The chapter details how the neoclassical framework dominates academic economics globally and argues that it is fundamentally unable to make visible, much less address the structural inequalities that are almost the defining feature of our modern economies. For example, its theoretical foundations are unsuitable for addressing structural inequality because they analyse the interaction of individuals in an ahistorical vacuum. Consequently, they ignore the historical and social contexts that explain where inequalities come from and how they are reproduced, and as such, neoclassical economics is strongly biased towards accepting the status quo. The chapter illustrates these weaknesses and blind spots through considering how neoclassical economics attempts to explain the prevalence of racial and gender discrimination. The book then returns to the experiences of students who are told that this neoclassical framework is an objective description of the economy, and yet realise very clearly how unable it is to describe their experiences of structural inequality.
Chapter 7 argues that it is necessary to reclaim economics as everyday democracy and it sets out possible building blocks to achieve this goal. First, it highlights how the framing of the economy and long experience of powerlessness and alienation within it are barriers to individuals and communities feeling like they might be able to have any influence over how it is organised. Consequently, it is necessary to reframe the economy and our thinking about agency – the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices – for people to believe that it is even possible for societies to decide how to organise their economies democratically. The chapter then explores how people might build the power, resources and practices needed to be able to reorganise the economies they live in from the ground up. The book suggests that this will generate different economic knowledge and new narratives which will change how we think and act both about our economies but also about democracy. However, this bottom-up approach must be combined with and supported by top-down efforts to build the democratic institutions and practices in local and national government and economic institutions which allow everyday collective decision-making about how to organise economies. Finally, the chapter explores how all of this needs to be underpinned by a principle of economics education for everyone extending across school and adult education, public service broadcasting, and local media, and a public-interest role for economists and universities.
Chapter 8 turns to the future by exploring how the organisation of our modern economies has driven two of the biggest global crises the world faces: pandemics and climate and ecological breakdown. It is demonstrated that structural economic inequalities play a significant role in determining who lives and who dies in these crises. The book concludes that our modern economies are unjust, illegitimate, and destructive. This is particularly harmful for those who are deprived of the resources needed to secure a basic standard of living, but ultimately it harms us all. Transformational economic systems change is necessary to address the ecological crisis and the systemic inequality that is embedded deeply into our economies, both of which are tearing our world apart. In the past few years, young people and other climate activists across generations worldwide have taken part in the school climate strikes. They call for justice for those who have been the most affected by climate change and clearly identify unequal and racialised dimensions of this within and between countries. They also highlight the importance of centring the voices of Black, Brown and Indigenous People, who for centuries have been resisting the systems that eventually led us to this situation today. The book ends by calling to create economies that are built on regeneration and care, not extraction from people or the planet. To achieve this, we must all do battle where we are standing to reclaim economics for racial justice, gender equality, and future generations.
Ariane Agunsoye, Michelle Groenewald, and Danielle Guizzo
This chapter takes a historical view of economics as an academic discipline and identifies deep and ingrained hierarchies in how it is structured. One approach, often called neoclassical economics, has become dominant in universities across the world, and prescribes the use of certain theories, methods, assumptions and values. Alternative approaches that reject the foundations of neoclassical economics are often deemed as bad economics, or different subjects entirely by the mainstream of the discipline. Many neoclassical economists believe that they can be objective observers of the world and therefore that their identity does not matter. The book argues that there is substantial evidence that the identity of economists will shape the knowledge of academic economics, which will in turn lead research, theory, and teaching in certain directions and not others. The US sits at the top of a global hierarchy of academic economics, with the UK/Western Europe following behind and large parts of the rest of the world not recognised at all. Economists based outside of the US and Europe are often marginalised, struggling to be recognised and to participate meaningfully in the discipline. These deep hierarchies in economics, which drive a systematic lack of focus in economic research on gender, racialised identity and countries outside of the US and Europe, are not the result of scientific progress. Economics developed in societies that were built on White, male, European supremacy, and the status quo today has emerged from that.
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.
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.