Loving Cranks to Death

From the latest Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion:

[David] Hume writes that clergy (at least those of radical sects) are inherently dangerous and that if allowed to compete with one another will inspire in their adherents "the most violent abhorrence of all other sects, and continually endeavor, by some novelty, to excite the languid devotion of [their] audience." He concludes that the solution is "to bribe their indolence, by assigning stated salaries to their profession, and rendering it superfluous for them to be farther active, than merely to prevent their flock from straying in quest of new pastures". Hume, an agnostic if not an atheist, takes the position that religion is not a public good but its opposite — a public bad — and that government intervention will avert the pervasive negative externality of religious controversy, which clergy create and that threatens public safety.

My colleague Larry Iannaccone:

Looking at Figure 1, one immediately spots the exceptionally low levels of religiosity in the Scandinavian countries and, conversely, the high level of religiosity in the U.S.  As predicted by [Adam] Smith, these extremes correspond to different market structures.  A single state-run (Lutheran) church dominates the market in every Scandinavian country.  In contrast, the United States enjoys a constitutionally mandated free-for-all in which hundreds of denominations compete and none has special status.

Eliezer a year ago:

With science, I think, people assume that if the information is freely available, it must not be important.  So instead people join cults that have the sense to keep their Great Truths secret. … Sure, scientific openness helps the scientific elite.  They've already been through the initiation rituals.  But for the rest of the planet, science is kept secret a hundred times more effectively by making it freely available, than if its books were guarded in vaults and you had to walk over hot coals to get access.

A '92 health econ paper:

[We] estimate and evaluate the effects of aggregate income, institutional and socio-demographic factors on health care expenditures in the OECD countries. … Data analyzed in this study also show some evidence that public financing of health care services is associated with lower expenditures per capita.

The strongest argument for socialized medicine is the strongest argument for socialized religion, that government provision seems to reduce enthusiasm for and consumption of such things. Western Europe seems to have hit on the clever solution of loving both religion and medicine to death.  Should we consider loving other cranks to death?

Imagine bureaus of palm reading, UFOS, conspiracy theories, etc.  In a few decades they might be run by out-of-date boring bureaucrats following stacks of official protocols.  If the best devotees were distracted seeking promotions in the ossified agency, they might inspire less public enthusiasm.

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