There is only one best economic system and it’s the one we have now.

“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.”

Revolution as Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Can we predict the future? Sure we can. But the question is how often are our predictions right. How successful are we when we predict the future? One principle seems clear: Near term predictions are more likely to be correct than longer term predictions. Weather models are good out to about 5 or 7 days. We can predict eclipses and orbits of the planets for hundreds of years very accurately. But here too as the time into the future increases, the predictions become less accurate.

What about social stuff? Some things are harder to predict than others. Will the US continue to exist in 2020? Most likely, almost surely, yes, in one form or another. Will it exist in 2100? Surely nobody knows or can know. Are human activities causing global warming? Very likely yes. Will present trends continue through 2100? We really don’t know. If they do, it is very likely bad things will happen. Notice that some of these statements are not very specific. More specific situations are less likely to occur than less specific situations. Certainly some bad things will happen in 2100 no matter what else happens. Certainly some good things will happen in 2100 too. So it is easy to make correct predictions if the predictions are general enough. The particular is harder to predict accurately than the general.

Sometimes global properties of collections of things can be accurately predicted even though the actions of the specific things in the collection cannot each be predicted. The random motions of molecules in a confined gas give rise to simple relations between the gas temperature and its pressure even though we can’t possibly know what each molecule is doing. Macroeconomics is based on a similar idea. So there may be some hope of making accurate predictions regarding the behavior of collections of people.

On the other hand, Daniel Kahneman in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” says:

“The often used image of the ‘march of history’ implies order and direction. Marches, unlike strolls or walks, are not random. We think that we should be able to explain the past by focusing on either large social movements and cultural and technological developments or the intentions and abilities of a few great men. The idea that large historical events are determined by luck is profoundly shocking, although it is demonstrably true. It is hard to think of the history of the twentieth century, including its large social movements, without bringing in the role of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Zedong. But there was a moment in time, just before an egg was fertilized, when there was a fifty-fifty chance that the embryo that became Hitler could have been a female. Compounding the three events, there was a probability of one-eighth of a twentieth century without any of the three great villains and it is impossible to argue that history would have been roughly the same in their absence. The fertilization of these three eggs had momentous consequences, and it makes a joke of the idea that long-term developments are predictable.” — Kahneman p. 218.

So what does all this have to do with the revolution? The idea is that if we can change enough people’s minds about certain things — in particular about our economic and political systems —  then this will change their behavior towards these systems and they will change these systems so that the systems work towards the human goals of fair and just distribution of the human necessities to all people. And we have said that if most people can come to understand, accept, and use the new scientific knowledge about how human thinking actually works, as described in “Thinking, Fast and Slow” (and elsewhere), then they will improve their own thinking and thus be less susceptible to propaganda, more open to change, more able to see the need for change, and more able to make the changes needed.

So this is a kind of social prediction. Does Kahneman’s comment make this prediction an absurd joke? No it does not because we are not counting on just the simple random diffusion of ideas. We are going to push the ideas for the changes to our economic and political systems that we want, and we are going to push the ideas that will help people think better, help people make better choices and decisions. Simple diffusion might get us there, but a real goal directed revolution where we spread the revolutionary goals and ideas, and where we also spread ideas that support and encourage and facilitate the acceptance and use of the revolutionary ideas, is much more likely to get us there, to get us to better systems, systems that more justly distribute the earth’s limited resources and the produce of human cooperative work to all people. And the changes will happen faster.

Rather than a passive diffusion of new ideas, the revolution is an active process of spreading not only new ideas but also new and better methods of generating, spreading, and getting people to accept and use new ideas. We want to identify and spread new ideas that speed up the generation, spread, acceptance, and use of new ideas. This is one thing improving human thinking does. This is why Kahneman’s book is relevant to how to make a revolution.

The revolution is a self-fulfilling prophecy.