The Econocracy: The Perils of Leaving Economics to the Experts by Joe Earle, Cahal Moran, Zach Ward-Perkins

This is a very arresting attempt by a group of involved economic practitioners and students to bring the ‘dismal science’ back to the people. Currently, as argued passionately by the authors, the real of Economics has been showcased and stereotyped as being the exclusive preserve, privilege and preoccupation of a select few ‘experts’ whose claim to such expertise stems from a qualification that has at its uncompromising edifice the airtight and straitjacketed principles of neo liberal and neo classical economics. Upon an innovative exercise of an in depth curricula review conducted by the authors, that has as its subjects, seven Russell Group Universities (Cambridge, Cardiff, Exeter, London School of Economics, Manchester, Queen’s University Belfast and Sheffield), the startling fact that an indoctrination into the neo classical mould of economics formed the very spine and substance of more than 174 course modules prompted an urgent relook and rethink on the part of an agitated and concerned student community. “There are diverse and even conflicting theories within neoclassical economics but they all share three key theoretical ‘prongs’ which taken together form its core:

• Individualism;
• Optimisation; and
• Equilibrium

This aspect of divorcing economics from the sphere of public policy and societal reach has led to what the authors term a situation of ‘econocracy’. Econocracy is defined to mean “a society in which political goals are defined in terms of their effect on the economy, which is believed to be a distinct system with its own logic that requires experts to manage it”.

After identifying the curse of stereotype plaguing the current academia, political institutions and public offices in so far as the profession of economics is concerned, Joe Earle and his fellow authors proceed to issue a clarion call for an injection of pluralism in the field of Economics. Rooting for “qualitative tools such as surveys, interviews, case studies, ethnographies and analysis of written documents” that are “almost completely absent from the economics curricula”, Earle and his team advocate a move away from an education that lays emphasis on memorizing and regurgitating neoclassical economic theory. Reiterating that “pluralism is a necessary feature of economics education because it teaches students to realize that there is more than one way of thinking about the economy”, the authors illustrate their contention by referring to three most topical and controversial economic concepts defining and redefining our time: micro economic stability; environment and climate change and inequality. Only a pluralistic bent, the authors stress will lead to a concrete mitigation of risks posed by these three invidious issues and an inflexible attraction to ivory tower solutions offered by neo classical economics will not line up all the ducks in either a systematic or systemic manner.

The authors conclude by hoping to succeed in their endeavour of creating a new class of “citizen economists”, in the form of “individuals having the basic knowledge, confidence and interest to engage critically with economic discourse in politics, the news and their local communities.” Towards this end conceptualization of online and web based classes (such as www.ecnmy.org) to supplement classroom teaching and also to induct a whole new interested category of enlightened citizenry denote a few initiatives undertaken by a reinvigorated band of economic practitioners, teachers and students.

The authors take refuge in a famous albeit cynical quote of Joan Robinson, “the purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.”

“The Econocracy” represents the first bold steps taken to prevent such a deception.

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