Embracing diversity in economic thought for inclusive prosperity

Frontiers in alternative economics
Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity
Panel discussion during the alternative economics event

Economics is essentially a study of human societies and how they manage to address their needs and wants, whilst respecting nature and allowing ecosystems to thrive, it cannot guarantee certainty in its research outcomes and cannot offer universal truths. The consequence is that it may be more useful, productive, and insightful to bring to the forefront a richer array of economic thinking and visions that are fit for the purpose of the topic considered. Ultimately, the economy is a social construct. If we are to address the multiple cross-boundary crises the world faces, it is high time that we more genuinely embrace diversity or pluralism in economics and be more inclusive of differing narratives.

As a contribution to this discussion the Erasmus Initiative Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity (Erasmus University Rotterdam) in collaboration with the Interdisciplinary Climate Economics for Nature and Society - ICENS lab organised, on the 10th of June 2024, a symposium on “Frontiers in pluralist economics: Exploring the potential of alternative economic views for inclusive prosperity”. Four speakers, drawing on different schools of economic thought put forward the case of why there is a dire need for economic thinking that departs from the usual standard economics approach dominating discourses and research, if we are to significantly progress in having our economies work better for society and nature. 

Professor Michael Roos based at Rühr-University in Bochum presented the versatility and adequacy of the language and analytical capabilities of complexity economics in investigating and exploring the polycrisis. Professor Brian Fath working with Towson University Maryland and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) discussed the role of ecological economics in providing fitting biophysical accounting of nature’s services. He argued why this economics perspective provides a better fit for the repurposing of our economies, away from an obsession with economic growth, towards societal wellbeing and planetary health goals. Katy Gillespie, PhD candidate with the WiSE Centre for Economic Justice at Glasgow Caledonian University put forward the case of feminist economics in pushing for more sustainable and equitable futures. Finally, Dr. Şerban Scrieciu, founder and director of ICENS lab and honorary senior research fellow with University College London argued why allowing for a greater diversity in economic thinking to penetrate research, policy and practice can help widen the space for innovative answers and action, on the climate change mitigation front. He brought to the audience’s attention the fluid nature of the definition of the economics discipline itself, the varying ethics and visions that different schools of economic thought implicitly or explicitly built their body of research on, and the need to accept and better deal with the uncertain, dynamic, and value-ridden fundamental features of our economies.

An intellectually stimulative panel debate and discussions with the audience followed the presentations, moderated by Dr. Filippos Zisopoulos and kickstarted by  Professor Martin de Jong The discussants covered issues such as: how various alternative schools of economic thought differ or are similar in their responses to the environmental and social inclusion challenges; whether they are conflicting or compatible; and how different economics perspectives can ultimately work together for the benefit of nature and society. Participants agreed that economics is imbued with values and normative assumptions, which need to be explicitly acknowledged and accepted. Pluralism in economics is less about varying economic theories. It is more about how economists perceive the essence or nature of our societies and economies and about the methodological foundations that guide their knowledge generation processes and outputs. Economics would benefit from shifting its fixation on market equilibria towards exploring the workings of economies as processes of change, thermodynamically open systems, populated by heterogenous social actors, rich in individual and collective values, beliefs, limited rationality, messy behaviour, emotions, and cultural and social norms. It would also benefit from lessening the grip of excessive mathematical formalism and better embracing both quantitative and qualitative approaches to scientific investigation.

Thank you to everyone in the audience for their challenging and stimulative questions and comments on this topic. We hope to see you again at future events to continue the discussion.

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