The first thing to realise in trying to understand the economy is that it doesn’t really exist.
The idea of the economy is a most successful ideological sleight-of-hand: the fabric of our lives, the fruits of our labours and quintessence of our daily existence is placed outside of ourselves, and we are convinced that we are not the prime movers in our own existence, instead the distant ‘economy’ is. Imagine that the news anchors giving a financial report is actually a shaman, a spirt-guide communicating to us, their tribe, about the mood of the Gods. The Gods are angry – the market is down. The Gods look favourably upon our people this harvest time – GDP rose by 1.6% this quarter.
In truth, the economy is not something that is separate from us; what we call the economy it is the imperfectly collected and collated stories about how we have been living our lives, the sum totals of our work, needs and desires over a given period of time. What we call the economy is a mirror we hold up to our reality, yet we live firmly on this side of the glass. Economics is littered with deliberately confusing terms, concepts and wild assumptions designed to keep common people from questioning some central – false – assumptions about the real world and real people. Economics texts generally assume that the resources of available to people are not finite, and that people behave as rational, wealth-enhancers. That’s not to say that economic phenomena like the relationship between prices and supply and demand don’t exist, just that it isn’t an inescapable rule. Economics is not like maths, not a fundamental intellectual discipline, though many economists would like you to think so. Economics is a way of describing human behaviour, like literature, but one whose proponents are wedded to power in a way poets and novelists are not.
The aim in all things is to comprehend more effectively the way in which the world works and people exist within it. Economics provides many useful tools to aid us in this comprehension. Yet it must also be borne in mind that the economy lives within us, and occupies the spaces between us, but is not the continent on which we reside. Instead the economy is the house we built, and we should design it with the knowledge in mind that it is our collective creative genius that gives the economy the appearance of self-animation.