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The world in 2018 – Part Four

The world in 2018 – Part Four

In the modern world, our perceptions of reality are largely shaped by economic and financial considerations, and our policy conversations are largely built around intellectual categories and evaluative criteria that pertain to the economics discipline. Yet a long-term view shows that ‘The world in 2018’ is in a significantly different place than what economists typically claim, and than what many of us want to believe.

We human beings build our perception of our personal and collective reality on a number of objective and subjective factors, which vary significantly between individuals and societies, as well as across time and space. However, for a majority of people in the modern world this perception tends to be mostly based on economic and financial considerations: the way we, individually and collectively, at any given moment in time, perceive our material and financial situation and prospects, and our material and financial well-being (absolute and relative), typically dominates our overall perception of our personal and collective trajectory and situation. It also influences the way we think about the other elements that contribute to shaping our worldview: when our perception of our material and financial conditions and perspectives is positive, it tends to foster our individual and collective confidence and security, which influences our views on other aspects of our lives and on our ability to address the challenges we face; when this perception gets more negative, on the other hand, it tends to make us insecure about our ability to deal with issues in other aspects of our individual and collective lives, and can in some cases hamper our ability to address them successfully.

The central role of economic and financial conditions in shaping our perception of reality has long been understood by policy makers the world over, who constantly try to influence the way these conditions are viewed and represented in society. It has also, of course, led them to seek advice from economists to find ways of improving material and financial well-being in their jurisdictions. With the development of economic science over the last century, economists have gained increasing sway over policy-making in industrialised as well as industrialising nations, and economics has become – by far – the most politically influential social science. This influence has only grown in recent decades as the modern economic system was becoming more complex and economic growth was becoming more difficult to achieve. Since the 1980s, economists have largely influenced the design of public policies in many Western countries, pushing in particular ‘neoliberal’ reforms that have increased reliance on market mechanisms and fostered the deregulation of financial markets, the privatisation of parts of the public sector, the liberalisation of trade and the quest for ever-growing economic ‘efficiency’ through faster and faster ways of producing and consuming more and more goods and services.

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