of these societies (and largely still the case in North Korea, despite some reported loosening). Bertrand Russell famously noted similarities between Marxism and Christianity.

Yahweh (God) = Dialectical Materialism
Messiah = Karl Marx
The Second Coming = The REvolution
The Saved = The Proletariat
The Church = The Communist Party
Damnation to Hell = Expropriation of the Capitalists
The Millennium = The Socialist Commonwealth.

Needless to say, I have no idea if this author has anything similar in his book regarding capitalism and traditional religion.

Yeah. Capitalism was born when men learned to count... maybe women too. Where two or three are gathered, there is a market. Why don't the socialist outlaw mathematics? California is eliminating certain words. Can't think an idea if there is no word for it. Thanks, Orwell.

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