Heterodox Economics Newsletter
While climate change becomes a bigger and bigger topic in public discourse, recent research points to the severe implications climate change is going to have on actual living conditions of human beings (see, for instance, here and here). In this context, I think it's worth illustrating why my regrets about our collective inability to tackle this challenge are intimately related to my views on paradigmatic division in economics. I'll try to do so in the following.
Several years ago, I visited an interdisciplinary conference mainly populated by natural scientists (this one here). At one evening I had dinner together with some other researchers and we talked about our different disciplinary origins. Revealing that I am an economist by training got me some grim looks by the physicists at the table. They were obviously skeptical about something and asked me a straightforward, diagnostic question, namely: "What do you think, how can we stop climate change?" My answer was equally straightforward, basically stating that very strong forms of regulation would be required to reach emission targets, which are unlikely to be put in place given current political and economic circumstances. This answer astonished my natural science colleagues on the table - they even told me that they never have received this answer from someone, who is an economist by training.
Their observation is unsurprising against the backdrop that most studies on 'consensus in economics' find that an overwhelming majority of economists opts for 'market-based' solutions like taxes or emission licenses as opposed to direct regulation (see, for instance, here). Nonetheless, my answer seemed to have a large overlap with the views of my colleagues at the dinner table. What united us in this moment was a similarity in paradigmatic perspective: I, as a heterodox economists, followed broad arguments on the embeddedness of economic activities in a broader social and ecological context, which serves as an ultimate foundation for the former. They, as physicists, followed a thermodynamic perspective (like, for instance, in this classic book). Both starting points, led us to emphasize the ultimate scarcity of ecological capacities and, hence, to put greater weight on concerns of sustainability and conservation.
In more economic terms, our view on the problem as coined by the belief that either self-sustaining technologies or adequate substitutes for ecological services will not become available endogenously within the capitalist process. Hence, the basic divergence in the economic treatment of nature can be framed two related ways: either as being about the ultimate relevance and necessity of ecological foundations or, more practical, as a decision between technological optimism and technological pessimism, where the former is coined by the belief that the 'ultimate' character of ecological constraints will never materialize. In my teaching, I typically assign a very short, thirty year old paper on this by Robert Costanza from the inaugural issue of the Journal Ecological Economics, which pins down this crucial paradigmatic cleavage in a few pages (you can find this article here). Today, students typically grasp the immediate connection between this general argument and science and society's capacity to confront climate change - they will typically ask me, why we are currently so badly prepared, while these issues had been illuminated for so long.
One part of the answer to this question is again paradigmatic division in the social sciences: In my view the paradigmatic perspective of mainstream economics, which always opts for market-based solutions, enshrines technological optimism and abstracts from the ultimate character of ecological constraints, has long served to obscure the issues at stake. It's dominance within the sphere of economics has confined alternative views, which assign a prior role to nature in analytical contexts, to other disciplines and fields, where they had much less impact on economic and environmental policies. Hence, I see a deeper relationship between the young generation's legitimate astonishment with regard to the errors of their parents and grandparents, and the partial inability of the older generations to decipher what is really at stake.
All the best,
© public domain
Table of contents
- Call for Papers
- 15th Italian Society of Law and Economics conference (Milan, Dec. 2019)
- Call for Book Chapters: Rethinking economics - experiences from plural socio*economic higher education
- Challenging the Work Society: An Interdisciplinary Summit (London, Sept. 2019)
- Conference on "Financialization and Development in the Global South" (Buenos Aires, Nov. 2019)
- Conference on "Power – Conflict and Contradictions" (Copenhagen, Oct. 2019)
- Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC): Call for "case studies on impact investments for sustainable development in Brazil"
- Forum for Institutional Thought: "Institutions and Survival: Social Order for the 21st Century" (Kraków, Feb. 2020)
- Journal of Public Policy Studies: Special Issue on "Public Policy: Experiences and Policy Transfers among Various Cultural Backgrounds"
- Review of Economics and Economic Methodology: Special Issue on "Economic Methodology: How Mathematicians Explain – Or Should They?"
- Call for Participants
- Conference "Michal Kalecki and the Problem of International Equilibrium" (OECD/Paris, Sep. 2019)
- Conference on "Uneven and Combined Development for the 21st Century" (Glascow, Sep. 2019)
- Webinar: Emerging economic narratives from Latin America
- Job Postings
- Université Côte d’Azur, France
- Roskilde University, Denmark
- RHETM Students’ Work-In-Progress Competition
- URPE Dissertation Fellowship: Winner Announcement 2019
- Accounting, Organizations and Society 76
- Annals of the Fondazione Luigi Einaudi, 53 (2)
- Cambridge Journal of Economics 43 (4)
- Ecological Economics 164
- Economy and Society, 48 (2)
- Erasmus Journal of Philosophy and Economics 12 (1)
- Historical Materialism Issue 27 (2)
- Industrial and Corporate Change 28 (4)
- International Journal of Political Economy 48 (2)
- New Political Economy 24 (5)
- Problemas del Desarrollo. Revista Latinoamericana de Economia, 197
- Review of International Political Economy 26 (4)
- Review of Keynesian Economics, 12 (3)
- Review of Social Economy 77 (3)
- The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 26 (3)
- World Review of Political Economy 10 (1)
- Books and Book Series
- Crisis, Movement, Strategy: The Greek Experience
- Marx, Women, and Capitalist Social Reproduction
- Marx’s Capital, Method and Revolutionary Subjectivity
- Mass Strikes and Social Movements in Brazil and India Popular Mobilisation in the Long Depression
- Microeconomic Principles and Problems A Pluralist Introduction, 1st Edition
- Social Inequality, Economic Decline, and Plutocracy: An American Crisis
- The Corporation, Law and Capitalism: A Radical Perspective on the Role of Law in the Global Political Economy
- The Making of Capitalism in France Class Structures, Economic Development, the State and the Formation of the French Working Class, 1750-1914
- The Origins of Globalization: World Trade in the Making Of the Global Economy, 1500-1800.
- Voices On The Economy, Vol. I: How Open-Minded Exploration of Rival Perspectives Can Spark Solutions to Our Urgent Economic Problems.
- Heterodox Graduate Programs, Scholarships and Grants
- Call for Applications: William R. Waters Research Grant
- Call for Book Proposals: New Scholarship in Political Economy
- For Your Information
- Call for Applications for Editor(s), Forum for Social Economics