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The perils of leaving economics to the experts

One hundred years ago the idea of ‘the economy’ didn’t exist. Now, improving ‘the economy’ has come to be seen as one of the most important tasks facing modern societies. Politics and policymaking are increasingly conducted in the language of economics and economic logic increasingly frames how political problems are defined and addressed. The result is that crucial societal functions are outsourced to economic experts. The econocracy is about how this particular way of thinking about economies and economics has come to dominate many modern societies and its damaging consequences. We have put experts in charge but those experts are not fit for purpose.

A growing movement is arguing that we should redefine the relationship between society and economics. Across the world, students, the economists of the future, are rebelling against their education. From three members of this movement comes a book that tries to open up the black box of economic decision making to public scrutiny. We show how a particular form of economics has come to dominate in universities across the UK and has thus shaped our understanding of the economy. We document the weaknesses of this form of economics and how it has failed to address many important issues such as financial stability, environmental sustainability and inequality; and we set out a vision for how we can bring economic discussion and decision making back into the public sphere to ensure the societies of the future can flourish.

Today, in many countries what is viewed as ‘credible’ economic knowledge stems from academic economics. The discipline of academic economics is based in universities across the world that employ economists who produce research that is published in academic journals and educate students who then go into government, businesses, and think tanks. Through the book’s authors’ and contributors’ experiences of economics education, and as part of the international student movement Rethinking Economics, it argues that academic economics in its current state does not provide people with the knowledge that we need to build thriving economies that allows everyone to flourish wherever they are from in the world, and whatever their racialised identity, gender or socioeconomic background. The consequences of this inadequate education links to modern economies being a root cause of systemic racism and sexism, socioeconomic inequality, and the ecological crisis. When economies are rooted in a set of principles that values whiteness, maleness and wealth, we should not be surprised by the inequalities that show up. Structural inequalities need systemic change, change that infiltrates through every level of the system, otherwise we risk reproducing and deepening them. This book makes the case that in order to reclaim economics it is necessary to diversify, decolonise and democratise how economics is taught and practised, and by whom. It calls on everyone to do what we can to reclaim economics for racial justice, gender equality and future generations.

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Joe Earle, Cahal Moran, and Zach Ward-Perkins

elephant in the room was hard to ignore. This was in early 2013. Little did we know it but other students were starting similar campaigns across the world and in time we linked up with them in a network called Rethinking Economics. Amazingly, what united us across different continents and languages was the shared feeling that there was a deep malaise at the heart of economics and that as a result we were being sold short as students and as citizens. While we were supposed to be on the road to becoming economists, we could also see economics with the eyes of outsiders. We

in The econocracy
Joe Earle, Cahal Moran, and Zach Ward-Perkins

to take. Supporting the creation of a new generation of Citizen Economists is now a key aim of Rethinking Economics and we are developing a range of practical projects to democratise economics. We have developed schools workshops for 11–18 year olds, which introduce students to critical, pluralist economics in a fun and accessible manner. In the workshops we ask students to draw an economist: they invariably draw white men, some wearing top hats, others reading the Financial Times. One had a monocle and another was even standing on top of the world. These

in The econocracy
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reform our economies to address the many crises our generation faces. We chose to study economics because we wanted to understand the world we were inheriting and improve it but were left feeling deeply disappointed and uneasy. We are from an international student movement called Rethinking Economics, with over a hundred groups in thirty countries across the world, all campaigning

in Reclaiming economics for future generations

Africa saw a massive student movement for free education that compelled him to start a Rethinking Economics for Africa group. From unequal access to education, to huge poverty and industrialisation, it was absolutely clear that we had economic problems to solve. Our economics textbooks held no answers to these problems

in Reclaiming economics for future generations
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Ariane Agunsoye, Michelle Groenewald, Danielle Guizzo, and Kamal Ramburuth-Hurt

? During the Rethinking Economics For Africa (REFA) student conference workshops in 2019, one of REFA’s founders and contributor to this book, Kamal Ramburuth-Hurt, recorded that students defined the ‘decolonisation’ of the economics curriculum as ultimately rejecting the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approaches that characterises the economic status quo. They wanted the removal of barriers

in Reclaiming economics for future generations
Joe Earle, Cahal Moran, and Zach Ward-Perkins

semester in January 2013. Early on we made contact with students from a few different universities in the UK who were setting up a group called Rethinking Economics. This aimed to provide an international network to connect students and citizens who wanted to open up and reinvigorate economics. We used Facebook and Skype to communicate and while all of us dislike the crackle of a slow Skype connection, we recognise that the international student movement to reform economics could not exist without it. We are very much a movement of our time and could not have existed in

in The econocracy
Joe Earle, Cahal Moran, and Zach Ward-Perkins

reform in economics education in the last few years. Haldane, ‘The revolution in economics’, 3–6; Martin Wolf, The Shifts and the Shocks: What We’ve Learned—and Have Still to Learn—from the Financial Crisis, London: Penguin, 2014; Adair Turner, ‘Preface’, in Cambridge Society for Economic Pluralism, CSEP Survey of Economics Students, 2. 18 For more details see Sara Gorgoni, ‘University of Greenwich revises its economics programmes to enhance pluralism and real world economics’, Rethinking Economics blog, 14 December 2014. Available at: http

in The econocracy
Ariane Agunsoye, Michelle Groenewald, Danielle Guizzo, and Bruno Roberts- Dear

universities and six provinces who participated in the annual Rethinking Economics for Africa Festival in 2019 shared their views on how economics is not adequately able to deal with a range of issues they experience. They felt that their education just wasn’t relevant to a country like South Africa – the conference’s host nation – where economic inequality is the highest in the world

in Reclaiming economics for future generations