Capitalism’s Roots May Lie in Religion. And That’s Not a Bad Thing

In his book Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Benjamin M. Friedman demonstrates the influence of theology on the origins and development of modern economic thought, and most importantly on the ideas of Adam Smith. Tal Fortgang finds much to learn “from this richly detailed work of intellectual history,” but also notes some strange gaps, and, more importantly, faulty presuppositions:

Friedman’s premise, the unstated assumption that gives his findings their supposed punch, is that it is somehow surprising that theology and economics should have ever been so intertwined. . . . Having found traces of anti-predestinarian theology in Smith’s work, Friedman proceeds as if Smith’s defense of capitalism should now appear more provincial, something like a byproduct of an unlikely religious milieu that stuck around by historical accident. . . . If this is so, then American free-market mythology has been exposed as an article of faith masquerading as a reasonable political view.

But economic arguments are always bound up in religious arguments, . . . because how we conduct our human affairs always depends on how we view humanity and human nature—a question that theology and religion have always sought to illuminate. By no means is such reflection limited to the free-market right. When activists today demand “economic justice” or redistribution, they are making a claim about what economic arrangements provide a standard of living due to individuals by their nature.

In his haste to explain the endurance of capitalist superstition, Friedman thus overlooks the problem posed by Smith’s continued resonance: maybe free-market ideology endures because the system it encourages—one of “capitalist acts between consenting adults,” as Robert Nozick put it, where free people may pursue happiness as they see fit—is precisely what centuries of immigrants came to America for. Or maybe market economies endure because they achieve the most progress we can hope to gain in a fallen world, by producing historically unimaginable living standards for the average worker.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Adam Smith, Capitalism, Religion

Israel’s Friendship with Iraqi Kurds, and Why Iran Opposes It

In May 2022, the Iraqi parliament passed a law “criminalizing normalization and establishment of relations with the Zionist entity,” banning even public discussion of ending the country’s 76-year state of war with Israel. The bill was a response to a conference, held a few months prior, addressing just that subject. Although the gathering attracted members of various religious and ethnic groups, it is no coincidence, writes Suzan Quitaz, that it took place in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan:

Himdad Mustafa, an independent researcher based in Erbil, to whom the law would be applied, noted: “When 300 people gathered in Erbil calling for peace and normalization with Israel, the Iraqi government immediately passed a law criminalizing ties with Israel and Israelis. The law is clearly aimed at Kurds.” . . . Qais al-Khazali, secretary-general of Asaib Ahl al-Haq (Coordination Framework), a powerful Iranian-backed Shiite militia, slammed the conference as “disgraceful.”

Himdad explains that the criminalization of Israeli-Kurdish ties is primarily driven by “Kurd-phobia,” and that Kurd-hatred and anti-Semitism go hand-in-hand.

One reason for that is the long history of cooperation Israel and the Kurds of Iraq; another is the conflict between the Kurdish local government and the Iran-backed militias who increasingly control the rest of the country. Quitaz elaborates:

Israel also maintains economic ties with Kurdistan, purchasing Kurdish oil despite objections from Iraq’s central government in Baghdad. A report in the Financial Times discusses investments by many Israeli companies in energy, development sectors, and communications projects in Iraqi Kurdistan, in addition to providing security training and purchasing oil. Moreover, in a poll conducted in 2009 in Iraqi Kurdistan, 71 percent of Kurds supported normalization with Israel. The results are unsurprising since, historically, Israel has had cordial ties with the Kurds in a generally hostile region where Jews and Kurds have fought against the odds with the same Arab enemy in their struggles for a homeland.

The Iranian regime, through its proxies in the Iraqi government, is the most significant source of Kurd-phobia in Iraq and the driving factor fueling tensions. In addition to their explicit threat to Israel, Iranian officials frequently threaten the Kurdish region, and repeatedly accuse the Kurds of working with Israel.

Read more at Jersualem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Iran, Iraq, Israel-Arab relations, Kurds