“There is only one best economic system and it’s the one we have now.” This is a belief that many people have. There are other versions of this basic idea. This belief and others are obstacles to changing people’s minds. And that is their purpose — to be an obstacle that has to be removed, to keep other ideas out of peoples’ minds. It is a characteristic of cults to have such obstacle ideas as part of their belief system. Thus a well-functioning cult will have two sets of ideas, information, and beliefs. The first set consists of ideas, information, beliefs, and some knowledge about some aspects of the real world. The second set will have some ideas, information, and beliefs about their whole system of ideas and beliefs. The above example illustrates this. It is not about the real world. Rather it is about economic systems of thought. It says there is only one economic system and it is the best one. The purpose of this statement is to keep believers in the system from considering alternatives, to keep their minds closed to any ideas from outside the cult, the present economic system. Such statements don’t have to be logically consistent and coherent or true; they need only to be believed. A well-functioning cult will have many such ideas. They want a wall around their cult’s ideas. They want to keep outside ideas out. This is all to protect and preserve the cult. Cults do not rely only on the truth of their ideas — and cults may have some true and useful ideas — but they also rely on their walls, their obstacles, their cult protecting ideas and beliefs, to keep the cult going as long as possible.
Some other cult protecting ideas of economics: 1) It is science. (Very little of economics is based on fact or experiments; theories are not verified against reality.) 2) It is based on authorities. (Keynes vs Samuelson vs Friedman etc. The authorities are glorified almost into saints. So there are sub-cults in economics.) 3) It is claimed that economics is “special” in that it doesn’t have to operate like other sciences. For example Friedman’s infamous statement that assumptions don’t matter. 4) Economists promote the idea that economics is very difficult, specialized, dependent on high-powered mathematics, and that only highly trained (indoctrinated) economists can validly comment on economics. (Economics is indeed often difficult to understand because it is often inconsistent, incoherent, the assumptions are unrealistic, much of the mathematics is presented through simplified diagrams that obscure illogic, and in general the arguments and reasoning are sloppy. No wonder outsiders have a hard time understanding it. But economists don’t understand it either. They just believe.)
Cults in general often present incoherent, inconsistent, illogical arguments to their followers. The followers are told that these arguments are important, that they must understand and accept them. When the followers cannot understand arguments that are impossible to understand, they may conclude that they are ignorant (or this may be suggested to them by the leaders), and so they accept the beliefs the authorities claim follow from the impossible arguments. The followers have now been trained to just accept what the authorities say. There is a simple phrase that captures this process: Conned by bullshit.
OK, so how do we overcome the obstacle that many people have in their minds — that our present system is the only one possible? We must discredit most economists and most economic thinking as we have known it. How do we do this? First point out all the flaws, mistakes, illogical thinking that we can find in economic thinking.
Second point out all the failures of our present actual systems which were supposedly guided by the economists and their theories. There are many of these: Booms and crashes in general and the latest one in particular; no present system provides 100% employment; the present system is decreasing education; wars continue; unjust laws are enforced; excessive prison populations; grotesque wealth of the 1%; scarcity of human necessities among the poor of the world; environmental destruction, waste of human resources, etc.
Third counter the cult insulating ideas in the minds of the cult leaders (the economists) and in the minds of their most important followers (the 1% and their enablers — the politicians, the functionaries, the business leaders, lawyers, other professionals, and in everyone else we can.
Point out some simple truths like: We have not always had the present economic system. Therefore others are possible. And actually our systems are always changing, evolving, through accidents, technological changes, and deliberate changes through new laws.
Much of the above has already begun through the writings of some economists (e. g. Steve Keen) and blogs like Naked Capitalism and blogs it links to. This is significant because the ideas expressed in these books and blogs are spreading somewhat into the mass media. Remember there are no 100% barriers to ideas. Information leaks, always. No cult can keep out all new ideas. No newspapers, TV, other media, and journalists bought and paid for by the 1% can keep out all new ideas. Ideas will seep, then trickle, then flow, and maybe flood in.
We can do our part by: Learning and understanding as much as we can about how our systems work and how they might be changed, and about all the ways we can help people change their minds, and then spread the word and repeat, repeat, repeat, analyze, investigate, expose, discredit, ridicule, counter misinformation, patiently, calmly, civilly, coolly, thoroughly.
And when the revolution gets more organized we can implement more formal educational programs first in our own revolutionary organizations such as people’s assemblies, and later maybe in other schools, colleges and universities.
Here is my proposal for a new course to be taught in every economics department in the world: “Economics as a Cult and How to Dismantle It.”