There is a reason why the current economic orthodoxy makes sense to people but MMT is a hard sell. Yes, there is active propaganda and there is the structural propaganda that is called "economics". And, yes orthodoxy matches closer to the realities of individuals and families. (The fallacy of orthodoxy consists precisely in taking what is true for the individual and family and applying it to a national government that issues its own currency.) But there are deeper reasons too. It brings us to the entire question of why people believe what we (they) do.
1) There are limits on what we are capable of believing, limit on what we are capable of even considering.
Since the dawn of civilization, human society has been organized around scarcity. It is the air our societies breathe.
Since the dawn of consciousness, east African hairless apes, i.e. humans, have had a strong sense of fair play and reciprocity. What exactly fair play and reciprocity consists of varies from culture to culture. But fair play and reciprocity themselves are deep in our wetware and firmware
MMT sounds too much like a free lunch to be believed as real. It will tend to be taken as a nice fantasy. In the middle ages, such fantasies could power religious revolutions. In the modern age, political revolutions. But deep down inside, our deep programming tells us that it is too good to be true. Part of the power of mass spectator sports and entertainment-celebrity fantasy is that the unreality of it is visible I know full bloody well that my rent will still be due tomorrow even if Derek Jeter gets his 3000th hit or Manchester United manages to beat Barcelona somehow.
2) Human cultures and societies have rigidity in their thinking.
# Not all limits on understanding arise from within the realm of thought. In other words, they are not because we are stupid or don’t know how to think properly. Most are psychological and/or political. These limits on thinking both affect social realities and psychological understanding and are affected by them. (Human societies are highly complex causal loops.)
# Thinking or talking as though limits on understanding must or probably must be occurring in the realm of thought is itself a very intense limit on understanding. Often when leftists look at right-wingers, we marvel at their thought processes. But this overlooks that integrity of thought processes is a much higher value for most leftists than for many right-wingers. They have other integrities they consider more important. For example, loyalty to their religion or to some group whose support they have relied on.
How often do we ask ourselves why people can't understand what seems obvious to us? "What's the matter with Kansas?" "Are they stupid or evil?"
The answers that I hear most often feel inadequate to me. They explain some of it, but not enough. And if now we think we have an answer even though we really don't, then we lose the question. Which right now is often the most important thing we actually have.
The example most in my own face right now is the question of why the two legacy parties have such a hold on Americans. In Europe too, there are and will be many elections in which all the parties that get many votes (and often that is more than 2) agree on something that most of the population hates. Or if there seems to be opposition, it is the kind of kabuki opposition that the American Democratic Party specializes in. The kind of opposition that everyone understands will not change the outcome.
Yes, the US legacy parties are part of the elite. Yes, they will have limitless funds for campaigning. Yes, they have the entire complex ideological edifice of the elite behind them. The media, the universities, the think tanks, the professional organizations.
But for me, all of that still does not add up to the overwhelming victory for pro-bankster politicians that is already baked into the cake for 2012. There is some reason why most of us ultimately buy into the thing even when we hate the visible results.
Here are some of the factors involved.
# How we internally experience power or its lack, our own and that of others.
This involves individual psychological and cultural patterns.
It is crucial for human societies that humans are born so helpless and needing support. It is also crucial that we evolved in small packs. We are not solo hunters but not herd or flock animals either. This fact does not determine how everything works (nothing does; it is all complex loops) but it is too important to overlook.
# How we respond to not knowing
Not knowing can be overwhelming and painful. Partly because it resonates with earlier personal and collective experiences of lacking power (the hungry baby, the enslaved or en-famined tribe). Choosing some barely credible myth ("if someone would only drown the federal government, my life would be paradise on earth or at least not the hell it really is", "after the Revolution") keeps that not-knowing at bay. Although it often reinforces it.
I honestly think that so much has changed so fast the past decades that there is so much that we no longer know and this huge not-knowing is overwhelming. Particularly for those of us who can not force others to pay the price for our mistakes.
3) Vastly intensified communication within humanity has profoundly altered how everything functions. For example, there are now billions of people yearning for something similar to the material riches of life in the West whose parents a generation ago lived lives so separate from MusicVideoLand that it did not affect them. Or they it.
In the early 1950s, the desires of the Chinese or Indian rural poor had no effect on wage negotiations between GM and the UAW. Or the budget of the state of Arizona. They do now.
We are transitioning from one set of complex interacting loops to a different set. It is not that A causes B, like pool balls, but rather loops upon loops of feedback and feedforward. And that system of complex loops as a whole is changing.
This way of seeing things is too complex to be provide short-term answers. It does not have much to say about what to do about 2012. But long-term, I think we need much more understanding of this type
Taking society as a whole, we do not understand how the realm of understanding really works, we do not even know that we do not know, and we don't fully appreciate that this is important. This is not-knowing raised to the 2.5 power (ie more than not-knowing squared but less than not-knowing cubed).
A closing sidebar: Life among the muggles
Most people I have known, even just from reading their posts, who are active in politics or spirituality, find themselves in a position a bit like Harry Potter and his friends. They live in a world that most people don't understand. They have developed capacities that others do not know about.
In a sense, the entire Harry Potter series is driven by the examination of how to deal with that. What is the right way for wizards and witches to relate to muggles? I think all of us have a bit of Hermione (who is inherently sympathetic with the powerless of the wizarding world and those who are not even part of that world (muggles) and a little bit of Malfoyism too (both parents and son).
And I think that what far too many of us do far too much of the time is to pretend that we are muggles. Maybe we put someone else’s picture up on our wall or in our hearts and act as though they are the wizard or witch that we aren't.
By the way, we are complex enough beings that if we genuinely develop our capacities, we are all wizards or witches among muggles in some realm or other.
PS Another fictional work that examines this question more deeply is "Anathem".