Monday, July 04, 2011

Today's Economists as High Priests

The idea of progress is historically recent. One hundred years ago Keynes wrote that strong growth and significant material progress have been with us only in the past three centuries. (In Sedlacek, Economics of Good and Evil, K, 10%) Sedlacek quotes Keynes: "At some epoch before the dawn of history - perhaps even in one of the comfortable intervals before the last ice age - there must have been an era of progress and invention comparable to that in which we live today. But through the greater part of recorded history there was nothing of the kind." (In Ib.)

"Progess" as an idea does not exist in cultures which have a cyclical view of time. Humanity does not expect to see a rise in the standard of living. Sedlacek says that "the furnishings of a typical household barely changed over... four thousand years. In this respect, a person who fell asleep in the time long before Christ and woke up in the seventeenth century would not necessarily have noted any major changes in the day-to-day material equipment. Now, however, we live in a time where waking up a generation later would mean absolute disorintation in operating common household equipment. Only since the period of scientific-technological revolution (and at a time when economics was born as an independent field) is material progress automatically assumed." (Ib.)

Judaism, says Sedlacek, is to be credited for the idea of progress, which is rooted in its linear notion of time. Christianity as an offshoot of Judaism believes the same. Primarily, Judaeo-Christianity concerned itself with care for the soul, in a broad sense of including the importance of economic conditions that would provide labor leading to adequate shelter and food; viz., economic satisfaction of our needs. Especially in Christianity we have the idea of soul-progression and development as preparation for a new heaven and new earth. As persons we have a destination, and this can only be understood linearly. But with the scientific-technological revolution this changed, and a new priesthood was formed: Economists.

The fruit of the scientific-technological revolution produced "a strong faith in the beneficial effect of material progress." (Ib.) "That is why we must constantly grow, because we (deep down and often implicitly) believe that we are headed toward an (economic) paradise on Earth. Becuse care for the soul has today been replaced by care for external things, as the Czech philosopher Jan Patocka writes, economists have become key figures of great importance in our time." (Ib.)

Economists are our modern-day priests. Sedlacek says:
  • Today economists are expected to perform interpretations of reality.
  • Economists are expected to give prophetic services (macroeconomic forecasts).
  • And, in the long run, economists are expected to provide leadership on the way to the Promised Land - paradise on earth.