Russ Roberts & Anthony Gill on Religion & Religious Liberty (A Simul-Podcast with EconTalk)
Date: January 6th, 2014

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In a very special “simul-podcast,” Prof. Russ Roberts, host of the weekly podcast series EconTalk, interviews Tony about the economics of religion and the origons of religious liberty.  Our conversation begins with a general observation that economists, and social scientists more broadly, have neglected the study of religion in social life.  Tony observes that this is unusual considering that the most enduring institutions in history have been religious organizations, either as formal hierarchies (e.g., the Roman Catholic Church) or less formal “movements” (e.g., Judaism, Buddhism).  We speculate as to why scholars have had this blind spot and several possibilities are advanced.

Russ then presses Tony on whether or not religious competition and freedom produces greater amounts of religiosity in society.  None other than Adam Smith is cited in response to this question.  In the Wealth of Nations (Book V), Smith notes that the clergy in England, supported by state funds, “repose themselves on their benefices” and do little to activate their congregants, whereas in Pennsylvania, where religious freedom is the order of the day, individual pastors must work hard to get their sustenance from voluntary contributions of their flock.  Not surprisingly, religion flourishes in the latter area relative to the former.  Tony brings to bear some of his own research on Latin America to show that the Catholic Church became more responsive to their parishioners once Protestants began to challenge them for societal influence in the 20th century.

Russ then directs the question to the role of government.  Tony lays out his theory of church-state bargains.  Beginning with the interests of political rulers to stay in office, maximize revenue, and spur economic growth, he builds a theory why state leaders would want to support religious leaders.  Religious leaders, who would like protection from “upstart sects” and a source of regular funding, are often willing to trade ideological and organizational support to the state in exchange for financial subsidies and restrictions on the religious freedoms of minorities.  The conversation covers some examples of this and also explores the interesting “counter-cases” of the Soviet Union and China.

We finish with a discussion of religious liberty, or why a government that tightly regulates a religious market would ever want to de-regulate.  We start by noting that there are a number of different dimensions to religious liberty and ways to violate it.  Tony then advances an interest-based explanation for why leaders — who value political survival, tax revenue, and economic growth — would loosen restrictions on religious minorities when it serves those interests.  He uses examples from the colonial U.S. and cites people as varied as William Penn and Tench Coxe.  Current threats to religious liberty are then considered and Tony explains why property rights and the Kelo v New London case are critical to religious freedoms.  Recorded: December 23, 2013.


EconTalk podcast. (You can find the full transcript and other links at this great website.)

The Political Origins of Religous Liberty, by Anthony Gill.

Rendering Unto Caesar: The Catholic Church and the State in Latin America, by Anthony Gill.


Larry Iannaccone on the Economics of Religion (at EconTalk).

Barry Weingast on the Violence Trap (at EconTalk).

Larry Witham on the Economics of Religion.

Anthony Gill on the Political Origins of Religious Liberty.

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

Timur Kuran on Islamic Economics.

Timur Kuran on Islamic Law and Economic Development.

Jared Rubin on Christian and Islamic Economic History.

Mark Koyama on the Economics of Jewish Expulsions.

Mike McBride on the Economics of Religious Leadership.


4 Responses to “Russ Roberts & Anthony Gill on Religion & Religious Liberty (A Simul-Podcast with EconTalk)”

  1. […] Russ Roberts & Anthony Gill on Religion and Religious Liberty (a EconTalk simul-podcast). […]

  2. Matthew Kay says:

    I found you via this episode on EconTalk. Since that time I have listened to many shows from your back catalog. I’m not into every show you do, but most of the time your show and guests are great. I have also given a couple shout outs on Reddit for you. Great ‘cast you have going here. Thanks.

    • tonygill says:

      Thanks! We have one coming up with Larry Iannaccone (Chapman University econ, formerly at GMU). He will be talking about the economics of sacrifice and stigma. Should air on September 21.

  3. […] Russ Roberts and Anthony Gill on Religion and Religious Liberty (an EconTalk simulcast). […]

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