The ‘Dismal Science’ is a Misnomer

Throughout history, economists have been viewed with derision and discontent: heartless

money – driven beings completely out of touch with the intricacies of society.

Notwithstanding the fact that economists are not investment bankers, this is quite simply not

true. To be part of the economics profession is to be part of a group of pragmatic optimists

where a deep understanding of wealth and its formulation is used as a basis to address

issues of inequality and improve broader society.

It is understandable where such a pessimistic view comes from. After all, until around 200

years ago, to be a pessimist was the norm. The rapid technological and social advancement

that we see today has been an outlier over the course of human history. Indeed, the world in

which our ancestors resided was marked by very little change in wealth for the great majority

of people. A peasant in 17 th Century France would likely have had a similar standard of living to a peasant in Ancient Roman Times. In the Bible, it was Jesus who remarked to his

disciples that ‘the poor, you will always have with you.’ This suggests that the idea of social

mobility and the poor becoming richer was a completely unrealistic dream.

It was the economists, however, who didn’t see the status quo as an eternal inevitability.

Since the subject’s conception and popularisation through Adam Smith and Ricardo to

present times, the central goal of economists has been to arrange the affairs of society to

make the poor richer. To this end, the subject has been a resounding success. We live in a

society in which the average standard of living would be better than even the top 1% of 17 th

Century Europe. This has been in no small part due to the work of economists.

With the wealth of the single household becoming an area of increasing focus and

improvement, our culture has seen a remarkable change to reflect this. For most of human

history, it has been the warrior who gained hero status – think of the statues of men on

horses that shroud major European cities. To fight and serve was seen as the noble thing to

do. Nowadays, it is the entrepreneur who garners the same admiration, an individual who

finds a way to improve the lives of the vast majority of people. It is the domestic household

and individual that is the object of attention and this has emanated into many areas of

contemporary culture itself. Shows such as ‘Community,’ ‘Friends,’ ‘Arrested Development,’

or perhaps the endings to ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ always champion the often-

mundane comforts of ordinary living. In doing so, the factors that we use to analyse a society

have changed. It is not war, or the hero who defines our society but rather the humble

domestic household- us.


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