Challenging the Econocrats – those people who use mainstream economic thinking to define political debate – is not for the faint-hearted.
Their failure to even envisage the possibility of the 2008 crash may have appeared to be their Waterloo; the moment when their lack of clothing was revealed. Surely, many of us thought, after that embarrassment their influence would decline and new economic thinking would be welcomed by all.
Not at all.
It now seems that the US ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was right in 2018 when he declared, referencing Mark Twain, that “the reports of the death of neo-classical economics have been greatly exaggerated”. This declaration was to an event celebrating new economic thinking organised by the OECD New Approaches to Economic Challenges (NAEC) team – which was set up as a response to the 2008 crisis and has now been dissolved.
Not much joy in academia either. Rethinking Economics, set up by students rebelling against the narrowness of economic teaching over ten years ago, now has over 120 groups of students around the world challenging how economics is taught, yet it is difficult to point to any resulting substantial change in economic teaching in universities or schools.
Same old, same old while the world burns and conflicts grow.
Or politics. We are now approaching a year of elections in 2024 when all leading parties will claim their right to be elected based mainly on their ability to manage the economy in line with standard economic ideology. They will claim to have a safe pair of economic hands; repeat the mantra of “growth, growth, growth”; talk about balancing the books and providing incentives for private investment. Same old, same old while the world burns and conflicts grow.
In my neck of the policy woods – ecological regeneration – it is also remarkably bleak. Private finance and markets are being sold as the solution. The standard TINA (There Is No Alternative) playbook is being used to convince the world that “the only realistic source of funding is from the private sector”. It is amazing how the promoters of this, now old and decrepit, dogma, show no doubt and still seek to ignore and silence any questioning, while many conservationists have accepted private finance as their saviour after years of underfunding and marginalisation. Attention from Big Finance is taken as a signal that they too are now worth it and will have a place in the financial sun.
We in the pluralist camp know that growth-based exploitative economic systems are at the core of the clutch of crises we are facing,
But of course, we are not faint-hearted, and we will not despair. We in the pluralist camp know that growth-based exploitative economic systems are at the core of the clutch of crises we are facing, while ecological collapse, political conflict and social upheaval are the symptoms. We need to reset our expectations and refine our strategies.
I may have been overly optimistic when I first published The Mint in 2017, but there continue to be reasons for hope: William Hynes, who led NAEC, is now at the World Bank with other new economic thinkers, pluralist economic teaching is growing outside economics departments, Mazzucato’s missions idea continues to gain traction with politicians and in my small world, the cracks in the private finance/markets menu are beginning to show.
Beyond that I hope the contributions to this issue help you to continue to strive and stay the course with the new economic project, which is clearly not going to be a quick fix.
Joe Earle reflects on his journey since authoring ‘Econocracy’, Colin Mayer looks for morality to save capitalism from its crisis and Emma Fromberg seeks the power of metaphors to reveal the flaws in business logic.
Roger Miles re-evaluates nudge economics, William Darity challenges the place of scarcity in economics and Richard Douglas points the finger at economists who rubbished the idea of a limit to growth.
Adrian Wilson, Irene Nduta, Somo Abdi and Jethron Ayumbah Akallah explain how two US economists had the power to cut off Kenyans from their water supply, Christopher Mouré and Shai Gorsky explore what takes the ‘not’ out of not-for-profit healthcare in the US and Nicolette Boater relates how the community in Bath in the UK beat the economic developers.
Alex Kozul-Wright reviews Guy Standing’s The Politics of Time and Guy Dauncey reviews Wealth Supremacy: How the Extractive Economy and the Biased Rules of Capitalism Drive Today’s Crises by Marjorie Kelly.
My best wishes for the holiday season and hope you arrive in 2024 suitably refreshed for the ongoing struggle.