An Alternative Economics Summer Reading List, 2019

pasted image 0.pngThis summer, we take stock of the most interesting economics-related books that have been released over the past year. Every year, Martin Wolf of the Financial Times makes a similar list. However, by his own admission, he only reads within the tradition of his own training in mainstream economics. While his 2019 summer list includes several excellent books, such as The Case for People’s Quantitative Easing by Frances Coppola and The Sex Factor by Victoria Bateman, we are still struck by the strong white-male-mainstream-Western bias in Wolf’s list, with the books almost all written by white (20/21) men (18/21) about topics mostly focused on the US and Europe. 

To complement Wolf’s list, we have put together an Alternative Economics Summer Reading list with authors from across the world, with more varied backgrounds – and writing about more wide-ranging topics, and from a wider variety of critical perspectives. Our alternative list also reflects our belief that issues such as structural racism, imperialism, ideology and the philosophy of science are central to understanding economics. 

It is not that we think that Martin Wolf is in particular responsible for the lack of diversity and monism in our reading decisions: other curators such as the Economist (for example, here) also perpetuate the myth that the books worth reading about economics are mostly those written about the US and Europe, by white men trained trained in mainstream economics. Read More »

Why so Hostile? Busting Myths about Heterodox Economics

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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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Samir Amin and Beyond

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By Ushehwedu Kufakurinani, Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven and Maria Dyveke Styve

When the sad news came of Samir Amin’s passing on August 12th, 2018, a plethora of beautiful obituaries were published in his memory (see for example hereherehere or here). These have made it more than evident not only how important his scholarship and work through the World Social Forum is, but also what an extraordinary person he was. We never had the privilege of meeting Samir Amin in person, but he was very kind to grant us an interview over Skype for an e-book we put together in 2017 on the contemporary relevance of dependency theory (since published by the University of Zimbabwe Publishers). Now we wish to unpack his contributions to our understanding of political economy and uneven development, and explore how his ideas have been interpreted and adopted in different contexts, and their relevance today.

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Revisiting the Battles and Cycles of Development

Cycles.jpegWalt Rostow (1959) infamously put forth a five-stage theory of economic development, extrapolating from the experiences of the great industrialized nations. However, as dependency theories strongly pointed out, the conditions under which those countries industrialized is significantly different from those that prevailed after decolonization. In addition to this, democratic capitalism experiences turbulence, which I argue makes development under this global system a struggle against powers and against what I call “Burawoyan Cycles”.Read More »

Economic Development in the 21st Century: A Review

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by Ramiro Eugenio Álvarez (University of Siena) and Santiago José Gahn (Roma Tre University)

What drives economic development? What is the nature of the external constraints that developing economies face? What is the role of industrial policy and the central banks in the development process? These were the core questions that were posed in the recent webinar series on Development in the 21st Century, organized by the Economic Development working group of the Young Scholars Initiative (YSI). These four meetings were particularly oriented towards examining notions such as distribution, patterns of specialization, industrial policies and balance of payment constraints. The discussion of such phenomena is especially important in a context of deep academic divides regarding the drivers of economic development.

Following the tradition of the Latin American structuralist school, the meetings placed special emphasis on the inherent challenges of conditions associated with being in the periphery when the problem of development is faced. During the meetings, processes of economic integration that perpetuate asymmetric economic relations of the center-periphery type were examined, as well as the role played by public institutions, e.g. central banks, in the development of industrial economies.Read More »

Keynes or New-Keynesian: Why Not Teach Both?

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For economists, the Great Recession, the worst crisis the world economy has seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s, has highlighted the need for plurality in macroeconomics education. Ironically, however, there is a move towards greater insularity from alternative or contrasting points of view. Where as, what is required for vibrant policy making is an open-minded academic engagement between contesting viewpoints. In fact, there does not even exist a textbook which contrasts these contesting ideas in a tractable manner. This blog post is as an attempt to provide certain pointers towards developing macroeconomics in a unified framework.

Macroeconomics as a subject proper came into existence with the writings of John Maynard Keynes[i]. There were debates during his time about how to characterise a capitalist economy, most of which are still a part of the discussion among economists. Keynes argued that capitalism is a fundamentally unstable system so the state needs to intervene to control this instability.Read More »

Marx’s Birthday and the Dismal Science: A Few Observations

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by Carolina Alves and Ingrid H. Kvangraven

With 2017 marking the 150th anniversary of Capital and 2018 marking the bicentennial of the birth of Karl Marx, it is not a surprise that the number of events and exhibitions celebrating Marx’s work and exploring the significance of Marxism in the world today have gone through the roof. A little sample can be found here, here, here, here and here (see also The Guardian’s sum up of exhibitions, books – and pub crawls)! And it would be unfair to not mention the British Library’s PhD placement on Karl Marx offered last summer, which aimed to develop ideas for events and activities that would engage the public and research communities with Marx’s life and his wider legacy (with a brilliant emphasis on Marx’s daughter Eleanor – a writer and political activist in her own right). Some of the results can be seen here, here, here and here.

Of course, Friedrich Engels’ far-reaching contributions have not been ignored (here and here); and neither should Jenny Marx’s contributions, who, like Mary Burns, have never been a mere accessory[1] and, before falling in love with the Jewish romantic rebel, was a woman interested in French socialism and German romanticism, engaged in an early feminist views on women’s equality, and committed to the struggle for the working-class (influenced by her father). Hence, Jenny’s possible allusion that Marx was “Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister and Schiller’s Karl von Moor, and he would be Shelley’s Prometheus, chained to a precipice because he dared to challenge a tyrannical god” (Gabriel, 2011, p. 20).

Putting aside this rich line-up of events, what has caught our attention is the equal proliferation of pieces celebrating Marx’s birthday, for the better or for the worse. From misleading and derogatory articles such as the Rulers of the world: read Karl Marx! published by The Economist to educational short pieces such as Cooper’s It’s time to normalize Karl Marx, it is difficult to not wonder about the reasons behind such opposing views. Similarly, it is difficult to resist the temptation to add a little contribution to the debate. So here we are.

We will not dwell on Marx’s contributions and current relevance, which has been done effectively by so many academics, political activists and journalists. Neither will we unpack and discuss the issues with value-laden opinions on Marx’s economic theory, and simple-minded association of Marx’s political ideas with historical events of the 20th century. We will, however, for the sake of being one more blog post on Marx’s 200th birthday, reiterate and explore Marx’s work’s undeniable and vital influence in contemporary thought, politics and political practice. Further, and perhaps the main inspiration that led us to write this blog post, we wish to add some more thoughts on Marx’s influence (or lack thereof)  in modern times, namely the effects of the marginalization of his ideas in the field of Economics.Read More »

What is missing in the ‘33 Theses for an Economics Reformation’

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Andrew Simms (New Weather Institute), Sally Svenlen (RE student), Larry Elliott (Guardian), Steve Keen (Debunking Economics) and Kate Raworth (Doughnut Economics) symbolically nail the “33 Theses” to the door of the London School of Economics in December 2017. rethinkeconomics.org.

By Erik Reinert (Talinn University of Technology) and Andrea Saltelli (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya)

On the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Reformation, 33 Theses for an Economics Reformation were formulated by Rethinking Economics and the New Weather Institute. The document was symbolically nailed to the door of the London School of Economics In December 2017 and endorsed in The Guardian, and was supported by an impressive list of over 60 leading academics and policy experts. The initiative offers a rare and most welcome refreshing message from the House of Economics.

Several elements in the theses are long overdue – for example, the existence of planetary limits, the superiority of political deliberation over economic logic, the appreciation of the role of uncertainty in economic predictions, the non-independence of facts and values when economic thoughts are formulated, the warning against over-reliance on modelling, econometrics and formal methods. Also important is the indication that both growth and innovation need to be conceived with a desirable end in sight, one which can be associated with material and spiritual progress – rather than with misery, inequity and inequality. It is finally all important that in the teaching of economics itself the history and philosophy of economics should be taught, together with all economic theories: not just the family tree of mainstream economics.Read More »