Ariane Agunsoye, Michelle Groenewald, Danielle Guizzo, and Kamal Ramburuth-Hurt
Chapter 6 argues that it is necessary to diversify, decolonise, and democratise academic economics (the three Ds). Diversifying economics concerns broadening the discipline’s people and knowledge. This requires a pluralism of theories and methods and a much more interdisciplinary approach to shift from the current assumption that there is one right way to do economics. Decolonising economics requires embedding an analysis of colonial history, oppression and power at the foundations of our understanding about how economies operate, which will lead us to new ways of thinking and different economic policies. Democratising economics places principles of democracy and self-determination at the core of economic development, developing policies which represent the needs, priorities, values and cultures of the communities who will be affected. It requires recognising that if everyone plays multiple roles in the economy – including carer, worker, owner, saver, investor, citizen and public service user – then everyone has an expertise that stems from their economic experience. Academic economics needs to engage seriously with this distributed economic knowledge and expertise through developing different research methods and building ongoing relationships with different groups in society to create a new social contract between experts, politicians and citizens. Finally, the chapter considers how the three Ds can be embedded into economics education so that the next generation of economists will be equipped with the knowledge, skills and values needed to transform the discipline and our global economy. This section provides practical advice for teachers of economics to transform how it is taught.
This chapter considers how academic economics undermines democracy and development. It begins by exploring the history of the subdiscipline of development economics, highlighting its birth in efforts to help the ‘Third World’ free itself from ‘backwardness’ and then its evolution, often mirroring broader shifts in economics and politics up to the present. The chapter argues that academic economics has become focused on internal explanations for the poor economic performance of low-income countries, such as corruption. As a result, it tends to suggest interventions that focus on the symptoms and not root causes, which would require an analysis that incorporates how history and power have reproduced structural inequalities. Randomised control trials are currently the method in vogue in development economics and its application is presented as exemplifying the above. Here the book suggests that the whole framework of development and underdevelopment is rooted in a colonial world view. This has been a mechanism through which ideas and values from the US and Europe have been imposed on other parts of the world through the internationalisation of neoclassical economics traced in Chapter 2. Rather than a single pathway predetermined by economists and powerful countries, economic development must have principles of democracy and self-determination at its core, and be led by the people who are doing it so that it reflects their needs, priorities, values, and culture.
Ariane Agunsoye, Michelle Groenewald, Danielle Guizzo, and Bruno Roberts- Dear
The book demonstrates that academic economics in the US and UK is undiverse and uninclusive. Women, people of colour and less socioeconomically privileged people are significantly underrepresented in the discipline and become more so further along the career ladder. The chapter charts the journeys such people have had in economics. Barriers to studying economics include not knowing what economics is, not having family or friends who are economists, thinking it is going to be too mathematical, feeling it is not for people like you and not being able to access university. Consequently, undergraduate economics is already highly unrepresentative of broader society. Discrimination based on a racialised identity and gender is widely reported in economics while sexual harassment is all too common. All of this fosters a sense of imposter syndrome for people from underrepresented backgrounds studying and working in economics. Diversifying economics and fostering an inclusive culture is necessary for individuals from underrepresented backgrounds to have equal opportunity to study and practise economics; to be treated with dignity and respect by colleagues; and to access the income, status and power that economists receive. It is also necessary for economics as a discipline to be able to legitimately claim that it represents society and the public interest. It must be more diverse and representative to credibly claim to understand the economic experience of different social groups. More broadly, a diverse and inclusive discipline of economics fosters greater social mobility and trust in experts, which in turn underpin democracy and social cohesion.
Chapter 4 turns to the economic history of our world to better understand how today’s structural inequality came to be. The chapter argues that the transatlantic slave trade has played an important role in UK and US economic development, and the vast amount of land globally that was appropriated by European colonial powers has led to a distribution of resources and power that profoundly shape our global economies today. Gender and reproductive control was central to the economic organisation of colonies, creating hierarchies that are reproduced in modern structural gender inequalities. Neoclassical economics highlight the prosperity gained from greater cross-border economic integration since the mid-eighteenth century. Though by focusing on voluntary exchange for mutual benefit, this underplays the historical role of real or threatened violence that powerful countries used to force others to become more integrated in global economies. When decolonisation movements won independence from their colonisers in the twentieth century, former colonisers did all they could to protect the economic resources they gained from their colonies and this made it much harder for newly independent countries to develop thriving economies that could compete in the global economy they were often forced to integrate into. By ignoring how oppression and violence influenced historical economic development particularly for people of colour and women, academic economics maintains a fiction that allows it to be ignored in the present. The chapter argues that if these histories are seriously considered then we are forced to reconsider how we think about our modern economies.
Chapter 1 draws on conversations with hundreds of ‘everyday’ people about the economy, as well as recent research from other projects, to show that there is a significant democratic deficit when it comes to public understanding of the economy. Along with showing that the public has a weak grasp of how our economy functions, the chapter also demonstrates that underpinning the public conception is a vision of the economy as something akin to a ‘pot of money’. The chapter concludes by briefly outlining what is wrong with this vision of the economy by contrasting it to the accepted understanding of the economy taught in all introductory economics courses. This comparison makes it evident that myth is at work in the public understanding of the economy.
Chapter 2 explores the vision of the economy in the financial sector. It begins by outlining how important the financial sector is, not only in its capacity to shape the material conditions of our society, but also the ‘soft power’ it wields in its ability to influence public discourse about the economy. Based on time spent visiting London’s financial district and talking to its inhabitants, the chapter outlines how the sector operates on flimsy, hollow and self-serving representations of knowledge, before concluding by pointing to the type of economic myth that stems from this institutional context, and showing how it pollutes public discourse.
Chapter 5 gives the lie to the myth by dealing with some fundamentals of how our economy actually works. It shows what is wrong with the visions of the economy exposed in the previous four chapters, before concluding on a hopeful note, showing how it is possible to achieve a better future if we are able to dispel the paralysis of myth. It does this through first outlining the process of credit creation, to show that the economy is not a finite pot of money, but largely dependent on the creation of money by private banks. It then draws on some insights from modern monetary theory and other heterodox economic writers to show how the state could wrest control of the creation and allocation of credit away from the private sector and put it to use in order to create a greener and fairer economy.
Chapter 3 shifts from the financial to the political sphere and is based on trips made to Whitehall to speak with civil servants working on economic policy. The chapter first provides some context by indicating the importance of economic communication in the political sphere as well as the civil service’s role in economic policy and communication. It then draws on time visiting Whitehall to outline the pressure to present economic knowledge in the political sphere as objective – when it is anything but – and describes the type of myth that stems from this pressure. Finally, before concluding, the chapter provides a case study that looks at how the argument constructed plays out in practice, through the setting of an economic policy: the minimum wage.
Chapter 4 looks at the media as a place that is supposed to form a bridge between the elite sites explored in the previous two chapters (finance and politics) and the ‘everyday’ people in chapter 1. The chapter starts by outlining the democratic role of the media and its importance in educating the public about the economy and holding elites to account. Having established the media’s importance, the chapter moves on to an ethnography of a financial magazine and the many conversations had with people working in economic journalism. The interview material and ethnographic observations show that the media promotes a self-serving vision of the economy that aids the myth stemming from the other elite spaces visited.