Friday, 24 May 2013

The Price Elasticity of Belief: Beavers are Fish edition

I am so using this when I lecture on the price elasticity of beliefs in my public choice class next semester.

Suppose that you're trying to convert to your religion a bunch of people who eat a lot of beaver meat. And suppose that you want to ban them from eating meat on Fridays in Lent. And suppose that they don't want to give up beaver during Lent. What do you do?
In addition to disease, the European settlers also brought Catholicism with them, and successfully converted a large proportion of the indigenous population. And the native Americans and Canadians loved their beaver meat.

So in the 17th century, the Bishop of Quebec approached his superiors in the Church and asked whether his flock would be permitted to eat beaver meat on Fridays during Lent, despite the fact that meat-eating was forbidden. Since the semi-aquatic rodent was a skilled swimmer, the Church declared that the beaver was a fish. Being a fish, beaver barbeques were permitted throughout Lent. Problem solved!

The Church, by the way, also classified another semi-aquatic rodent, the capybara, as a fish for dietary purposes. The critter, the largest rodent in the world, is commonly eaten during Lent in Venezuela. “It’s delicious,” one restaurant owner told the New York Sun in 2005. “I know it’s a rat, but it tastes really good.”
Chalk this one up on the supply-side in the market for irrational beliefs.

1 comment:

  1. In James Clavell's novel "Tai Pan" the Scottish Tai Pan and his Chinese girlfriend are at sea in a great storm carrying millions of pounds in gold bars.

    The GF wants to appease the Sea God by tossing a bar of gold into the sea.. the Tai Pan argues with her but she prevails.. she writes a prayer on some parchment, folds it over the gold bar and prays to the Sea God.. then she deftly slips the parchment off the bar and throws it into the sea and puts the bar back in the hold.

    The Tai pan belittles her for hypocrisy and she turns on him with a furious tirade about "its the thought that matters" and explains the practicalities of Chinese culture.

    All great religions have this blend of holiness leavened with culture and practicality and the further you get away from the centres the more flexible they become in gaining new recruits in foreign lands.. witness ongoing Catholicism in Sth America, Protestantism in the US, Islam in Indonesia and Bosnia etc.

    Verily, "Needs must when the Devil drives".

    I should imagine many a finance minister has repeated that phrase.