What the heck is a “meme” and why should you care?

Twitter: @rodgermitchell; Search #monetarysovereignty
Facebook: Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

Mitchell’s laws:
●The more federal budgets are cut and taxes increased, the weaker an economy becomes.
●Austerity is the government’s method for widening the gap between rich and poor,
which ultimately leads to civil disorder.
●Until the 99% understand the need for federal deficits, the upper 1% will rule.
●To survive long term, a monetarily non-sovereign government must have a positive balance of payments.
●Those, who do not understand the differences between Monetary Sovereignty and monetary non-sovereignty, do not understand economics.
●The penalty for ignorance is slavery.
●Everything in economics devolves to motive.


Those of us who are sophisticates have been using the word “meme” for eons, mostly to impress you dullards. We fashionable types could use the words “belief” or “idea” or “premise” or even “axiom.” But that wouldn’t demonstrate we are cool with the latest jargon.

There is an acceptable definition of “meme” in Wikipedia at Meme But the Daily Bell has an even better one:

A meme is a dominant social theme with the strength for propagation from one generation to another.

A dominant social theme is a belief system (usually concerning a purported social or natural problem) promoted by the monetary or power elite.

The related problem, as it is presented, may be centered on people themselves (e.g., overpopulation) or be caused by people (e.g., global warming).

A dominant social theme typically is launched from one or more centers of the elite’s global architecture, such as the United Nations, World Bank, World Trade Organization or World Health Organization.

The theme is then rebroadcast by the mainstream media. Dominant social themes are notable for their resistance to contrary evidence, and they invariably imply a need for unaccountable, elite authorities to impose a solution.

With sufficient repetition in the mass media (including “news” and entertainment presentations) and through enshrinement in school curricula, a dominant social theme can become so ingrained in the public mind that it is passed from one generation to the next, as though it were folk wisdom.

It becomes virtually exempt from questioning.

The fear of overpopulation is a meme, as the worry now has spanned generations. A generalized fear that the world may run out of resources, including basic resources such as oil and water, appears on its way to becoming a meme.

After, “religion-equals-morality,” which is the world’s favorite meme, economists might say today’s dominant meme is the belief that the finances of a Monetarily Sovereign nation are the same as the finances of a monetarily non-sovereign entity — government, business or person — so a Monetarily Sovereign government must “live within its means” (aka “austerity”) or suffer recession, depression or inflation.

Harking back to that wonderful Daily Bell definition:

1. This need-for-austerity meme has the “strength for propagation from one generation to another.” (Not just generations, but centuries).

2. It is “promoted by the monetary or power elite.” (Promoted by political leaders).

3. It is “launched from one or more centers of the elite’s global architecture, such as the United Nations, World Bank, World Trade Organization.” (All of them plus others.)

4. It is “rebroadcast by the mainstream media.” (All of them.)

5. It is “resistant to contrary evidence.” (Bingo!)

6. It “implies a need for unaccountable, elite authorities to impose a solution.” (Every government plus famous economists and other experts.)

7. It is enshrined enshrined in school curricula (Nearly all college economics departments, with the notable exception of UMKC, teach it.

8. It has become “virtually exempt from questioning.” (In fact, those who dare to question it are attacked. See Ignaz Semmelweis.)

The fundamental problem with memes is #8, above. They aren’t questioned, at least not seriously enough. And they often are wrong.

“Overpopulation” has not occurred, probably won’t occur this century and may never occur.

“Global warming” is happening, in that the world is getting warmer, but the meme that global warming is a curse, has begun to show cracks — perhaps it’s not so imminent and maybe it’s not so bad as Al Gore says. On balance, it actually might prove to be beneficial.

“Running-out-of-oil” keeps getting pushed farther into the future as unforeseen technology finds new sources and new substitutes.

“Religion-equals-morality” is a meme that meets all of the above 8 criteria, plus one that magnifies its power. Call it criterion #9: The meme is vital to important people, in this case religious leaders.

The “need-for-austerity” meme has that 9th criterion. It is vital to the important, upper .1% income group, because it leads inexorably to a wider gap between the rich and the rest. The gap is what make them rich, and the wider the gap, the richer they are.

Thus, the need-for-austerity meme, as factually wrong as it is, may be with us forever. That’s why you should care.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell
Monetary Sovereignty


Nine Steps to Prosperity:
1. Eliminate FICA (Click here)
2. Medicare — parts A, B & D — for everyone
3. Send every American citizen an annual check for $5,000 or give every state $5,000 per capita (Click here)
4. Long-term nursing care for everyone
5. Free education (including post-grad) for everyone. Click here
6. Salary for attending school (Click here)
7. Eliminate corporate taxes
8. Increase the standard income tax deduction annually
9. Increase federal spending on the myriad initiatives that benefit America’s 99%

10 Steps to Economic Misery: (Click here:)
1. Maintain or increase the FICA tax..
2. Spread the myth Social Security, Medicare and the U.S. government are insolvent.
3. Cut federal employment in the military, post office, other federal agencies.
4. Broaden the income tax base so more lower income people will pay.
5. Cut financial assistance to the states.
6. Spread the myth federal taxes pay for federal spending.
7. Allow banks to trade for their own accounts; save them when their investments go sour.
8. Never prosecute any banker for criminal activity.
9. Nominate arch conservatives to the Supreme Court.
10. Reduce the federal deficit and debt

No nation can tax itself into prosperity, nor grow without money growth. Monetary Sovereignty: Cutting federal deficits to grow the economy is like applying leeches to cure anemia.
Two key equations in economics:
1. Federal Deficits – Net Imports = Net Private Savings
2. Gross Domestic Product = Federal Spending + Private Investment and Consumption – Net Imports


6 thoughts on “What the heck is a “meme” and why should you care?

  1. Technology and innovation will save us from all of our excesses. Consider that one; how about it? Then tell us where it applies to the above? See the forest, maybe?


  2. What you have here is a pretty good description of what psychologists call a ‘social norm’, but it is a very poor and extremely politicized definition of ‘meme’.

    I enjoy your site tremendously, and learn from your posts occasionally. I appreciate that you so vigorously fight on the side of the 99%. But I must demur on a couple of points in this particular post.

    You may find a way to define ‘overpopulation’ such that your statement that it has not occurred is true, however it is one of the fundamental insights of ecology that biological populations have optimum sizes within a given environment. I can see no logical or political advantage in denying this. Population biologists have a quite simple and robust model of predator prey relations that includes overpopulation leading to population crashes. And while in nature populations tend to fluctuate in dynamic equilibrium, population collapse does happen and is recorded in the literature.

    One doesn’t need a population collapse, however, to judge a population has exceeded its optimum. Unavoidable environmental degradation is sufficient, in my opinion. That may be hard to quantify. Perhaps with better policy our current environmental degradation is avoidable without a decrease in population. But clearly, for the set of policy options currently being exercised, there are both very real sustainability issues and quality of life issues that are compounded by the size of our population.

    It is also worth noting that, “there is no overpopulation” is just as much a meme as “there are too many people”, by any definition of ‘meme’.

    Similarly, “global warming may be good for the planet” is just as much a meme as “global warming is a disaster”. In fact, it’s pretty easy to trace the origin and spread of this particular meme through the right-wing echo chamber.

    Memes are not mind control from above. They are competing ideas that inhabit mental niches. Of course .01% will seek to use them to their own advantage and dominate the public square with their own preferred memes. But that does not mean that only ideas promoted by the oligarchy are memes. “The 99%” is also a meme.


    1. ” . . . a population has exceeded its optimum.”
      Are you saying the human population has exceeded its optimum? If so, what is its optimum (in actual numbers)?

      ” . . . Unavoidable environmental degradation is sufficient”
      All living things “degrade” their environment by using local resources and preventing the spread of other living things. Really depends on what you consider “degradation.”

      One good symptom of overpopulation causing environmental degradation is a shortened life span of the “degrading” species. Overpopulation of a species generally causes that species to live shorter, less healthy lives.

      I suggest much of the human environment actually has improved in the past 100 years. Yes, forests have shrunk, and many species have disappeared, but other species have thrived and the human species is living longer — evidence that overpopulation has not yet occurred..

      Agreed, that one can consider any idea a “meme,” which was the very first point in the post. But the most successful memes do seem to include what you call “mind control from above.” (But, maybe that’s just a meme.)


      1. “Are you saying the human population has exceeded its optimum? If so, what is its optimum (in actual numbers)?”

        No, but I think it’s an open question and since it doesn’t necessarily require a huge die-off event to determine whether the optimum has been exceeded, it won’t necessarily be obvious if it happens. And no, I don’t have the numbers. If I did I would be a famous economist published in a fancy journal instead of a poor schnook on the internet. : )

        Your point about the historical global improvement in average longevity and health for human beings is well taken. But we also have historical data on, for instance, the collapse of fisheries and the failures of crops. In a world of abundance (Boulding’s “cowboy economy”), the loss of a fishery or a crop may be little more than an inconvenience. But as we approach the Earth’s carrying capacity (whatever that is) we could quite easily slip over the line given our apparent inability to pursue policies that advance the general welfare. Bacteria in a petrie dish do it all the time. And if we are supporting our population by overfishing, over grazing, etc, we might still see longer and more healthy lives right up to the point where the food web collapses. So, I’m not saying we are at this point, but I am saying it is a logical possibility.

        You are correct that whether changes in the environment are “degradation” or not depends on one’s definitions. I think we can reasonably agree that some environmental changes are not desirable from the human point of view (If there is such a thing). I think the ecologists are still trying to work out reasonable definitions of “degrade” as it applies to our planetary environment. But I think they have some pretty good measures already of what is a “degraded” ecological community or local environment that can be put into terms of overall productivity, robustness and sustainability, comparing potential versus actual.

        I also agree with you that many widespread memes appear to come from above. I’m not sure if that’s because they are “better” memes (better replicators) or if it’s the huge investment continually poured into preserving and spreading them.


  3. Rodger says, “The need-for-austerity meme may be with us forever.”

    Yes, since it is a vital part of eternal gap between the rich and the rest. When the elites want a war, they create money for it, saying, “Deficits don’t matter” (Dick Cheney). When the public wants social programs, the elites and their shills say, “There is no money. We must reduce the deficit.”

    Most governments play this game in one form or another, to one extent or another. I don’t expect it to ever end.

    (Nor do I expect MMT types to end their childish denial regarding bribery.)


  4. Meme = faulty groupthink subconsciously passed on. Sunrise, sunset, four corners of the world, general scarcity, survival of fittest, nature’s building blocks, can’t afford it….

    Monetary sovereignty is against a brick wall; too good to be true and too complex and counterintuitive to be as obvious as our flat earth.

    MS and MMT will probably have their day of recognition when all else fails and society throws up its hands.


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