The Invisible Hand, the Invisible Foot

Posted by on December 1, 2007 in American Babylon, Ethics, Protestantism | 2 comments

In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905), Max Weber drew a line connecting Calvinism and Capitalism, arguing that free-market ideology was much more likely to thrive in Protestant countries than in Roman Catholic ones.

I find it interesting that according to what has been called “The Protestant Work Ethic,” the more financially successful a person is, the more we are supposed to believe that God has blessed him. “Look at how well-off Bill is! God must be blessing his business, for he sure seems to be doing something right.”

Is it a mere coincidence that the two phenomena that share the metaphor of “The Invisible Hand” are Divine Providence and the Free Market?

Most Christians will acknowledge that God’s Providence is outside the bounds of human control. Just as “the Spirit blows where he wishes,” so “the Lord will have his way among the inhabitants of earth, and none can stay his hand or ask, ‘What doest thou?'”

But is the Market equally “free”? Does it mysteriously bless whom it will, while passing by others with a sovereign aloofness and nonchalance?

I would question my Reformed Libertarian readers whether the giving of massive campaign contributions on the part of huge corporations in return for the ability to influence labor laws, thereby enabling companies to exploit workers, is an example of “free market principles,” or whether it is the abuse of power for profit.

Further, I would question why a society that provides aid for the poor is labeled “a nanny state” while a culture that, through tax breaks and economic subsidies, allows its CEOs to make 400 times what their average workers earn is called a “democracy.”

Could it be that the real question is not whether there should be welfare, but rather, who should get it?

Could it be that while the wealthy enjoy the invisible hand of the market, the poor feel nothing but its invisible foot?


  1. Free market means the market is free to do what it wants, not that we are free to do what we want. In terms of price theory, it means we are all 'price takers' and none of us are 'price makers.'

    Of course the sophistic derivations in intro econ texts sometimes demonstrate that market power (monopoly, monopsony etc.) is either theoretically impossible, or theoretically impossible outside the public sector, depending on what they're trying to prove.

  2. I found this in a paid link-ad at ClustrMaps, of all places. Hooda thunkit?

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