ERIC Number: EJ832760
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2009-Feb-27
Why Economists Are Part of the Problem
Marglin, Stephen A.
Chronicle of Higher Education, v55 n25 pB7 Feb 2009
Economics is a two-faced discipline. It claims to be a science, describing the world without preconception or value judgment. The reality is that descriptive economics has been shaped by a framework of assumptions geared more to its normative message than to its pretensions. The self-interested individual--who rationally calculates how to achieve ever more consumption, whose conception of community is limited to the nation-state--is a myth, not exactly false but a half-truth at best. That framework is essential to the normative side of an economics that proclaims the virtues of markets and is maintained even when it gets in the way of understanding how the economy really works. At times of crisis, the emperor's sartorial lack becomes more obvious and the need for clarity more acute. Americans are living through such a crisis today, and they desperately need clarity on the relationship between fixes for Wall Street and fixes for Main Street; on the relationship between immediately mending the financial system and the broader economy and the longer-term problems that face the economy, starting with global warming. A beginning would be to update Lionel Charles Robbins's definition of economics as the allocation of scarce means among unlimited ends. That one-size-fits-all definition hides the reality of two distinct problems. In this article, the author contends that a renewal of economics must include an awareness of what is being sacrificed on the altar of endless growth: the environment and community. It is a reasonably good bet that the present crisis will stimulate bold thinking about both. Whether the seeds of intellectual change will find a favorable soil in which to germinate and grow into healthy plants, however, will depend in large measure on whether the questioning of economics can ally itself to a movement to broaden the political discourse: to include discussion of the purposes of growth and the virtues of restraining people's appetites, of a revival of social solidarity so that people can fashion a new relationship between individual and community, between government and market.
Descriptors: Value Judgment, Economic Development, Macroeconomics, Consumer Economics, Social Theories, Economics Education
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A