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Evangelical Economic Rhetoric : : The Great Recession, the Free-Market and the Language of Personal Responsibility


For the past several decades - since at least the rise of the Reagan Democrats in the 1980 election - scholars have wondered why a large bloc of non-elite voters have come to support the free-market policies of the Republican Party. The question arises as to why some members of this group favor economic policymaking that supports tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens, along with industry deregulation, but eschew efforts to strengthen the social safety net, or fight increasing income inequality in the United States. Thomas Frank perhaps most famously forwarded this dilemma in his 2004 book, What's the Matter with Kansas? Frank proposed that non-elite voters who truly apprehended their own economic interests should support a progressive approach to economic policymaking, and pay little attention to the politics of social issues as represented by the culture wars. This dissertation interrogates whether so-called "values-voters" - individuals who are often highly religious and who make voting decisions based in opposition to reproductive choice or the expansion of gay-rights, among other things - engage in conversations about macroeconomic policy and, if so, how they discursively framed these economic issues. In particular, this text explores whether conservative Protestants distinguish between their desire to restore the country to a set of presumed traditional values, and economic policies that favor deregulation, tax-cutting, slashes in social spending, and more. It further inquires as to whether the onset of the financial crisis in 2008 has influenced evangelical economic rhetoric. It did not. Conservative Christians continued make arguments that champion the power of the market. Evangelical economic discourse is comprised of vibrant language that supports free-enterprise, entrepreneurialism, private welfare, and personal responsibility for financial success or failure. This rhetoric also includes an articulated economic interest that embraces methodological individualism, along with the mores of the Protestant work-ethic. It is also confluent with conservative economic orthodoxy and conservative economic policymaking. This finding makes evident the continued hegemony of conservative economic discourse in the United States. Conservative Protestants should be regarded as full partners in the Republican coalition that is made up of free-market libertarians, business conservatives, and religious conservatives. Evangelical Christians deploy an economic discourse that favors the same policies of laissez-faire; private welfare; and personal responsibility for economic success or failure that free-market libertarians and business conservatives in the Republican party also espouse

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