Economics – The Religion Of 21st Century


Religion and the idea of an all-powerful God came out of the fear of human mind. And yes, for several believers, God actually exists. No matter what the truth, starting a God-exists-or-not debate is but a futile exercise. However, it would be interesting to know how the economics is now operating as a religion and how its fundamentals are based more or less on the moral thoughts of several Western religions.

Economics as a subject derived its subject matter from the ethics and moral theologies of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Adam Smith, father of modern day economics, was a philosopher and professor of ethics and philosophy. A close analysis of his work hints at how they are filled with the elements similar to that of the mysticism that every religion holds within its dogma. For instance, when Adam Smith said there is an invisible hand that controls every economic activity in the market, he might have been pointing to the hidden force  that operates within the markets – something along the lines of the religious way of explaining things that are unknown or difficult to explain. Again, if we look at the early schools of economics like the Mercantilist tradition or the Physiocracy for that matter, a lion share of these economic thoughts dedicated itself to explaining the morality behind various economic activities and how they are all influencing human behaviour.

Like every other established, traditional religion, relies heavily upon human nature and societal values.

Now, if we look at this argument the other way round, we may see how economics within itself is evolving into a religion, if not a cult. Unlike several other academic disciplines, economics requires a mind to encompass values so that the subject-matter can be absorbed to its fullest. Take the case of the concept of poverty – How can one understand the impact of poverty, if one is not able to understand the human suffering underlies it? How can  one grasp the need for social security and benevolent governance if one doesn’t know the value of a well-framed legal system? It is a widely recognized fact that economics, like any other religion, needs a value-oriented approach to understand its subject matter that is essentially humanity. It was in this regard that Gandhi once famously said – “The Economics which disregards or ignores moral values is untrue.”

Economics influences today’s world the way religion has been influencing it for several centuries by suggesting the path of societal progress. While religion laid down the norms and taboos for human society, it is economics that has assumed this role in today’s world. The only difference between both is that religion works at an abstract level, while economics is concerned about the pragmatic life that we encounter on a daily basis. When a religion tells you where you will end up if  you commit sins, economics forecasts your destiny if you spends more than what you earn with your pay check. The kind of reputation and respect that the clergy class of early centuries enjoyed is now being enjoyed by economists. Several recent studies point to the fact that professors of economics get paid the highest in the American education system. Policy makers and leaders of our times consult with economists before arriving at any important decisions. The same was the case with the emperors of the medieval ages when they used to seek the opinion of their spiritual guides before entering into a war or alliance with a neighboring empire.

Today, every religion is facing challenges as they find it difficult to adapt their belief systems to the changing needs of changing times. The million dollar question is – Will economics face the same kind of challenges that the religions faces today? Will there be some form of counter ideology that will shake the rock-solid foundation of modern day economics? Will humanity discard economics in favor of some other stream of thought? Only time can solve these puzzles.

– Contributed by Jiss Palelil

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