Rethinking Economics: Readings and Reflections

What is wrong with current state of economics curricula and teaching? Why the growing local and international pressure for change?

How does politics influence the economy? Is the economy an entity distinct from powerful social interests and influence?

What role does the environment play in the economy and how does the form of economic production and organisation impact on the environment?

How do we understand the historical role of women in the economy? How has unpaid labour played into historical social reproduction? How are contemporary gender relations and economic functions and hierarchies related and produced?

Is patriarchy and capitalism fundamentally intertwined? Or can their be a feminist capitalism?

How has the South African and African economy developed over time- from pre-colonial, colonial, imperial, neocolonial  times and into the contemporary period?

How is the historical social construction of race linked with the historical social construction of capitalism in South Africa?

What contemporary policy options does the South African government have at its disposal? What have these choices been historically? What interests have informed the direction they took in the past?

What is the role of colonialism and apartheid in shaping our contemporary economy?

How did the modern discipline of economics develop out of moral philosophy and political economy?

What are the ideological underpinnings of economics? How have these been challenges over time?

How do Marxist approaches to the economy differ from Feminist? Keynesian from institutionalist? Behaviorist from neoclassical?

 

September 2018 marks ten years since the 2008 global financial crisis. A popular anecdote from the time relates to Queen Elizabeth asking a group of academics at the London School of Economics why nobody had predicted it. She wasn’t the only person with that question. Amongst these people were a group of students at the University of Manchester who found no changes and no answers in their economics textbooks. They started the Post-Crash Economics society which later joined with other student organisations and developed into a movement for both Rethinking and Reteaching economics. They called out the dominance of neoclassical economics and its presentation as the only scientific or ‘correct’ way to study and understand the economy. Their complaint is well articulated by Thomas Piketty:  

“To put it bluntly, the discipline of economics has yet to get over its childish passion for mathematics and for purely theoretical and often highly ideological speculation, at the expense of historical research and collaboration with the other social sciences. Economics are all too often preoccupied with petty mathematical problems of interest only to themselves. This obsession with mathematics is an easy way of acquiring the appearance of scientificity without having to answer the far more complex questions posed by the world we live in.”

As economics graduates and students in South Africa, we share these concerns having found so much of our economics training unhelpful for understanding contemporary South African problems, ahistorical and without a foundation in political economy. Being PPE students, our exposure to politics and philosophy, while not without their own limitations, only served to make clearer the limitations in how economics is being taught. In addition to the problems with the assumptions and methodology of neoclassical economics, our textbooks were wholesale imported from the USA with little or no attempt to adapt problems for our own context. More concerning was that this one approach to economics, neoclassical, was taught as the only way to approach the problem of understanding how goods and services are produced and circulated in a society. A specific, partial, and narrow perspective was, in other words, presented as a value-free truth with its propositions advanced in a way akin to laws of physics (and in this case without the humility and openness associated with the theories developed in the natural sciences). Once we had graduated, we found that our economics education equipped us poorly to adapt to working outside of academia and limited our perspective of the questions and approaches that one could adopt when confronting economic problems.

Because of this we were excited to be part of the team that helped organise the Inaugural Rethinking Economics for Africa Festival. The Festival brought together academics, students, activists, policymakers, researchers and members of the public into a conversation about the present and future of economic thinking, teaching and public debate in Africa, and South Africa in particular. It did this in search of an economics discourse, education, and practice that can address the multiple challenges faced, and contribute towards the building of a more just and equal society.

We compile this reading list (which we hope to keep updating with contributions from readers) as a way to expand the conversation around economics in South Africa. We cover the following themes:

  • Why we need to Rethink Economics?
  • Key Readings in Political Economy
  • Political Economy in Africa: Selected Texts
  • Feminism and Economics
  • Intersectionality
  • Key Issues and Themes
  • What Economics can learn from other social sciences

At the end of the list (which is not exhaustive!), we also include a list of podcasts that discuss various issues broadly related to this. If you want to join the conversation on twitter here is an (incomplete) list of accounts to follow.

Why we need to Rethink Economics?

“Of course, all of these policies are supposed to have been backed up by scientifically proved economic theories – saying that markets are best left alone, that making the rich richer makes everyone richer, that welfare spending and protection of worker rights only make people lazy and dependent, and so on. Most people have accepted these theories without much questioning because they are based on “expert” advice. However, all these economic theories are at least debatable and often highly questionable. Contrary to what professional economists will typically tell you, economics is not a science.” –

Ha-Joon Chang Economics is too important to leave to the experts  

“Critical economic thinking is simply not taught during an economics undergraduate degree [at the University of Cape Town]. The department attempts to push mathematical concepts, but only succeeds in promoting rote learning, characteristic of a production centre for ideology. Students aligned with the department thrive, while meaningful engagement is dismissed or punished – ultimately at the expense of interest in the subject. Uncontextualised teaching is deeply immoral. Most of the thousands who study economics every year will not go on to honours, where theories are supposedly interrogated. They will enter policy and business thinking that intervention always harms the poor, that outsourcing is only ever efficient, and that markets are ultimately fair towards employees.” –

Ihsaan Bassier UCT’s economics curriculum is in crisis

“Some years ago, I completed a degree in economics at one of the country’s prestigious universities. I came to economics seeking to understand the causes of poverty and inequality in South Africa and across the Global South. I hoped to learn about what might alleviate these conditions. In hindsight, I recognize that my interest in economics was largely informed by a moral and, indeed, a political concern. Unfortunately, throughout my undergraduate studies, economics was silent on the political and ethical dimensions of the discipline.”

Michael Nassen Smith Economics curricula need to enter 21st century too,

“The 2008 economic crash led to remarkable shifts of opinion among world leaders. Does this crisis create favourable conditions for the reform and revitalisation of economics itself—from a subject dominated by mathematical techniques to a discipline more oriented to understanding real-world institutions and actors? And why were warnings of financial collapse not heeded? Recent shortcomings are partly related to the global triumph of market individualist ideology and partly to the exaggerated roles of modelling and quantification. These failures of economics are partly peculiar to the discipline and also a result of other wider institutional and cultural forces.”

Geoffrey Hodgson “The great crash of 2008 and the reform of economics”

It is abundantly clear that if the current hegemonic high ground of the neo-classical ‘economics’ paradigm is viewed in its historical place, ‘economic thought’ as a term needs to decompose into a generic meaning. The neo-classical paradigm occupies a place in history and in the present, but it has never occupied history, or the present, alone. There have always been competing discourses. As soon as the need for decomposition of histories of ‘economic thought’ from sole focus on the neo-classical paradigm is acknowledged, the door is open more widely for other discourses to contribute to its meaning.

Rob Knowles Political Economy from Below

“Among the biggest problems with the way in which economics is taught are: first, its resistance to change; second, its detachment from the real world of politics, power, culture, identity, history and society. Practitioners (teachers and professionals) conceive of “the economy” as a socially and historically disembedded, almost technical, entity with a life and logic of its own. This is the so-called invisible hand of amorphous “market forces””.-

Ismail Lagardien Help Students Challenge Economics,

“The object of study of ‘economics’ is confused with a single methodological framework used to interpret the economy. Commonly known as neoclassical economics, this school is characterised by an approach where individual agents seek to optimise their preferences under exogenously imposed constraints.However, competing definitions of economics could easily be offered:

Social reproduction – how does a firm, family, society reproduce itself? (the classical definition);

The study of production, distribution and exchange (neoclassical economics typically focuses only on the latter); The study of markets and the enterprise system; and The interactions between exchange, culture and gender.”

Post-Crash Economics Society Economics, Education and Unlearning

“The problem is not only that students are exposed to such views, but that there are no “balancing” courses taught in typical American colleges, in which a different view of economics is presented. Moreover, while practically all economic classes are taught in the “neoclassical” (libertarian, self centered) viewpoint, in classes by non-economists — e.g., in social philosophy, political science, and sociology — a thousand flowers bloom such that a great variety of approaches are advanced, thereby leaving students with a cacophony of conflicting pro-social views.”

Amitai Etzioni  How studying economics makes you antisocial?,  

“Those theories are based on individual agents, competing in markets to maximize narrowly defined ‘economic utility’ (for people) or profit (for firms). The principles are taught with the same certainty as Newtonian physics, and are as devoid of value judgements. This is absurd. Clearly, there are values; mainstream economics values efficiency, markets and growth, and puts individuals over collectives. Yet, undergraduates are not taught to recognize, let alone question, these values — and the consequences are serious.”

Maeve Cohen Post-Crash Economics: Have we learnt nothing?,

“Pluralist economics is the idea that the best way to understand the economy is to study a large number of competing theories”

Oikos Diversifying the Economics Toolkit,

Key Readings in Political Economy

Political economy is a diverse and expansive area of study and no list can cover all relevant topics. However, we have tried to give a starting point for key classic and contemporary texts.

Karl Marx

You can access all of Marx’s writings using the Marxist archive.  There are also a number of useful guides to reading Capital notably those by David Harvey and Ben Fine and Alfredo Saad-Filho. Also have a look at our other reading list on Marx at 200’  which looks at how Marxists in South Africa and the African continent more broadly have interpreted and built on Marx’s work. An open course consisting of a close reading of the text of Volume I of Marx’s Capital in 13 video lectures by Professor David Harvey here.

Suggested starting points:

The Communist Manifesto.   

Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859).

A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843)

The German Ideology  (1845)

Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 .

Capital Vol.1. Chapter 1: Commodities

Capital vol.1.  Part 7: The Accumulation of Capital.

Capital vol.1. Chapter 25: The General Law of Capital Accumulation

Capital vol.3, chapter 30: Money-Capital and Real Capital.

 

-John Maynard Keynes

For a summary and answer to some critics see ‘The General Theory of Employment’ (1937). For the original full text from ‘The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money see here.  

“Traditional Keynesian Economics. Keynes himself had a novel, and markedly non-neoclassical vision of how the economy worked. Keynes used picturesque language to describe the behaviour of entrepreneurs: they were moved by “animal spirits”. But when Keynesian economics came to be codified, and presented in the form of a simple model (as in chapter 18 of the General Theory, and the expositions of others, such as Hicks (1937) and Klein (1948)), earlier modes of thinking crept back. We contend that this vision, captured so well in many of his brilliant passages, provides greater understanding of unemployment and business cycles than do the formal Keynesian models.”- Keynesian, New Keynesian and New Classical Economics, Joseph Stiglitz and Bruce Greenwald

 

-Peter Kropotkin

You can access Kropotkin’s collected works here.

Fields Factories and Workshops :  

“Political economy has hitherto insisted chiefly upon division. We proclaim integration; and we maintain that the ideal of society is a society of integrated combined labour. A society where each individual is a producer of both manual and intellectual work; where each able-bodied human being is a worker, and where each worker works both in the field and in the industrial workshop; where every aggregation of individuals, large enough to dispose of a certain variety of natural resources

The ‘concentration’ so much spoken of is often nothing but an amalgamation of capitalists for the purpose of dominating the market, not for cheapening the technical process.

Low profits induce the employers to reduce the wages, or the number of workers, or the number of days of employment during the week, or eventually compel them to resort to the manufacture of lower kinds of goods, which, as a rule, are paid worse than the higher sorts. As Adam Smith said, low profits ultimately mean a reduction of wages, and low wages mean a reduced consumption by the worker. Low profits mean also a somewhat reduced consumption by the employer; and both together mean lower profits and reduced consumption with that immense class of middlemen which has grown up in manufacturing countries, and that, again, means a further reduction of profits for the employers.

The Wage System”:

“The existing scale of wages seems to us a highly complex product of taxation, government interference, monopoly and capitalistic greed–in a word, of the State and the capitalist system. In our opinion all the theories made by economists about the scale of wages have been invented after the event to justify existing injustices.”

“Poverty, the existence of the poor, was the first cause of riches. This it was which created the earliest capitalist. For, before the surplus value, about which people are so fond of talking, could begin to be accumulated it was necessary that there should be poverty-stricken wretches who would consent to sell their labor force rather than die of hunger. It is poverty that has made the rich”

“For Kropotkin, the purpose of political economy was to study society’s needs and the means available (either currently in use, or which could be developed with present knowledge) to meet them. [He wrote], ‘It should try to analyze how far the present means are expedient and satisfactory … [and] should concern itself with the discovery of means for the satisfaction of these needs with the smallest possible waste of labor and with the greatest benefit to mankind in general’ It was this task that Kropotkin took on. Rather than engage in the abstract theorizing that dominated, then as now, the field, he carried out detailed studies of the agricultural and industrial techniques practical in his day (whether they were in general use or not) and their capacity to meet human needs.” – Kropotkin’s Anarchist Critique of Capitalism, John Bekken.

-Karl Polanyi

“These instances show that redistribution also tends to enmesh the economic system proper in social relationships. We find, as a rule, the process of redistribution forming part of the prevailing political regime, whether it be that of tribe, city-state, despotism, or feudalism of cattle or land. The production and distribution of goods is organized in the main through collection, storage, and redistribution, the pattern being focused on the chief, the temple, the despot, or the lord. Since the relations of the leading group to the led are different according to the foundation on which political power rests, the principle of redistribution will involve individual motives as different as the voluntary sharing of the game by hunters and the dread of punishment which urges the fellaheen to deliver their taxes in kind.” The Great Transformation

 

-Hyman Minsky

“This brief will provide a Minskyan analysis of the forces that have brought us to the present situation, and will make some general policy recommendations to ameliorate the damage done to the financial structure over the past couple of decades by lax oversight, risky innovations, and highlights what we actually confront is a systemic failure resulting from a fundamentally flawed model—in Minsky’s phrase, “money manager capitalism.” Indeed, Minsky’s writings can shed a lot of light on the current problems, as well as on the direction that financial system reform ought to take. If the problem is with the design of the financial system itself, yet another crisis will arrive shortly to expose other flaws. For that reason, reform is needed.”- Financial markets meltdown. What can we learn from Minsky?,

-Joseph Schumpeter

“economists who, ex visu of a point of time, look for example at the behavior of an oligopolist industry—an industry which consists of a few big firms—and observe the well-known moves and countermoves within it that seem to aim at nothing but high prices and restrictions of output are making precisely that hypothesis. They accept the data of the momentary situation as if there were no past or future to it and think that they have understood what there is to understand if they interpret the behavior of those firms by means of the principle of maximizing profits with reference to those data.” Creative Destruction (from Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy)

Max Weber

“ …it should be emphasised that economic history (including the history of ‘class struggles’), is most definitely not, as the materialist conception of history claims, identical with all culture in its entirety. Culture is not simply the resultant, nor solely a function, of economic history; rather economic history presents only a foundation, without which however productive study of any of the great realms of culture is inconceivable. ” Conceptual Preface to General Economic History

 

Political Economy in Africa: Selected Texts

“A major irony of African development history is that the theories and models employed have largely come from outside the continent. No other region of the world has been so dominated by external ideas and models. A growing number of institutions and scholars have expressed serious concerns about this foreign domination, issuing a clarion call for Africans to lead in the reform process and to think for themselves. This major challenge is answered by this book.” 

Thandika Mkandawire and Charles C. Soludo- “Our Continent, Our Future”

 

“Development in human society is a many-sided process. At the level of the individual, it implies increased skill and capacity, greater freedom, creativity, self-discipline, responsibility and material well-being. Some of these are virtually moral categories and are difficult to evaluate-depending as they do on the age in which one lives, one’s class origins, and one’s personal code of what is right and what is wrong. However, what is indisputable is that the achievement of any of these aspects of personal development is very much tied in with the state of the society as a whole.”

Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

 

“Racial ideology in South Africa must be seen as an ideology which sustains and reproduces capitalist relations of production.”

Harold Wolpe: Capitalism and Cheap Labour Power in South Africa

 

“The effect of unfulfilled promises of global development strategies has been more sharply felt in Africa than in the other continents of the world. Indeed, rather than result in an improvement in the economic situation of the continent, successive strategies have made it stagnate and become more susceptible than other regions to the economic and social crises suffered by the industrialised countries. Thus, Africa is unable to point to any significant growth rate, or satisfactory index of general well-being, in the past 20 years. Faced with this situation, and determined to undertake measures for the basic restructuring of the economic base of our continent, we resolved to adopt a far-reaching regional approach based primarily on collective self-reliance”

The Lagos Plan of Action

 

“Socialism–like democracy–is an attitude of mind. In a socialist society it is the socialist attitude of mind, and not the rigid adherence to a standard political pattern, which is needed to ensure that the people care for each other’s welfare.”

Julius Nyerere “Ujamma: The Basis for African Socialism”

“It is the elimination of fancifulness from socialist action that makes socialism scientific. To suppose that there are tribal, national, or racial socialisms is to abandon objectivity in favour of chauvinism.”

Kwame Nkrumah “African Socialism Revisited”

 

“The dialectics between colonial policies and social formations and modes of production internal to the regions are seen as a major determinant in shaping the history of underdevelopment in Black Africa. On this basis, four historical periods are analyzed : (1) The pre-mercantilist period (2) The mercantilist period (3) The preparatory phase for colonization (4) The colonization period. Concluding the discussion of the colonization period, the author points to the necessity of viewing African socities as dependent, peripheral ones, shaped according to the needs of dominant, capitalist societies.

Samir Amin: Underdevelopment and Dependence in Black Africa. Amin was one of the foremost political economists and left intellectuals. A comprehensive repository of his work can be found here.

 

“This crisp summary of the contemporary status of bourgeois economics underlines the urgent need for its systematic critique. This is an epistemological duty dictated by some basic considerations. The first is the unscientific character of much of what passes for conventional economics. One aspect of this is that the assumptions, explanations and predictions of bourgeois economics are often so fundamentally at variance with observed reality, that this adamant conflict between theory and reality has undermined the intellectual consensus in the discipline. In this regard, it does not really matter whether we examine the assumptions or test the predictions of economic theories-both are often incongruent with observed phenomena.”

Bade Onimode “An introduction to Marxist Political Economy”,  

 

Feminism and Economics

“One of the enduring myths about capitalism that continues to be perpetuated in mainstream economic textbooks and other pedagogic strategies is that labor supply is somehow exogenous to the economic system. The supply of labor is typically assumed, especially in standard growth theories, to be determined by the rate of population growth, which in turn is also seen as “outside” the economic system rather than in interplay with it. The reality is, of course, very different: the supply of labor has been very much a result of economic processes, not something extraneous to it. Throughout its history, capitalism has proved adept at causing patterns of labor supply to change in accordance with demand. Migration—whether of slaves, indentured labor, or free workers—has been instrumental in this regard. The use of child labor similarly has been sanctioned and encouraged or disapproved and suppressed in varying economic conditions. But nowhere has this particular capacity of capitalism to generate its own labor been more evident than in the case of female labor.”-

Jayati Ghosh, Women, Labor, and Capital Accumulation in Asia. Also look at Professor Ghosh’s blog here

“One of the most closely guarded secrets of advanced capitalist societies involves the possibility – the real possibility – of radically transforming the nature of housework. A substantial portion of the housewife’s domestic tasks can actually be incorporated into the industrial economy. In other words, housework need no longer be considered necessarily and unalterably private in character. Teams of trained and well-paid workers, moving from dwelling to dwelling, engineering technologically advanced cleaning machinery, could swiftly and efficiently accomplish what the present-day housewife does so arduously and primitively. Why the shroud of silence surrounding this potential of radically redefining the nature of domestic labour? Because the capitalist economy is structurally hostile to the industrialisation of housework.”

Angela Davis Women, Race and Class: The Approaching Obsolescence of Housework: A Working-Class Perspective. You can get the full book here “Women, Race and Class”

 

“My claim is that the ‘crisis of care’ is best interpreted as a more or less acute expression of the social-reproductive contradictions of financialized capitalism. This formulation suggests two ideas. First, the present strains on care are not accidental, but have deep systemic roots in the structure of our social order, which I characterize here as financialized capitalism. Nevertheless, and this is the second point, the present crisis of social reproduction indicates something rotten not only in capitalism’s current, financialized form but in capitalist society per se.”

Nancy Fraser Contradictions of Capital and Care. See also this recent clip on Marx and Feminism.  

 

“In this major book Martha Nussbaum, one of the most innovative and influential philosophical voices of our time, proposes a new kind of feminism that is genuinely international, argues for an ethical underpinning to all thought about development planning and public policy, and dramatically moves beyond the abstractions of economists and philosophers to embed thought about justice in the concrete reality of the struggles of poor women.” –

Martha Nussbaum Women and Human Development,

Intersectionality

“Intersectionality is an analytic sensibility, a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power. Originally articulated on behalf of black women, the term brought to light the invisibility of many constituents within groups that claim them as members, but often fail to represent them.” 

Kimberley Crenshaw Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait

“An intersectional economic theory, rooted in, but also moving beyond, the traditions of radical political economy might precisely be the development left students need to pursue in countering the role of orthodox economics in perpetuating the continuing social crises that are the lived experience of South Africans (or even here in the United States where I am currently based) of different oppressions.”

Adam Aboobaker, Intersectionality and Economics

 

“I believe that a materialist approach to intersectionality is superior to a growing current of culturalism and identitarianism infiltrating academic and activist spaces.”

Michael Nassen Smith, Intersectionality: Materialism or Culturalism

 

“As an additive to Marxist theory, intersectionality leads the way toward a much higher level of understanding of the character of oppression than that developed by classical Marxists, enabling the further development of the ways in which solidarity can be built between all those who suffer oppression and exploitation under capitalism to forge a unified movement.” –

Sharon Smith, Black Feminism and Intersectionality

Key Concepts and Issues

On Dependency:

“The concept of dependence permits us to see the internal situation of these countries as part of world economy. In the Marxian tradition, the theory of imperialism has been developed as a study of the process of expansion of the imperialist centers and of their world domination. In the epoch of the revolutionary movement of the Third World, we have to develop the theory of laws of internal development in those countries that are the object of such expansion and are governed by them. This theoretical step transcends the theory of development which seeks to explain the situation of the underdeveloped countries as a product of their slowness or failure to adopt the patterns of efficiency characteristic of developed countries (or to “modernize” or “develop” themselves).” –

Theotonio Dos Santos, The Structure of Dependence

 

On Neoliberalism:

“For three decades, neoliberalism dominated the global political economy. Defined as an explicit preference for private over public control, neoliberalism represented a dramatic break from postwar policies. This article examines the historical development of neoliberalism through three perspectives: as an economic policy, as an expression of political power, and as an ideational hegemony. We reject the notion of neoliberal inevitability and suggest how it came to dominate all other possible alternatives. The review emphasizes the critical importance of political preferences and influences as well as the central role ideas played in defining policy paradigms.”-

Miguel A. Centeno and Joseph N. Cohen “The Arc of Neoliberalism”,

 

“For, whilst this is a stocktaking exercise, delivered to some degree in popular and stark form, it gains depth from three sources. One is longstanding scholarship on neoliberalism itself. Another is being able to view, and to present, neoliberalism in light of the global crisis. The third is to have illustrated the nature of neoliberalism through comparative case studies around housing, health, pensions and water, themselves situated in the broader context of study of the impact of financialisation on economic and social functioning. This intellectual exercise is both significant and timely because the current ‘age of neoliberalism’ has already lasted beyond one generation – exceeding the lifetime of the preceding Keynesian ‘golden age’ – and there are no signs that it is about to give way. The solidity of neoliberalism, its continuing ability to renew itself and intensify its hold on governments and societies despite economic volatility and the depth of the current crisis, warrants recognition and detailed investigation. We offer our contribution in what follows.” –

Ben Fine and Alfredo Saad-Filho Thirteen things you need to know about neoliberalism

 

On Inequality

“What are the major conclusions to which these novel historical sources have led  me? The first is that one should be wary of any economic determinism in regard to inequalities of wealth and income. The history of the distribution of wealth has always been deeply political, and it cannot be reduced to purely economic mechanisms. In particular, the reduction of inequality that took place in most developed countries between 1910 and 1950 was above all a consequence of war and of policies adopted to cope with the shocks of war. Similarly, the resurgence of inequality after 1980 is due largely to the political shifts of the past several decades, especially in regard to taxation and finance. The history of inequality is shaped by the way economic, social, and political actors view what is jut and what is not, as well as the relative power of those actors and the collective choices that result.” –

Thomas Piketty, Capital in the 21st Century. For a useful compilation and explanation of some of Piketty’s graphs see here.  

 

Questioning the use of GDP and GDP per capita as a measure for development

“Accounting is not a neutral exercise. As the term suggests, indicators “indicate” the path to follow to improve performance. In the end, governments, companies and societies at large strive to achieve what is counted, while disregarding what is not. Of all accounting tools, the most powerful is the gross domestic product (GDP), the headline indicator of economic performance. GDP fully endorses the capitalist theory of value: it views market transactions as the only drivers of development, as opposed to non-market exchanges; it considers as positive all forms of production and consumption, regardless of their impact on economic welfare; and it neglects social and environmental impacts.”-

Lorenzo Fioramonti, Why Capitalism wins and how a Simple Accounting Shift can Defeat it

“The term Gross Domestic Product is often talked about as if it were “handed down from god on tablets of stone.” But this concept was invented by an economist in the 1930s. We need a more effective measurement tool to match 21st century needs” –

Michael Green: the Social Progress Index. Watch his Ted Talk.


What can economics learn from other social sciences?

“They started to investigate the sources of the economists’ authority and its complicated relationship to democratic politics; building on the contributions of historians of economics, they probed the discipline’s development over time and its variability across nations, shattering the myth of a universal science; and they strove to make sense of what the expansion of economic technique means for the way we live our lives. This is what this talk aims to share: a view of economics from its outside, looking at it from below.”

Economics: The View from Below

“They say when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. And the risk is that when every policy adviser is an economist, every problem looks like inadequate per-capita gross domestic product.” –What if sociologists had as much influence as economists?

“Sociologists surely don’t have all the answers, but they at least have different ones than economists do. If only they’d be willing to share more of them.” –Economics Needs Help From Sociology,

“As I see it, the economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth.” – How Did Economists Get it So Wrong?,  

“You see, Economics is not just about money, or exchange, or the distribution of resources. It is about human action, and interaction. It is a science of society. And History — the record of human experience — provides us with the raw data. It is the source of all of the models, all of the theories of how society works. And it is their test. History is the evidence — it is the rock upon which an economic theory survives, or is broken.” –Why study economic history

“Explaining how markets work is a central subject of economics. So why has economics failed to provide a convincing basis for deciding what should, and what economics failed to provide a convincing basis for deciding what should, and what should not, be up for sale? Should not, be up for sale? The reason lies in the conception of economics as a value-neutral science of the reason lies in the conception of economics as a value-neutral science of human behavior and social choice. As I will try to show, deciding which social practices human behavior and social choice. As I will try to show, deciding which social practices should be governed by market mechanisms requires a form of economic reasoning should be governed by market mechanisms requires a form of economic reasoning that is bound up with moral reasoning.” Market Reasoning as Moral Reasoning: Why Economists Should Re-engage with Political Philosophy

 

Podcasts for Rethinking Economics

Beyond Economism with Nancy Fraser- “Legendary critical theorist Nancy Fraser argues that a total analysis of capitalism requires taking Marxism beyond a narrowly economistic view. Throughout its history, capitalism has been defined not just by labor exploitation but also by the disavowal of that exploitation’s own basic conditions of possibility: the things that the daily business of labor exploitation and surplus value appropriation require from politics, care work, war-making, mining, patriarchy, racism and more.”

Telling a New Story with George Monbiot– “A laundry list of modest policy solutions is not enough, it turns out. It’s not just that technocratic fixes-around-the-edges spectacularly fail to meet people’s needs; in failing to articulate a big picture vision of how the world ought to be transformed, they fail to move people—either emotionally or, more concretely, to the polls.” Dan’s guest George Monbiot argues that the left needs a powerful new story to win power and change lives in his new book, Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis.

Democracy in Chains with Nancy Maclean – “For libertarians, liberty means something different. It’s about liberty for property owners. And in their quest to preserve that absolute freedom for the ownership class—whether their assets be human slaves, factories or extractive industries—democracy must be curtailed and the power of the people must be checked and repressed. This is the argument put forward by Dan’s guest, historian Nancy MacLean, in her book Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. The book makes a powerful argument for the anti-democratic origins and trajectory of free-market fundamentalist Koch-Brothers-aligned economists who have come to profoundly shape and warp American politics to fit their dystopian vision. The book has also been controversial.”

David Harvey on Capital – “David Harvey has taught Capital to huge numbers of people everywhere. Dan interviews him about his latest book, Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason. Harvey explains why he thinks all three volumes are of Capital are key, why we’re still living under neoliberalism at least unless and until ethnonationalist autarchy pushes it aside, how capitalism might survive climate change via mass immiseration, and linking struggles over production and consumption in the fight to transform society toward socialism. And more”

 

Petro-imperialism and Petro-Capitalism with Timothy Mitchell-“Historian and political theorist Timothy Mitchell joins Dan for the second of a two-part interview on his book Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil, published in 2011 by Verso. In part 1, we talked about a lot of things, including how the rise of coal made both industrial capitalism and newly powerful worker resistance possible; and how the shift to oil then facilitated the persistence of imperialism in a decolonizing world while thwarting worker organizing. In this installment, we discuss imperialist assaults on worker struggles in Iraq and Iran, the cooptation of those struggles by nationalist elites, and how those imperialist attacks facilitated the rise of the Baathist security state. We’ll also look at how the true history of the 70s oil shock undermines the conventional account, how the protection of minorities was used to legitimate imperialism, how petro-dollars fueled the global arms trade, in what sense the Iraq War has been a war for oil, and the US strategy to seek advantage through the continuation of conflict and instability across the Middle East.”

 

By Carilee Osborne, Michael Nassen Smith and Rekang Jankie

 

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