“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
Many people instinctively know that something is seriously wrong with the economy. Long before the historic events of 2008 things were far from good, especially for the half of the world’s people for whom the ‘economic miracle’ of the preceding decade had brought no prosperity.
Skeptical about what was being reported, and surprised by the absence of a credible explanation for what had gone wrong, we set about learning how the world really works. The result was the Four Horsemen film in which twenty-three leading thinkers – including a number of eminent economists – speak out against current arrangements and the thinking that underpins them.
This book is offered as a companion to that film. It explores the themes and ideas discussed in the film in greater detail. It unearths some startling truths about the way our economy has developed, how it is managed and in whose interests. It also makes grim predictions about the consequences of things continuing as they are. We won’t ever return to ‘business as usual’, but that knowledge offers hope for the future. There is an alternative, and we all have a role to play in creating a new and better world: one which we’ll be proud to leave to future generations.
Like the film, this book is independently financed and produced. We haven’t had to choose our words carefully to avoid upsetting corporate masters. We have no obligations to anyone except ourselves, and to you. This means we have been able to deal with the truth as we see it. As you will discover, that truth, and the world view on which it is based, is quite different from anything peddled by the mainstream media, politicians and most economists.
Many people already have a sense that our failing economic system is beyond the control of democratic governments. The financial markets – which have come to dominate the economy while making virtually no contribution to it – routinely hold governments to ransom. Ordinary people have been forced to bail out a fatally flawed system with their taxes or their jobs. They can’t understand how the economy, and the thinking on which it’s built, have failed so badly. We take the opposite view. The economy hasn’t really failed at all. It has been working perfectly according to the rules that were set. It was designed to enrich the few at the expense of the many. The economy can’t be fixed. It has to be changed.
In 1903, Cambridge University separated the study of economics from the study of moral sciences. The impact of this seemingly innocuous step has been entirely negative, halting many of the moral advances ignited by the Enlightenment. If economics is not guided by moral principles then what use is it as a tool of govern- ment, or as a guide to people in their everyday lives?
The crisis nonetheless provides us with a huge opportunity. Aldous Huxley wrote: “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.” Progress will depend on our finally accepting the need to learn from the past, especially when it comes to the forces that have shaped the economic system. Only when we properly understand that system can we begin to transform it for the common good. The pages that follow explain the system in language that avoids the jargon of conventional economics, and suggest ways in which the economy could be reconfigured to enhance everyone’s liberty, wellbeing and experience of life.
You will have to judge for yourself whether two non-economists can write a book about the failure of the economic system. With a few notable exceptions, modern economists do not question the prevailing ‘neo-classical’ orthodoxy, but this understanding of economics is unable to offer a way out of the crisis. Neo-classical economics has cloaked itself in complexity so as not to be challenged by outsiders, but there is no reason why many more people should not understand how the world works. When they do, democracy will finally have the power to face down the vested interests of minority wealth and privilege.
Everyone is an economist. If you’re running a household or a business, or are involved in any system where people and the planet interact, then you’re already running a small part of the economy. You are perfectly placed to play a crucial role in making the changes that urgently need to be made.