Marking the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s challenge to the established church, the New Weather Institute and campaign group Rethinking Economics, with input from a wide range of economists, academics and concerned citizens, challenged the mainstream teaching of economics and published a call for change in 33 Theses for an Economics Reformation. The call featured in The Guardian and was supported by over 60 leading academics and policy experts (see updated list below).
Five hundred years ago in Europe, a single belief system dominated all public discourse: Catholic Christianity. Those held to be experts in this set of beliefs held immense power, since it enabled them to claim unique authority in all matters – from the rules of behaviour, to the right to rule. Kings and Queens listened to their advice, and feared their criticism. Intellectuals submitted to the confines of their ideology, as to break free from it took exceptional imagination and courage. Ordinary people may have had misgivings, but the priests protected their theories by speaking in a language that the public could not understand, concealing any contradictory evidence.
There is now a similar situation in Neoclassical economics. It has developed as a belief system does, deriving all its theories from some founding principles which themselves pass unquestioned. It’s come to dominate public debate and decision-making; and its proponents claim special authority to pronounce on all matters – from money and savings to migration and sovereignty. Its teaching has taken on the characteristics of indoctrination: students are asked to memorise and repeat rather than to criticise and evaluate. Those who dispute its fundamental theories are ignored or marginalised. Its apparently sophisticated mathematical language presents to the public a veneer of expertise, while obscuring value judgements, guesswork and uncertainty which is, at times, as unworldly as any belief system based on faith.
Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther broke the grip of the monopolistic belief system of his time, with ’95 theses’ setting out its faults clearly in the common language, making them plain for all to see, and proposing the beginnings of a new way forward. We propose a new 33 Theses for an Economics Reformation.