I've launched a new debate or essay series at openDemocracy, under the title of 'Uneconomics'. Its purpose is twofold. Firstly, to criticise the monochrome economic world, as depicted by orthodox economists, which they increasingly assist in governing and shaping. And secondly, to bring alternative forms of economic analysis and depictions to light, which are too often marginalised within the academy, and virtually ignored by policy-makers and within the public sphere. I'm keen to hear from anyone who might want to contribute an article, especially if they have empirical research that challenges orthodox assumptions, might alter public understanding or the definition of policy problems, and therefore demands a broader readership than academic journals can achieve (email me). David Graeber, and especially his recent book on debt, is a model of what we should be aiming for. There will be contributions from Judith Marquand and Philip Mirowski in the next week or two, and I should have some other interesting contributions in the pipeline.
You can read my opening gambit here, which is a polemical attempt to define what's at stake:
It is time to acknowledge an uncomfortable truth about the public status of economics as an expert discipline: it has grown to be far more powerful as a tool of political rhetoric, blame avoidance and elite strategy than for the empirical representation of economic life. This is damaging to politics, for it enables value judgements and political agendas to be endlessly presented in ‘factual’ terms. But it is equally damaging to economics, which is losing the authority to describe reality in a credible, disinterested, Enlightenment fashion.
The status of economists in public life has taken many twists and turns, since Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations was published in 1776. The classical political economists, such as David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill, were engaged public intellectuals, whose analysis covered institutions, politics and morals. It was only after the ‘marginal revolution’ of the 1870s that economics reappeared in its neo-classical manifestation, the form with which we associate the term ‘economics’ today. In drastically delimiting the scope of economics to the study of rational decision-making by individuals, the marginalists withdrew from describing capitalism or society, creating space for rival social sciences to emerge for this purpose.
This has already attracted some scornful responses in the comments. This issue is clearly not new, but I thought it would be an opportune moment to revive some of these questions, alongside so much debate about the morality of capitalism.