Most societies create mythologies. At entry level, the purpose of these mythologies is to explain how the society came to be. In more modern times, mythologies are used to persuade the members of a society that the social and economic conditions they live in are the best possible and the nation they live in is special.
Several well known mythologies for the United States, historic and current, include Manifest Destiny, American Exceptionalism, we live in a democracy and market capitalism is the best possible economic system. Mythologies are intended to make people feel good about themselves, their country and their leaders.
These familiar mythologies function at an intellectual level similar to a high school pep rally.
Where do these mythologies come from? They come from the entities and interests that have the most to gain by perpetuating a set of cultural and economic conditions they personally benefit from, power and wealth. As long as the System can keep the majority of people entertained and distracted, those in power stay in power and they tend to want more power over time.
Economic, social and environmental trends such as increasing concentration of wealth and power, climate change, sharply increasing levels of social conflict, resource uncertainties and environmental degradation are saying - the culture and economic system celebrated by our familiar national mythologies is at odds for a peaceful and healthy world.
A closer look at the underside of global market capitalism reveals an economic system that is fundamentally dishonest. It is the nursery of the greatest social, environmental, economic and spiritual problems of our time.
Understanding the core principles of market capitalism, as we know it - economic value and economic efficiency and closely related external cost - is a big help to understanding why this economic system is the nursery of so many critical problems and challenges.
In the briefest words, mainstream economics defines economic value as creating goods and services that generate the most money value. What those products are made out of, how and who produces them, how they are used, the consequences of using them and how they are disposed of are secondary concerns at best. What is most important is creating value, not satisfying a reasonable need in a reasonable way. The more money value created the better.
Here are a few familiar examples.
Transportation - A car has more value than a bike or train. Shelter - A large suburban house has more value than a modest flat. Health Care - A sick person has more value than a healthy person. Food - Highly processed junk food has more value than simple healthy food.
Economic efficiency is a partner to economic value. The ideal of economic efficiency is to optimize economic value. That means minimize costs of production or services to maximize profit. Social, public health and environmental well being are marginalized as needed.
Globalization - Moving jobs to places of cheaper labor that also have lesser work place and environmental standards. Economy of Scale - Resource intensive and environmentally destructive industrial agriculture. Clearcutting old growth forests. All kinds of automation to replace human labor to cut costs.
Enormous amounts of undervalued energy and resources - essentially a wasteful practice and immense subsidy - have allowed this economic system to function as we know it.
Closely related to economic value and efficiency above is external cost. Simply, an external cost is a negative consequence of products and services that are not paid for when the product or service is bought. They can be impacts on social, environmental, public health, even spiritual well being.
Examples - Health problems from eating junk food. Traffic deaths, injuries and property damage from car wrecks. Diminished value of antibiotics because they are fed to cattle in feed lots. Time lost by unproductive entertainment that could have been volunteer time in the community. A hapless political system. Consumers instead of citizens. The most obese military in the world. To name only a few.
Consider many sectors of the economy - manufacturing, retail, health care, safety and security, extraction, construction, environmental remediation. Tens of millions of jobs exist to repair the damage caused by tens of millions of other jobs. To the mainstream economy, this is economic value and economic efficiency at work.
A core economic mythology is, give people the information to decide what to buy and they will make the smartest choice - let the market decide. A smart choice assumes people have the information to make a smart choice. That information is absent. Even worse, the culture of consuming renders most people disinterested, [another external cost] in knowing the history of a product or service. What we have overwhelmingly instead, is choice determined by whatever costs the least. Don't ask, don't tell, don't care.
Our familiar mainstream economic system is dishonest and it is not accountable. It ignores its own mythology.
Downsizing material, energy and resource needs; upsizing civic involvement, greening where we live and our own lives is the point of departure for replacing the mainstream economy and culture with an economy and culture that is friendly to people and planet and a credit to what humans are capable of.