September 22, 2021

The Next Student Uprising (PT. 3)

And so here we are. And things are worse than ever. Cynicism about the global economy is off the charts. The whole game feels rigged.

The rich pay no taxes. Despite proof of a gigantic rogue offshore finance industry, foreign tax havens continue to thrive. Flash trading algorithms whirr away, turning stock markets into cash cows for the rich. Money begets money begets money. And in the wake of Covid we’re being told to go out and consume again. But what about climate change? Does anyone have a solution for that?

Market conditions are eerily similar to just before the crash of 1929. We’re inching toward some invisible tipping point where a runaway automated selloff trips all the circuit breakers on Wall Street. That, or it gets too hot to go outside in August.

Millennials & Gen Z are feeling lost. They immerse themselves in cyberspace and do the best they can, though deep down they know that unless something fundamentally changes, they will continue to live precarious lives and have very little to look forward to.

But something is stirring. Those banked fires of previous stifled revolutions never went out. And now they have found a new fuel. #MeToo and #BLM shimmer as existence proofs: Systemic change is possible!

“This isn’t just about the right way to do economics anymore,” says Australian economist Steve Keen. “It’s about the survival of human civilization. If we are to have a future, then neoclassical economics has to go, and we heterodox economists have to replace it with something properly grounded in the physical reality of planet Earth.”

There’s ferocity in those words. But so far the action to match it — the kind of furious passion that sent #MeToo and #BLM into orbit — is the missing element. The new economic mavericks are still too kid-gloved. They’re too polite, convinced they can talk sense into the old guard. Most of them still believe that science has its own self-correcting mechanisms and we should trust them to play out. Isn’t this how scientific progress happens, after all? You just keep doing solid experiments and publishing good work until a critical mass of evidence tips the scales, and the scientific community comes round, and the new paradigm is generally accepted, and the scientists who hatched it win the Nobel Prize, and the community settles back down, with a greater understanding now of how the world works.

This is a myth!

Thomas Kuhn, in his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, tells us a different story . . . of how paradigm shifts really happen. They are almost always nasty, messy, dirty affairs — very much like political revolutions, like vindictive putsches. The old guard jealously protects its turf. The dissenters are ignored, stonewalled, refused publication and tenure, ostracized and obstructed in every way – until tensions reach a boiling point.

Kuhn’s most profound insight is that, contrary to the way scientific progress is supposed to happen, an old paradigm cannot be replaced by evidence, facts, or “the truth” . . . it will not be thrown out because its forecasts are wrong, its policies no longer work, or its theories are proved unscientific. An old paradigm will only be replaced by a new one when a group of maverick scientists orchestrate a coup and throw the old-school practitioners out of power.

Read Part 2

Read Part 4

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