The Comparative Endurance and Efficiency of Religion: A Public Choice Approach
24 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2019
Date Written: June 6, 2019
Religion long has been the neglected child of the social sciences thanks to the stranglehold secularization theory has had on the field. Despite ignoring religious institutions as major actors, the fact remains that all the world's largest faith traditions -- Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam -- have outlasted every single secular institution, government, or dynasty. The Catholic Church holds the record for the longest-surviving formal hierarchy in human history and boasts over one billion members. This paper examines why the major faith traditions have been more enduring than secular institutions, states, and social movements. Using a public choice framework, and spring-boarding the argument from the thought of James Buchanan, this paper argues that religious institutions tend to be more enduring than their secular counterparts for three reasons. First, religious institutions provide valuable public goods, namely the ability to coordinate human behavior around a set of cultural expectations that reduce uncertainty and promote transactions. Second, federalist forms of organization within these institutions helps to leverage local information and supports an ongoing renewal of a "social contract." Finally, ultimate authority for judgement regarding adherence to rules of social order exists outside the temporal whims of individuals who write and execute the laws of the religious society. In other words, "God" serves as Buchanan's ideal neutral arbitrator in his contract theory of government. A case is also made that this form of institutional design is efficient for society, including non-believers in the particular faith.
Keywords: religion, Catholic Church, public choice, governance, federalism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism
JEL Classification: Z12, N00, N40, H41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation