Change is Coming

For more than a decade now, dissatisfaction with the state of economics as a discipline has been growing within its ranks. Much of it has been driven by students and young people who are increasingly aware of the many limitations of what they are being taught at universities across the world, and much more willing to challenge existing dogmas and power structures.

This book is the outcome of a collective effort by such young people, to identify more precisely the source of their unhappiness with the current state of economics and, even more importantly, to highlight how this state of affairs can be changed.

It highlights a wide range of problems within the profession including a lack of diversity and inclusion; harmful hierarchies between countries; a dominant paradigm that fails to address structural inequalities, whitewashes histories of oppression, and undermines democracy and development; and incentive structures that punish economists who seek to venture beyond this paradigm. By presenting these concerns in clear-eyed and courageous ways, it also provides much hope for the future of economics.

We know that much of this dominant paradigm in economics is simply wrong and is being continuously exposed as being wrong: from being over-optimistic about how financial markets work and whether they are or can be ‘efficient’ without regulation, to misplaced arguments in favour of fiscal austerity or the deregulation of labour markets and wages. Critical relationships between humans and nature that form the basis of most material production are dismissed as ‘externalities’. These are only some of the ways in which mainstream economic thinking is either irrelevant or downright misleading in understanding contemporary economic processes and useless or counterproductive in addressing humanity’s most important challenges.

One reason is that much of the mainstream discipline has been in the service of power, effectively the power of the wealthy, at national and international levels. By ‘assuming away’ critical concerns, theoretical results and problematic empirical analyses effectively reinforce existing power structures and imbalances.

Deeper systemic issues like the exploitation of labour by capital and the unsustainable exploitation of nature by forms of economic activity, of labour market segmentation by social categories that allows for differential exploitation of different types of workers, of the appropriation of value, of the abuse of market power and rent-seeking behaviour by large capital, of the use of political power to push economic interests including of cronies, of the distributive impact of fiscal and monetary policies – all these are swept aside, covered up and rarely brought out as the focus of analysis.

This is associated with strict power hierarchies within the discipline as well, which suppress the emergence and spread of alternative theories, explanations and analysis. Economic models that do not challenge existing power structures are promoted and valorised by gatekeepers in the senior ranks of the profession. Alternative theories and analyses are ignored, marginalised, rarely published in the ‘top’ journals, and obliterated from textbooks and other teaching materials. (Ambler, Lucy; Earle, Joe; Scott, Nicola. Reclaiming economics for future generations (Manchester Capitalism) (pp. 16-17). Manchester University Press. Kindle Edition.)

The disincentives for young economists to stray from the straight and narrow path are huge: academic jobs and other placements as economists are dependent on publications, which are ‘ranked’ according to the supposed quality of the journal they are in, in a system that demotes articles from alternative perspectives; promotions and further success in the profession depend on these markers. (Ambler, Lucy; Earle, Joe; Scott, Nicola. Reclaiming economics for future generations (Manchester Capitalism) (pp. 17-18). Manchester University Press. Kindle Edition.)

This combines with the other pervasive forms of social discrimination by gender, racialised identity and location. A macho ethos permeates the mainstream discipline, with women routinely facing the consequences. Along with widespread patriarchy, the adverse impact of relational power affects other socially marginalised categories, according to class, racial and ethnic identities, and language. The impact of location is enormous, with the mainstream discipline completely dominated by the North Atlantic in terms of prestige, influence, and the ability to determine the content and direction of what is globally accepted. The enormous knowledge, insights and contributions to economic analysis made by economists located in the Global South in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean are largely ignored. (Ambler, Lucy; Earle, Joe; Scott, Nicola. Reclaiming economics for future generations (Manchester Capitalism) (p. 18). Manchester University Press. Kindle Edition.)

Then there is disciplinary arrogance, expressed in insufficient attention to history and a reluctance to engage seriously with other social sciences and humanities, which has greatly impoverished economics. Arrogance is also evident in the tendency of economists to play God, to engage in social engineering, couched in technocratic terms which are incomprehensible to the majority of people who are told that particular economic strategies are the only possible choice, in an attitude that collapses into the unethical. (Ambler, Lucy; Earle, Joe; Scott, Nicola. Reclaiming economics for future generations (Manchester Capitalism) (p. 18). Manchester University Press. Kindle Edition.)

Fortunately, there is growing pushback against these tendencies, globally and within the current bastions of economics in the North Atlantic. This book is very much part of that response: challenging the rigidities and power structures within the mainstream discipline, and calling for a more varied, sophisticated, nuanced and relevant understanding of economies. This is, of course, greatly welcome; it is also hugely necessary and urgent, if economics is to reclaim its position as a relevant social science that had origins in both moral philosophy and statecraft. (Ambler, Lucy; Earle, Joe; Scott, Nicola. Reclaiming economics for future generations (Manchester Capitalism) (pp. 18-19). Manchester University Press. Kindle Edition.)

Jayati Ghosh
Professor of Economics,
University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA;
formerly Professor of Economics,
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India

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