Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Quotation Of The Day: Of Morality And Markets And Hobby Lobby Edition

I seem to agreeing with a lot of conservatives lately. From this Patrick J Deneen piece at The American Conservative:
. . . Largely ignored is the fact Hobby Lobby is a significant player in a global economy that has separated markets from morality. Even as it is a Christian-themed brand, it operates in a decisively “secular” economic world. It is almost wholly disembedded from any particular community; its model, like that of all major box stores, is to benefit from economies of scale through standardization and aggressive price-cutting, relying on cheap overseas producers and retail settings that are devoid of any particular cultural or local distinction. The Hobby Lobby near us—on Grape Road in nearby Mishawaka—is about as profane imaginable a place on earth, accessible by six lanes of concrete roads where there is a heavy concentration of large chain retailers, where it anchors a sensory-deadening row of retail store fronts that border acres of cracked and barren pavement, awash in discarded plastic bags and crumpled fast food wrappers. On the rare occasion that I enter the store, even amid the Chinese mass-produced crosses and the piped in Christian music, under the endless florescent lighting and displays carefully-managed to optimize impulse buying, I am hardly moved to a state of piety, prayer, and thanksgiving. I am, like everyone else, looking for the least chintzy item at the cheapest price.
Hobby Lobby—like every chain store of its kind—participates in an economy that is no longer “religious” or even “moral.” That is, it participates in an economy that arose based on the rejection of the subordination of markets embedded within, and subject to, social and moral structures. This “Great Transformation” was detailed and described with great acuity by Karl Polanyi in his masterful 1944 book of that title. He described a sea change of economic practice that took place especially beginning in the 19th-century, but whose theoretical groundwork had been laid already in the 17th- and 18th-centuries by thinkers like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Adam Smith. As he succinctly described this “transformation,” previous economic arrangements in which markets were “embedded” within moral and social structures, practices, and customs were replaced by ones in which markets were liberated from those contexts, and shorn of controlling moral and religious norms and ends. “Ultimately that is why the control of the economic system by the market is of overwhelming consequence to the whole organization of society: it means no less than the running of society as an adjunct to the market. Instead of economy being embedded in social relations, social relations are embedded in the economic system.” 


P&R said...

Logical leap made here.

He asserts that Hobby Lobby is a willing cog in a " economy that has separated markets from morality." This, apparently, is because it is "...almost wholly disembedded from any particular community..." But this makes two assumptions. It assumes that morality is derived from being embedded in a particular community (a claim he asserts again in the second paragraph) and it assumes that because big box stores are not local they are not embedded in just such a particular community from which one may derive morality. Neither of those assumptions is correct in my opinion. Having read his summation of Polanyi, I remain unconvinced on these points. The anthropology assumed as the base of the modern economy is not one that I assume or that the Chicago/Austrian school of economics (Hayek, Friedman, et al.) assumes.

His second leap is his assertion that aesthetic taste defines what is or is not profane. His proof that Hobby Lobby is part of this insensate, amoral global economy separated from community and moral structure is that it is located in this place that is "as profane imaginable a place on earth..." which profanity is demonstrated by its "six lanes of concrete roads," a "sensory-deadening row of retail store fronts...awash in discarded plastic bags and crumpled fast food wrappers" which, together with the merchandise displays, poor lighting, and marketing techniques, leaves him "hardly moved to a state of piety..." However much I may sympathize with his taste, locating one's business on a wide road in an architecturally uninspired building where too many people feel free to litter does not render Hobby Lobby amoral, much less immoral, or separated from community.

I might point out that, though the piped in music and chintzy Chinese-made artifacts may not be explicitly Christian, his description of a strip mall could also pass for quite a few schools in this country. Granted, a lot of conservative Christians consider them profane, but judging by the churches they build these days, it's not because they're ugly buildings on wide roads.

Kal Lis said...


Responding to this comment may not be done in as timely of a manner as I would like, but I will get to it.