August 18, 2014

An unkind god

Back in 1999, the theologian Harvey Cox wrote an influential essay about the newish idolatry that was sweeping the world. The title was The Market as God: Living in the New Dispensation.

Here's a sample paragraph:

At the apex of any theological system, of course, is its doctrine of God. In the new theology this celestial pinnacle is occupied by The Market, which I capitalize to signify both the mystery that enshrouds it and the reverence it inspires in business folk. Different faiths have, of course, different views of the divine attributes. In Christianity, God has sometimes been defined as omnipotent (possessing all power), omniscient (having all knowledge), and omnipresent (existing everywhere). Most Christian theologies, it is true, hedge a bit. They teach that these qualities of the divinity are indeed there, but are hidden from human eyes both by human sin and by the transcendence of the divine itself. In "light inaccessible" they are, as the old hymn puts it, "hid from our eyes." Likewise, although The Market, we are assured, possesses these divine attributes, they are not always completely evident to mortals but must be trusted and affirmed by faith. "Further along," as another old gospel song says, "we'll understand why."
The market god hasn't been very kind to the coal industry in West Virginia, which faces competition from cheap and abundant natural gas and other energy sources, including coal from the western US and elsewhere. The latest slap from the market god comes from international competition.

According to the Charleston Daily Mail, "...while coal mines across Central Appalachia are announcing closures, U.S. coal imports are rising sharply." One such source of cheaper coal is the nation of Colombia.

Here again, the two archangels of the market god, supply and demand, seem to be at work. While labor costs in Colombia are lower, another factor is transportation. Shipping coal from South American apparently seems to many buyers to be a better alternative for some buyers as domestic competition for rail car space goes up.

The Daily Mail cites a Wall Street Journal article which reports that "it’s $11 a ton cheaper for Florida power plants to have coal shipped from Colombia than Central Appalachia. It costs $26 a ton to ship from Central Appalachia compared to $15 a ton from Colombia."

It's hard for true believers to be angry at their god. Maybe that's why they like to blame the black guy with the unusual name and the EPA.

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