Joshua Hall on Adam Smith, Religious Competition, and the Simpsons
Date: June 19th, 2016

What did Adam Smith have to say on the effects of religious pluralism in  nation?  Dr. Joshua Hall, an associate professor of economics at West Virginia University and director of the Center for Free Enterprise, answers this question based upon a research project he conducted with Profs. Peter Boettke (George Mason) and Kathleen Sheehan (Creighton).  In short, Prof. Hall and his colleagues argue that religious pluralism is correlated with less religious regulation and that there is reason to suspect that having religious competition promotes religious freedom.  We begin with a discussion of Adam Smith’s insights about religious monopoly and religious competition contained within Book V of his classic The Wealth of Nations.  (Our discussion also mentions Smith’s other major work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments.)  In that section of Wealth of Nations, Smith notes that a religious monopoly will get lazy and its clergy will “repose themselves on their benefices,” not to mention grow indolent.  Upstart sects will challenge flaccid religious institutions and the monopoly clergy will try to get the magistrate (government) to crack down on the newcomers.  In the event that the established church cannot convince the king to do this, there will be a growing degree of toleration amongst competing sects (although sometimes filled with conflict) and that this will be reflected in legislation that allows all (or most) religions to “live and let live.”  Josh discusses how his team gathered data to test this assertion using measures from The Association of Religious Data Archives (ARDA).  They found a very strong correlation between religious pluralism and religious freedom.  Tony asks whether there is some causal endogeneity occurring here, and Josh does note that lower levels of regulation can promote higher levels of religious diversity.  We have an interesting discussion on how different methodologies — quantitative and qualitative — complement one another in teasing out this relationship, and Tony shamelessly champions his own work.  We finish the podcast with a tangential discussion on the economics of The Simpsons, as Prof. Hall recently edited a volume dedicated to that topic.  We chat about why it is important to be innovative in teaching a potentially dry topic, and Josh shares a few insights from Homer Economics: The Economics of the Simpsons.  Recorded: June 14, 2016.



Prof. Joshua Hall’s bio at West Virginia University and his personal website.

Was Adam Smith Right about Religious Competition?” by Peter Boettke, Joshua Hall, and Kathleen Sheehan.

Homer Economicus: The Economics of the Simpsons, edited by Joshua Hall.

The Political Origins of Religious Liberty, shamelessly plugged by its author Anthony Gill.


Bob Subrick on Religion and Adam Smith, F.A. Hayek, and Vernon Smith.

Kyle Swan on Christianity and (Classical) Liberalism.

Nathanael Snow on the Evangelical Coalition and Public Choice.

Russ Roberts & Tony Gill on Religion and Religious Liberty.

Larry Iannaccone on Sacrifice and Stigma.

Larry Witham on the Economics of Religion.

Jason Jewell on Why Christians Should Read the Great Books.

Chris Beneke on Religion, Markets, and the Founding Era.

Anthony Gill on the Political Origins of Religious Liberty (another shameless plug).

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