The pathology of economics

COVID-19 exposes the deadly dominance of neoclassical economics in Africa.

On February 24, 2021 Ghana received a vaccine shipment (600,000 doses), the first to sub-Saharan Africa under the COVAX facility. It amounted to a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions needed on a continent increasingly ravaged by the pandemic. Contrast this to the tens of millions already vaccinated in the UK and US. The optimism that Africa would be spared by “early lockdown”, “less dense population, “the effect of ultraviolet”, “a climate that meant people spent more time outside” and “Africa’s youthful population” has rapidly faded. Officially there are now more than 100,000 deaths on the continent, but the real numbers are much higher due to the paucity of testing and the lack of capacity to accurately track and evaluate causes of mortality.

The shortage of tests and vaccines are exacerbated by the West’s hyper-nationalism restricting the import of these two vital tools to combat the pandemic. The same forces have also generated a scarcity of personal protective equipment (PPE), the lack of monoclonal antibody and other treatments, and terrible shortages of medical oxygen so vital to keeping people alive. How is it possible, 60 years after independence, for African countries to be so highly dependent on the goodwill of the outside world for basic health goods? A good deal of the answer lies in the pathology of economics and related policies, which have spread like a pandemic globally and have come to dominate both the West and the continent of Africa. How did this come about? How does it relate to the strategies that have undermined African capacities to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the health and welfare of its people? And what should be done?

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Rethinking the Social Sciences with Sam Moyo

By Praveen Jha, Paris Yeros and Walter Chambati

This book is a tribute to Sam Moyo. Apart from the great mind and big heart that he was, Moyo was also one of a few in our age to distinguish himself in setting new standards for knowledge production in the social sciences. Some might expect such a feat to require the approval of established centers of learning in the North. But his litmus test was relevance to the tectonic shifts underway in Africa and the South since decolonization. Moyo became a leading light in the quest for epistemic sovereignty at a crucial juncture, when Africa and the South as a whole were succumbing to neoliberal adjustment, and when his own country, Zimbabwe, was gaining independence.

Who was Sam Moyo?

Moyo belonged to the generation of Pan-Africanist intellectuals responsible for defending the gains of liberation and devising strategies of epistemic survival in the midst of structural adjustment. Their epicenter was the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), of which Sam eventually became president. He distinguished himself by his relentless drive to build and defend research capacities in Africa, refusing the lure of professional stability and fame abroad. Those who had the good fortune to meet him would affirm that he pursued this mission with flair, generosity, and a ‘charming inflexibility’ on matters of ideology. In 2002, he founded the African Institute for Agrarian Studies (AIAS), in Harare, Zimbabwe, against all odds, in the midst of radical land reform and Western sanctions.

Moyo also forged ahead with the building of new solidarities across the South to recuperate a common front. This he did via CODESRIA, as well the Third World Forum (TWF) and World Forum for Alternatives (WFA) led by Samir Amin, in which he participated over many years. In the 2000s, he also spearheaded the Agrarian South Network (ASN), a new tri-continental initiative with its own research agenda, regular activities, and publishing outlet, Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy. Those of us who were closest to him knew that the whole of this work of art was much larger than the sum of its parts: new epistemic standards were being set for generations to come.

We locate Moyo’s trajectory in the Pan-Africanist tradition of political economy, where we made significant contributions to the evolving land, agrarian and national questions at continental level and in his home country. In the introductory chapter of the book, we trace his overall contribution to tri-continental solidarity in the social sciences and the development of a global research agenda. We bring to light Moyo’s leading role in the frontlines of the struggle for epistemic sovereignty in Africa and the South at a time when neoliberal restructuring set its sights on autonomous knowledge production and when epistemological questions succumbed to a potent ‘cultural turn’. Moyo fought with great perseverance for autonomous institutions in Africa and the South and for the integrity of the intellectual traditions produced in the struggles for liberation. He defended an approach to political economy which was homegrown in Africa and fundamentally anti-imperialist, against Western intellectual trends, whether materialist or culturalist. This was the vision and mission that defined his Pan-Africanism, tri-continental solidarity, and cosmopolitanism.

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Pluralism in economics – its critiques and their lessons

By Claudius Gräbner and Birte Strunk

In a recent paper we engaged with common critiques of the concept and the movement for more pluralism in economics. We found that while the majority of the critiques are either unfounded, easy to dismiss or address strawmen, others do highlight challenges the pluralist movement should address.

In 2017, we were spending a week at the Summer Academy for Pluralist Economics, when the German economist Johannes Becker published a blog article on Makronom entitled “The Movement for Pluralist Economics risks its success” (translated from German). He argues that the movement for pluralist economics faces a decision: it could continue to be a movement of fundamental opposition against the ‘economic mainstream’, or it could start striving for ‘real change’. Economics professors, at least in Germany, Becker argued, were highly perceptive and open-minded towards alternative perspectives in economics. If the movement would focus more on constructive engagement with economics faculties rather than on fundamental critique, then there would be a greater amount of pluralist seminars and lectures.

Being surrounded by around 100 fellow pluralists who dedicated a week of their summer to study different approaches to economics, the accusation of simply being a movement of unconstructive opposition seemed alienating to us. So we drafted a response, arguing that pluralist economics is about both critique and the construction of alternative practices. Based on this response, we wrote an article evaluating the critiques posed toward pluralist economics, drawing from philosophy of science, philosophy of economics, and philosophy of interdisciplinarity. When writing the paper, which has recently been published in the Journal of Economic Methodology, we indeed found many critiques of pluralism to be unconvincing, yet we also discovered that some critiques of pluralism are not easily dismissed. They should be taken seriously by pluralists because an honest engagement with these critiques rather than the neglect of their relevance could, we believe, make the movement for pluralism in economics more convincing and successful.

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Knowledge Divides

This post was originally published on Menelique Magazine, issue #3 and menelique.com.

#Black Lives Matter highlights the suppression of black lives in all aspects of society, but the public interest in the movement has been limited to systemic state racism involving the brutality of white police officers against black people. The visible and visceral discriminations in the public domain are serious and warrant such interest and concern, but this focus leaves out several other issues that are of interest to the movement. 

The intellectual marginalisation of black people is one of such relatively overlooked areas. When black intellectual suppression is recognised, it is commonly held to be a mere supply problem. In this sense, black people produce little or no knowledge, there are few or no serious black scholars to engage, or the work of black scholars is not good enough. Conventional indices appear to bear out such claims. From 1987 to 2016, for example, a World Bank report suggests that the share of Africa’s contribution to the global pool of scientific knowledge as measured by scientific databases such as Web of Science declined from 1 to under 1 per cent. 

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Cambridge Journal of Economics Special Issue on Financialisation in developing and emerging economies: Manifestations, Drivers and Implications Deadline 31st August 2020

Screenshot 2020-05-18 at 08.07.58In December 2018, we organised a two-day workshop on “How to Conceptualise Financialisation in Developing and Emerging Economies? Manifestations, Drivers and Implications” at Girton College, University of Cambridge. The idea behind this event was to move away from a significant focus on developed economies when discussing financialisation phenomena and give more space to find out what is happening in developing and emerging economies (DEEs). Existing studies on DEEs have often focussed on particular case studies. Investigating empirical aspects already observed in developed economies, There have been both limited attempts to engage with the concepts and perspectives from the Global South and at systematising the literature and in analysing particularities of DEEs.

The workshop was a success in many fronts, such as attendance, quality of papers and exchange of ideas. Five roundtables attempted to encompass key crucial aspects of this discussion in the context of DEEs, namely, Financialisation and The Global Economy, Financialisation and Production, Variegated Financialisation, Financialisation and the State, and Micro-financialisation. This was complemented by two excellent plenaries approaching both the theorisation of financialisation in DEEs and the avenues for future research. See the programme here.Read More »

The Economics of being ‘Interesting’: Many kinds of exclusions

GER-LEWIS 2

This post engages with a conversational post titled Non-exemplary lives by Branko Milanovic. He is concerned with the current state of academia being filled with boring economists who have a CV full of publications but no experience of living and no interests outside work. Milanovic thus raises the question of how a lack of these influences impacts the profession of economics. 

While his is an apt observation, I think his questions can be broadened in many ways. For the sake of brevity, I will concentrate on a few. 

Exemplary Lives, but what kind of Examples? 

The notion of an ‘exemplary life’ is fraught with the possibilities of what a ‘non-exemplary life’ could be, and vice versa. To fully appreciate the scope of either, it is useful to question how the negation of the other can be fully gauged.

Put differently, is the ‘exemplary life’ really that exemplary- might there be a difference between the persona and the person? 

Consider what being an émigré has meant for two different economists: the Ukraine born Alexander Gerschenkron who settled in the US and the St-Lucian born Arthur Lewis who lived and worked in the UK.  Read More »

Mind the Gap: Addressing the Class Dimension in Higher Education

7038952701_bb67cdb2d7_oThe debate in Higher Education (HE) in the UK is slowly starting to recognise that inequality in education is both the cause and consequence of societal elitism. As a result, there is an increasing debate about widening access to academia, and more and more newspaper articles are devoting attention to the few who made it through the Oxbridge close-circle system. 

On the 17th of May 2019 the Reteaching Economics and IIPPE Teaching Political Economy working group organised a workshop on economic pluralism, teaching and research. I was chairing the panel on “Challenges and Opportunities for the Economics Curriculum Around Decolonisation, Gender and Diversity” which included brilliant contributions from Dr Meera Sabaratnam (SOAS), Dr Lucia Pradella (King’s College), Dr Ingrid Kvangraven (University of York) and Ali Al-Jamri (Rethinking Economics, Diversity Campaign Manager). They addressed various political, historical and cultural  issues around neocolonialism, imperialism, racism, sexism and gender segregation in HE at large and in the economic discipline in particular. Considering the potential great complementarity of the topics, I thought it was relevant to bring in the class dimension in the discussion. I noticed that while the marginalization of women and people of color is rightly getting increasing attention, the class dimension is sometimes forgotten. Indeed, although class remains a crucial lens to untangle injustice and exclusion in the HE industry, it isn’t dealt with with as much urgency. Maybe also because it’s a bit less visible. Indeed, last week I was discussing this issue with another ‘academic migrant’ from Southern Europe, and he suggested: “Panels should ask “what do your parents do/did for a living?” during job interviews.

To prepare my presentation, I approached a couple of ‘data intelligence’ offices in UK universities asking for facts about the class dimension of access to higher education in the UK. I was pointed to the Office for Students, which is a new resource that enables us educators, but also students, to look at various key bits of data on the university sector as a whole, and on individual universities. A very useful resource indeed! 

So here is what I found, and the results are pretty discouraging. Read More »

Why so Hostile? Busting Myths about Heterodox Economics

Call-for-Application-Pluralist-Economics

By Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven and Carolina Alves

“Economics is unique among the social sciences in having a single monolithic mainstream, which is either unaware of or actively hostile to alternative approaches.” (John King 2013: 17)

What does heterodox economics mean? Is the label helpful or harmful? Being outside of the mainstream of the Economics discipline, the way we position ourselves may be particularly important. For this reason, many around us shun the use of the term “heterodox” and advise against using it. However, we believe the reluctance to use the term stems in part from misunderstandings of (and sometimes disagreement over) what the term means and perhaps disagreements over strategies for how to change the discipline.

In other words, this is an important debate about both identification and strategy. In this blog, we wish to raise the issue in heterodox and mainstream circles, by busting a few common myths about Heterodox Economics – mostly stemming from the orthodoxy. This is a small part of a larger project on defining heterodox economics.

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