15 December 2014

Thoughts Abourt Religion, the Market, and Contracts

To my thinking, two of today's best scholars about the relationship of law, religion, and the market are Val Ricks and Nate Oman. You can read two earlier posts about Rick's work here and here and Oman's here and here. In this post I want to direct attention to two just-published pieces by Oman: Doux Commerce in the City of God: Trade and the Mormon Ideal of Zion (download here) and Need for a Law of Church and Market (download here).

As the title of Oman's first article suggests, he is a Later-day Saint (Mormon), as is Ricks. Perhaps I should re-read Wallace Stegner's The Gathering of Zion because, apart from the obvious, my knowledge of early Mormon society and economics is quite hazy. Thus, until reading Doux Commerce, I had not known that the early Mormons had sought to establish a self-sufficient and egalitarian economic community referred to as Zion. Like other ante-bellum nineteenth century sects, the efforts of the Later-day Saints ultimately came to naught. Some current Mormon scholars have attempted to retrieve the early concept of Zion in their critique of contemporary consumer capitalism. Oman argues that, notwithstanding the enervating effects of modern economic life, trade and commerce are compatible with those nineteenth century ideals.
Trade requires trust. Exchange over time requires investment in a transaction in the expectation of future performance by one’s counterparty. The vulnerability inherent in commercial relationships is part of what has made it difficult to generate widespread and healthy markets in human history.
Rather than serving as a mark of godlessness, commerce demonstrates the existence of trust between parties who otherwise could advance neither their own or each other's interests. Suffice to say that Oman's article goes into great depth about the teachings of the Mormon scriptures, early practices (including anti-market and anti-"gentile" sermons) as well a addressing the insights of modern socio-economics and thinkers as diverse as Hayek and Polonyi. I highly recommend this article.

Need for a Law of Church and Market addresses a related topic without the distinctives of LDS history and practices. For this piece I'll let Oman's abstract serve as my commentary:
This essay uses Helfand and Richman’s article “The Challenge of Co-Religionist Commerce” to raise the question of the law of church and market. I argue that the question of religion’s proper relationship to the market is more than simply another aspect of church-state debates. Rather, it is a topic deserving explicit reflection in its own right. Courts and legislators have been creating a law of church and market without thinking about it when they resolve questions religious commerce poses by applying legal theories developed without any thought for the proper relationship between church and market. I also examine one of the few areas in our law where we do explicitly try to structure the relationship between commerce and religion: anti-discrimination laws. I argue that the assumptions about the proper role of religion in the market on which these laws are predicated are actually quite different than the ultimately contractual regime that Helfand and Richman assume. While anti-discrimination laws do not directly implicate the doctrinal issues flagged in their article, the theoretical gap between their approach and anti-discrimination law illustrates the need for greater attention to the law of church and market.

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