Is Economics the new “Opium for the masses”?

The Pope was not just in town last month but just down the road from us at St Marys University College in Twickenham. The turnout according to the local press was good and mirrored the crowds seen in other parts of the country but I wonder if the press speculation about low turnouts was just good media management by the Church; setting low expectations which can then be surpassed. OK admittedly they haven’t exactly been successful in their management of the child abuse issues but managing a Papal visit must be more in their comfort zones mustn’t it?

Despite the efforts of Time Out promoting a Gay/Lesbian gathering at St Marys to protest against his views on education, faith and discrimination the event passed off without incident. Well, Twickenham isn’t exactly known for its public disorder. If a town can regularly accommodate 80,000 rugby fans without any serious disorder then an elderly man in a converted ice cream van being heckled by some Kylie Minogue fans isn’t much of a danger.

Meanwhile, I set off to Kingston to hear the views of the Chief Economist of Lloyds Banking Group, Trevor Williams. I’m not sure why I got up so early but for some reason I was just drawn in by the prospect; so it seems were the 100+ small business owners who were there at 7.30am for proceedings to commence.

This strikes me as odd because over the last two years most economists haven’t exactly impressed with their failure to warn about the credit crunch and infact you’d think as a profession they’d be only marginally less reviled by the public than those priests playing down the horrors of child abuse.

And yet the failures economists failed to predict are the reason that in many cases we want to hear their views even more. It’s almost as if we are so traumatised by events that we are clinging on in hope of any solution. I have to admit I don’t always understand what economists are on about but at the end of any economics seminar I always feel better, more wholesome even and almost cleansed. I know it’s probably good for me even if in the absence of comprehension on my part I have to rely on there having being passive osmosis of the information into my grey matter.

Economics is now headline news and will be for sometime to come; indeed many hitherto low key journalists like the irrepressible Robert Peston have made their names from the credit crunch. (As an aside, a contact of mine who worked with Peston in his early days as a cub reporter told me that “he was always a bit of a one”).

It was Karl Marx who said that religion was the “Opium for the masses” but judging by the public interest in GDP growth, interest rates and double dips I wonder if that mantle now falls to the subject of economics. What else can explain its fascination amongst the general public and look at how effective it has been in subduing an socialist uprising? Everyone just accepts that thing are bad and that we have to endure the pain.

Like religion, economics towers over most of us whilst many of us can take it or leave it but are nevertheless fascinated by it and hope that when we need it the men (almost invariably) who practice it will deliver the goods. But alas, whether you are a believer, atheist or agnostic on the religion front you have to accept that with economics it’s up to humankind to find the answers. Not even the ancient civilisations of Rome or Greece felt the need for a God of Economics.

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