In recent years, there has been a growing sentiment concerning economics. No widely accepted term or name has been given to this sentiment, so for our purposes here, I will refer to this sentiment as “Anti-Economics”. The root idea of the Anti-Economic movement is quite simple: economics is a sham. Economics does not give to us useful knowledge of the world around us. Everything that economists claim to be able to tell us about prosperity, wealth, and welfare, is all fake.
Now, this alleged inability of economics to discover truth is sometimes seen as malicious; the economists are lying to everyone to benefit the rich at our expense. Not all Anti-Economists hold this view, however. Some believe that the economists, although trying to find answers to the questions it asks, are misled and their methods of discovering truth in these areas is fundamentally mistaken. Either way, the economists are all frauds.
It is difficult to speak more on Anti-Economics without providing some examples. Much of the modern-day Anti-Economic sentiment comes from social media platforms, so most of our examples will be from those platforms as well. Here are several examples of what could be described as Anti-Economic sentiment:
Anti-Economic ideas are becoming more and more plentiful in recent years, so there are far more examples than the ones shown above. Spend a bit of time on the social media of your choice, and you will more than likely run into similar lines of Anti-Economic thinking. Over the past several years, it has become increasingly common.
As with any other social and ideological movement, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when this Anti-Economic sentiment began. Nevertheless, a rough estimate is that Anti-Economics has become more and more prevalent over the last 5 years or so. Similarly, it is difficult to gauge the proponents of any movement or ideology any more specific than general categories. From observation, we can see that Anti-Economic thinking is most dominant among Left-leaning individuals, most of whom are Millennials or Generation Z. This certainly explains the prevalence of this thinking on social media platforms.
If we know the “what” and the “who”, this leads to us ask: why is this happening? An Anti-Economics movement is certainly not like anything we have seen in modern times. Ever since Economics established itself as a respected discipline in the early 20th century, it has held for itself a high reputation. Even during previous economic crisis, such as the Great Depression and the stagflation of the 1970s, the economics profession as a whole was never put to fault for these mistakes. The validity of economics as a science was never questioned. Why then, is there a backlash against the economics profession now?
How we answer this question is of the utmost importance. For many in the economics field, Anti-Economic sentiments are seen as nothing more than the opinions of those who are uniformed and unintelligent. Social media content like the examples above are passed around in the economics world for a good laugh. The absurdity of their arguments makes them comedic. They become the subject of humor rather than the subject of debate.
This kind of dismissal of anti-economic sentiment may be tempting, but the cause behind Anti-Economics is undoubtedly deserving of attention from the economics profession. The fact that Anti-Economic thinking is becoming more popular should not at all been seen as merely an indictment of other’s own unintelligence, but must also be seen as a reflection on the economics profession as a whole. In other words, anti-economic sentiment is not wholly irrational.
As we mentioned above, the adherents of anti-economic sentiment are mostly younger generations, specifically Millennials and Generation Z. If we look at their general economic situation, the growth in anti-economics becomes very understandable. Student loan debt is a growing epidemic. It has recently suppressed credit card debt to become the second-largest source of debt in the economy. For many with student loans, they will be financially chained to that debt for the next decade or more before they can finally pay it off. Assuming, of course, that can find a good-paying job with that degree they just borrow copious amounts of money to pay for.
The economic problems do not end there. Healthcare costs are rising each year. The idea that someone could be financially ruined because of a medical emergency is no longer a fantasy. Health insurance is now necessary, but simultaneously, more expensive than ever. For many working families, the cost of health insurance is forcing them to make sacrifices in other areas of their life to be able to afford the cost.
Rents in many cities are going up. Houses are increasingly difficult to buy because they spent so long paying off student loans. Saving for retirement is difficult, as a result of all factors listed above. The future of federal entitlement programs, such as Social Security, are very in doubt and who knows what the monthly payments will be 50 years in the future when retirement is on the table. It is possible that many of those who are paying into Social Security now will never get any benefits out of the system when they retire.
These economics problems have real effects on the lives of everyday people. Children are expensive, and very time consuming in their early years. Because of this, many Millennials and Gen Zers cannot afford to start families when they want children and are forced to wait or reconsider being parents at all. Paying off student loans means that the first decade of your working life will be spent on debt as opposed to investing. This means that retirement may be further off than in previous generations. With houses being out of reach for many younger people, homeownership may be much later in life than in previous generations, if they can afford a home at all.
In light of these economic problems, a lack of faith in economics as a whole is perfectly understandable. They perceive economics as being unwilling or unable to help them. In either case, the naturally conclusion to draw is that economics is all a giant fraud. Economics purports to be help people and to show us how to have a more prosperous society. However, in the face of tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, high rents, and little hope for the future, a belief that economics might not be all its cracked up to be is reasonable.
None of this is an argument in favor of anti-economics. Anti-economic ideas are thoroughly flawed and not held by any serious economic intellectual. Nevertheless, the unsoundness of these ideas should never be an excuse to ignore the root cause behind the belief in those ideas in the first place. Rather than pointing our fingers at others, it would behoove us to look at ourselves to see what the economics profession may have done to deserve such strong beliefs against our own integrity.
The anti-economics movement should be a wake-up call to the economics profession at large. These sentiments against the whole of economics will only grow more popular, and we must address the root causes of these beliefs. While rationale behind anti-economics is dim economic situations, it runs even deeper than that. The true root cause for anti-economic thought lies squarely with the economics profession. The economics profession has for far too long been racked with unsound economics, the results of which we are now seeing today.
The decades of bad economic policy have now left us with a fundamentally broken economy. Interest rates have been kept as low as possible for nearly a decade now; no signs that there will approach anything resembling normal levels anytime soon. Government debt continues to spiral further and further out of control, with no plan to ever be able to pay it back. Congress continues to pass increased regulations over the economy, with tens of thousands of pages of federal regulation being put into law each year. The aforementioned student debt crisis continues to destroy the lives of those racked with debt that they have no hope of paying back. The Federal Reserve is turning into a money printing machine, with the M2 stock increasing by roughly 25% in 2020 alone, with dire consequences sure to come later down the line. This list could go on for pages, but I will leave it here.
The economics profession as a whole as been largely silent on many of these issues. Other than some outliers in the Chicago and Austrian schools of thought, economists have approved much of the policy that we have today. Whenever these policies lead to everyday people having unpaid bills and uncertain futures, the blame for their lack of faith in the science of economics lies with us, not with them. The economics profession has endorsed unsound policy for far too long, and the Anti-Economics movement is merely the chickens coming home to roost.
How can we restore faith in economics? We must rid ourselves of the bad economics that has plagued the economics profession. The adherence to the Federal Reserve and low interest rates must be questioned, if not discarded altogether. The over-regulation of the economy must be addressed by economists. The cronyism behind the healthcare industry must be addressed head-on. The source of the student loan debt crisis, the governmental guarantee of loans, must be addressed. If the rising tides of Anti-Economic sentiment are to be fought off, it must be because the average layman believes that economic policy can benefit them.
Anti-Economics is not a movement against economics as a whole. It is a movement against bad economics; they just don’t know it. Seeing the effects of bad economic policy in their lives and the lives of others, they reject economics as being useful or helpful in any way. However, we can separate good economic policy from the bad. We don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Good economic policy, when implemented, will lead to a more prosperous and flourishing society. It is up to us that we relay this message and implement this policy to bring about a better tomorrow. It is only then that faith in economics will be restored.