Heterodox Economics Newsletter

Issue 320 December 04, 2023 web pdf Heterodox Economics Directory

It is now close to two months that another moral conundrum arising from path-dependent, historical lines of conflict has unfolded into an escalating spiral of violence. Such lock-ins into violent escalation, even if they should only be temporary, always come at an incredible human cost and leave me largely speechless. However, nonetheless the underlying dynamics of such conflicts – both in terms of actual armed confrontations as well as with respect to the continous reinforcement of latent conflicts due to exclusionary politics – can at least be rationalized using a cornerstone of heterodox political economy, namely the idea of self-reinforcing effects.

While such self-reinforcing effects are typically emphasized in the context of path dependency, distributional analysis (e.g. the notion of cumulative advantage) or analysis related to power asymmetries (e.g. the notion of preferential attachment), they are also somewhat helpful to better understand escalating, violent developments, that have the potential to lead to long-term gridlocks of conflict and hate. Such gridlocks leave participants with very small (or even empty) sets of morally legitimate options, which often contributes to prolonging and intensifying the respective conflicts. Similarly, self-reinforcing effects can be referenced to provide a possible explanation for the empirical observation that the 'intensity of armed conflicts' seemingly follows a power law (see, e.g., here).

This view could maybe inspire a novel take on the definition of heterdox economis as the 'true dismal science'. In this vein, the task of heterodox economics is to explain why so many things, that irritate our Smithian passions for sympathy and justice, emerge in this world (without assuming that people are evil from the start). While this might sound all-too defeatist at first, one should note that an applied version of a so-defined science could be one that effectively contributes to more peace among humans as its core question of interest asks for the emergence of violence, oppression and injustice in the first place.

Also, in a more technical matter, such reflections could also motivate us to think more deeply about, how exactly, a general notion of self-reinforcing effects permeates much of heterodox economics and whether and to what extent it makes sense to synthesize different variants and applications to make this (allegedly) general principle more explicit and accessible.

All the best,


PS: A maybe more optimistic news item in this issue concerns the fact that one of the homes of the Heterodox Economics Newsletter – the Institute for Comprehensive Analysis of the Economy at Johannes Kepler University Linz – will expand its staff and activities in the upcoming year. If you are interested in participating in this expansion, check out the related post below!

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