Rich Burkmar

An economically curious ecologist

Reclaiming Economics for Future Generations

Ambler, L., Earle, J., Scott, N. (2022). Reclaiming Economics for Future Generations. United Kingdom: Manchester University Press.

This is a book written predominately by young economists who refuse to submit meekly to the received wisdom of mainstream (neoclassical) economics which dominates the academic and cultural framing of economics in the world today. They argue that neoclassical economics is largely responsible for the environmental, social and democratic crises we face and is fundamentally unable to address them.

There are a number of threads running through the book, weaving around geopolitics, colonialism, racism, sexism and classism. The authors examine how these powerful influences have, and do, operate within neoclassical economics to shape and reproduce privilege and inequality in the world.

A central tenet of the book is that academic economics, and the teaching of it, is fundamentally undiverse, blinkered and set up to privilege a narrow section of humanity. The authors eloquently lay out their own views and support their arguments with accounts drawn from interviews with school students studying economics, economics undergraduates and professional economists. The experiences of these student and professional economists bring home how people of diverse backgrounds, especially women, people of colour and those from parts of the world with ‘undeveloped’ economies have to fight to make their voices and their real-world experiences of economics count in their chosen profession.

Fundamentally, the book is about power and I found a several of the passages relating to power particularly arresting, including this one from chapter 6 – Reforming academia:

Neoclassical economics focuses on choice and voluntary exchange and only considers power in a narrow way as market power. In the real world, and individual’s gendered, racialised and class identities shape how they experience the economy and individuals enter it with structurally unequal resources and power that fundamentally shape the choice sets available to them.

Another passage from chapter 6 – Reforming academia – contrasts how the economy currently operates and how the authors believe that it should operate:

“Is an economy organised in such a way where those with economic resources can translate them into other forms of political and social power and use this to accumulate further resources? Or does it effectively separate control of economic resources from other forms of power and prevent the wealthy from reorganising the economy to benefit themselves?”

The authors argue convincingly that to face the challenges facing current and – especially – future generations, economics needs to be transformed into a pluralistic discipline structured around the core values of care and regeneration rather than extraction and consumption and supported by strengthened democracies which transfer power from corporations into the hands of citizens.

In general I found the book a hard read, I think because it is so densely packed with the experiences and viewpoints of so many different people, making it harder to follow the overall narrative arc. Despite this, it is also interesting and enjoyable: the authors have produced a coherent thesis which really made me think differently about the power structures imbedded in neoclassical economics and why it is such an ultra-conservative field, ill-equipped to deal with the rapidly changing environment in which it operates.