Economics Uncut

Economics Uncut

A Complete Guide to Life, Death and Misadventure

Edited by Simon W. Bowmaker

This highly innovative and intriguing book applies principles of microeconomics to unusual settings to inspire students, teachers and scholars alike in the ‘dismal science’. Leading experts show how economics reaches into the strangest of places and throws light onto the occasionally dark side of human nature.

Chapter 9: Economics of religion

Robert J. Stonebraker

Subjects: economics and finance, cultural economics, methodology of economics


Robert J. Stonebraker Economists hold nothing too sacred to invade with supply and demand curves, not even matters of faith. Religion may not be bought and sold like fish and chips, but there are parallels. It is a differentiated commodity that is produced and consumed in a competitive marketplace. Consumers make choices about which brands of religion to consume and how much religion to consume. Some of us choose to ‘believe’, and others not. Some of us choose to be Catholic, others Baptist, others Muslim. What factors drive those choices? Is it the hand of God, or is it the hand of economics? Religion is supplied and marketed by firms called churches, or maybe synagogues or mosques. Each must choose production technologies, set prices and deal with free-riders. How are these choices made? They must compete among themselves as well as with secular firms for the time, attention and financial support of potential adherents. How do they compete and what determines which will prosper and which will not? Section 1 of this chapter considers the demand for religion and how it can be analysed in terms of such traditional economic factors as scarcity, opportunity cost, prices of related goods and capital stocks. Section 2 analyses supply-side issues with a particular emphasis on how providers of religious goods and services cope with endemic free-rider issues. Section 3 explores the problems of risk and uncertainty in religious choice and Section 4 concludes by looking at how competition and government regulation shape...

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