Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Big Issues: Economics for flourishing Part 3

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this post, I gave my thoughts on some of the more widely discussed problems with neoclassical economics, but in this final installment (for now), I will tie this all back onto the theme of this blog - Sustainable Human Flourishing... More specifically, I will try to finish the thought process about just how a system that is so demonstrably damaging to SHF as the Chicago school ideology has become so bloody influential? This side of the story is far less widely discussed, and so I would particularly like to hear from economics insiders...

One of the most detailed yet approachable explorations of this idea that I have found is Naomi Klein's eye-opening book The Shock Doctrine.

Klein is not an economist, but she is an amazing investigative journalist. In The Shock Doctrine, she lays bare some very dirty truths about how and why Chicago school ideologies propagated through the top US economics schools, and onwards throughout the world as a growth engine for American hegemony. You can read an excerpt here to get a sense of this gut-wrenching roller-coaster of a book.

Far more intriguing, and even more scary for me than neoclassical economics though, is its partner in crime - A more subtle, yet also very powerful growth engine of American hegemony – the fundamentalist, evangelical protestantism that is the religion of the American empire. Author Jeff Sharlet, starting with The Family and continuing with C-Street has written a courageous exposé of this religion, and has begun to tease out its intimate entanglements with the neoliberal economic doctrine.

[Start Rave Book Review]
Sharlet's books expose in amazing detail (naming names all the way) the American religion of empire. They explain that beyond the stereotypical populist idiocy, 'American Christianity' has a 'private', elite stream. For the best part of a century, according to Sharlet's extensively footnoted research, these elites have been directly implicated in many of the more 'inexplicable' horrors of modern history.

The books are far more than just a history lesson though. Sharlet is an invaluable guide if, like me, you are searching for a deeper understanding of the critical issues of our 'enlightened' times. He gives a sense of the true agenda behind the recent rise in religiosity and science denial. If you are having trouble understanding why neoliberalism seems so bigoted and shortsighted, or what really drives phenomena like climate change denial, then Sharlet provides some excellent clues.

Sharlet is eloquent, intelligent, and dogmatic in his defence of a really quite challenging thesis. Whatever your religious persuasion, these are important books to be enjoyed on multiple levels, while they change the way you view the world.
[End Rave Book Review]

I digress... Where was I...? Well, tying back to the creationism analogy that I made in Part 1, it seems likely to me that there is a link between the fundamentalist religious ties of neoclassical economic ideologues as exposed by Sharlet, and their dogmatic refusal to acknowledge that their practices are simply not scientific. It takes a certain kind of brain conditioning to think that when something isn't working, then you aren't doing it hard enough. That you aren't believing in it hard enough.

It takes a zealot's bigotry to ignore the pain that your beliefs are so obviously causing to so many fellow humans and other living creatures. In addition to being unfit for purpose, to me, Chicago school economics has all the hallmarks of a religion that is dangerously out of control - Again though, I would love to hear from anyone with insider experience about whether the findings of researchers like Klein and Sharlet are overblown...?

In closing, with the American empire in serious decline, now seems to be a very good time to step away from the economic system that it spawned, but what will replace it...?

I can only hope that the next generation of economics grads like Noah will take people like Professor Tim Jackson or Herman Daly as role models instead of Milton Friedman. Let's hope that they will work towards a kinder, fairer form of capitalism that delivers more prosperity and doesn’t break down so bloody often.

As importantly, let’s hope that the religious zealots allow them to succeed.

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