See, We Can Study Religion Too

29 March 2007 at 11:18 am 1 comment

| Peter Klein |

Dan Hammond shows how economists approach religion with this cheeky  summary of Ekelund, Hébert, and Tollison’s Marketplace of Christianity (MIT, 2006).

The Roman Catholic Church had an enviable monopoly for centuries, so powerful that it was able to engage in first degree price discrimination. Like all monopolists, though, it struggled with technical inefficiency and potential entry. The former manifested itself in excess capital investment in beautiful cathedrals and paintings. To forestall entry it practiced usual monopolistic techniques such as limit pricing, but also tortured and killed competitors. By the end of the fifteenth century the Vatican’s pursuit of ever larger monopoly rents against the background of technological progress (the printing press) set the stage for successful entry by an entrepreneurial monk named Martin Luther. Once Luther’s firm got a foothold, all hell broke loose. Actually, it was not all hell; it was all heaven. For as every student of economics learns, when monopoly gives way to competition consumer surplus expands. There were direct gains for consumers as the price fell from the breakup of the Catholic monopoly and, in addition, the entrants lowered real production costs.

The latter welfare gains warrant explanation. What happened is that the entry of Protestant firms reduced the real cost of itch relief by doing away with ornate churches, daily masses, pilgrimages, sacraments, and middlemen confessors. This is a classic case of efficiency gains from entrepreneurial innovation, not unlike the more recent case of Wal-Mart.

And you wonder why people worry about economic imperialism?

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Cultural Conservatism, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science. Tags: .

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