Today I heard a novel explanation why Chinese real estate prices “will never fall”. Because, so the gentleman explained, “prior to 2006, the government ran huge deficits. Since then, thanks to land sales and real estate taxes, these deficits have been completely eliminated.” His conclusion: the government would never let those evil times come again.
“Never” is a long time. Those are certainly impressive powers implicitly ascribed to a government from which few Chinese actually expect much tangible support in their daily lives.
Like most of his fellow world citizens, this gentleman of course had no concept of the patterns and principles of economics, other than perhaps some very basic precepts left to him by innate common sense. Yet even those were clearly cast aside in his Faith in the State’s abilities to forge a reality to its own liking.
The 20th Century was the century of the State. As the century progressed and the scope of governments increased to unprecendented levels across the world, the State gradually replaced traditional religions as the focal point of Faith. The State became both the default solver of intractable problems and the default focus of resentment for unsolved ones – at least in the fuzzy world of unreflected expectations.
Not only have today’s States taken many of the trappings of religion, but far more importantly the peoples BELIEVED. And that despite all of the manifest and repeated failures on the part of States to actually MEET the high expectations. Yet that itself seems to be a defining characteristic of a dominant faith: its ability to maintain its adherents in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
In Europe and its colonies, I think one could argue that this “Statism” took over and consumed the Religion of Science which under the influence of the steam engine and Darwinism had risen to cultural dominance in the 19th Century.
“Science” in its turn had displaced an earlier Faith in Reason, just as Reason has previously come to supersede Protestantism, understood not in the sense of a particular church, but rather in the sense of the Bible-centric orientation which so clearly did NOT characterize pre-Gutenberg Catholicism.
The Faith of Protestantism, in its turn, was proceeded by the Faith of Medieval Catholicism, a faith which Protestantism gutted in an all-too familiar way – by destroying its credibility. As a recent Daily Bell editorial pointed out, Gutenberg’s invention had a devastating effect on the Catholicism of its age – it opened up the eyes of broad swaths of the European intelligentsia. People realized they had been taken for a ride by the priests, abbots and bishops: the “religion” which they had been selling was NOT in fact based on the precepts of the Bible. Rather, it was based on fraud, greed and deception.
For the most part, each new Faith rose to prominence either by discrediting its predecessor, or by consuming it. Is the Religion of Statism now facing a similar demise, once again for similar reasons? Is the Internet not now threatening to reveal the ultimately fraudulent nature of the State to ever broadening circles of peoples? And if so, what new Faith is on offer to rise in its place?