There are many things we can point at if we want to assign blame for America's reality not living up to its dream and for so many people in Western democracies choosing to abandon all hope of freedom by voting for and bowing down to authoritarian leaders.

As an economist, I blame economists.

I blame economists because the failure of free-market economics to evolve past a fictional world created by philosophers and into the real world in which we live continues to be responsible for slower than possible economic growth, recessions, depressions, extreme inequalities, and for many, a loss of hope, all of which are pushing large numbers of people in Western democracies who feel left out or left behind to turn away from capitalism and democracy and follow authoritarian leaders without caring what that means or what they will get out of it.

Here is how Eric Hoffer described such people in his 1951 book, The True Believer:

“The frustrated follow a leader less because of their faith that he is leading them to a promised land than because of their immediate feeling that he is leading them away from their unwanted selves. Surrender to a leader is not a means to an end but a fulfillment. Whither they are led is of secondary importance.”

I first read The True Believer when I was in graduate school (a long time ago), and as far as I know, no one has come up with a better explanation of how people are pulled into mass movements and cults. 

I do not think there is a better way of describing the current anti-capitalism, anti-democracy movement spreading across Western democracies, and that seems to have a stranglehold on half of America, than what Hoffer wrote about Germany in 1958.

“I can never forget that one of the most gifted, best educated nations in the world, of its own free will, surrendered its fate into the hands of a maniac.” 

Hoffer did not write as much about the economics behind mass movements, about how a bad economy, such as the German economy after World War I, makes people susceptible to the harangues and false promises of dictators and authoritarians.

And if a bad economy or an economy that leaves many behind can be blamed for a loss of hope and purpose, then it is reasonable to believe we can change the world for the better and give a purpose to lives that seem lost and empty by creating better economies.

Is that possible?

It is.