Reviving Economics

November 6, 2009

Can economics be revived?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — mdbennett @ 6:04 am

One way to look at this enterprise is that I’m reviving my own interest in economics.  I’m trained as an economist, but haven’t used my training in many years. I wandered into computer work and was dazzled by all the shiny tricks and seduced by the logic and art of it all.  My professional narrative mentions the lure of computers, the tediousness of the junior economist’s job (I spent some time valuing years-of-life-lost for wrongful death lawsuits, for instance), the tough job market as I was coming up.  But in truth, much of the problem was the discipline of economics itself.

In my economics classses, I enjoyed sitting in the back and critiqueing the lessons being taught.  I used to call economics ” the belly of the beast,” meaning the capitalist beast, and to say it was ideology dressed up in mathematics.  The only alternative we had was Marxist economics which, although it provided some very useful techniques and tools, was, um, ideology dressed up in mathematics.  Ideoloogy is not absolutely a bad thing – every discipline has underlying priciples or assumptions (to use the a-word) about how the world works.  The bad thing is losing sight of the ideological underpinnings and really believing the world works your way and no other way, which neoclassical economics did when I was in school and continues to do today.

I’ve been computing for the last ten years with conservation scientists – ecologists, biologists, geographers – and have enjoyed discovering their view of the world.  But recently their thought leaders have been pushing them to think more about the interactions between nature and people, about how people can live in and use landscapes that retain thier biodiversity value – and suddenly we’re up against economics again.  Somewhat surprisingly, I find my heart quickening, thinking “this is what I do, this is how I can be of use” – but can I really go back there again?

It turns out economics has changed in the last twenty years.  Not everyone who disliked the status quo wandered away to other livelihoods.  Some economists set out to reinvent the field.  I am only beginning to explore the possibiities, starting with ecological economics (eco-eco), a transdiciplinary endeavor that began just about the time I turned away.  I have a lot of catching up to do, and this blog will accompany me on my journey.

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