Reflexivity and the Gospel: A Conversation
A few weeks ago I received an email from Mike Todd (a friend made during my time at Regent College) who was wondering what I thought about an article by Hungarian financial speculator George Soros. Now those who know anything whatsoever about me will undoubtedly consider this a somewhat strange request. What on earth could I possibly have to say about an article on market theory? And you would not be alone in your curiosity—the request caught me off guard as well. To say that economic theory is not a body of knowledge with which I am well-acquainted or competent to discuss would be an exercise in spectacular understatement.
Nonetheless, I was intrigued. Mike is a thinker (and a person) that I have come to respect tremendously over the last few years. He asks unsettling questions and makes concrete decisions in his life which bear witness to his belief that the kingdom of God really does entail a new way of living, loving, believing, and acting in the world. He is a strong advocate for social justice and a harsh critic of institutional Christianity. Above all, Mike is convinced that following Jesus ought to be a force for revolutionary change in this world not just the world to come.
(Plus he’s just a flat-out interesting guy with an interesting story—see here for the synopsis, or get the whole story on the side-bar on the same page.)
And Mike knows enough about me not to send me an article like this without having some non-economic reason lurking in the background. In this case, he was explicit: he wanted to know if I saw any parallels between this Soros’s theory and the kingdom of God. This still seemed a rather formidable question, but one which I was, ostensibly, more qualified to tackle. So I began to get acquainted with George Soros…
Mike and I had been going back and forth a bit on what we saw in Soros’s article when he suggested that we try to turn this into a bit of a broader forum, in case others either wanted to just “listen in” or contribute directly to the discussion. For those who can’t (or don’t want to) read the Soros piece, here’s my grossly inadequate and cursory summary of what I see him saying in his theory of reflexivity (Mike can correct me if I’m wrong):
- The biases and preferences of human beings fundamentally shape the nature and behaviour of the market economy.
- The economy is not some fixed reality with its own logic to which we simply adapt; rather, our values, fears, biases, desires and hopes play a role in how the market behaves.
- This leads to what Soros calls a state of “dynamic disequilibrium” where the market is characterized by periods of volatility and unpredictability.
So, back to Mike’s question: how (if at all) does the theory of reflexivity reflect/relate to the gospel? As a way to kick off this conversation, I though I would post part of my first reply to Mike’s email. There are two other parts of this email which I will post in subsequent entries (unless we get to them sooner). Mike may also do a few “guest-posts” in response—we’ll see how the conversation unfolds.
I must begin by saying that the vast majority of the “financial-ese” in the article went right over my head. I’m a complete dunce when it comes to the markets—my eyes tend to glaze over and a fog of confusion sets in after about a paragraph of finance language. Nonetheless…
I think that Soros’ theory of reflexivity—to the extent that I understand it—has definite gospel parallels. The idea that human beings do not behave according to universal laws (in finance or in other domains—ethics, belief, for example) and that their biases and preferences tend to help shape the future rather than simply respond to various stimuli obviously fits with the reality the kingdom of God and its advance or retreat. Somehow, it seems that our ability/willingness to live out the kingdom (on earth as it is in heaven)—to allow our present behaviour to be shaped by what we believe will one day be real and permanent—has a real effect on the shape of that future.
I don’t think that this means that we necessarily force God’s hand or compel him to act (although I don’t rule this out) or change the character of what the new creation will look like, but I do think that God’s future will be profoundly impacted by what has preceded it. Certainly our actions as individuals, communities, nations, etc will have a lot to say about how the new creation is experienced. Will it arrive primarily as consummation or corrective? Of course there will be elements of both no matter what, but perhaps how we live in the present will affect which of the two is more prominent.
What do you think?