Chapter 1. Introduction

Summary: This chapter sets out the whats, whys and hows of this Rethink / Reformation of economics, so that readers can understand it more fully.

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What's wrong with economics? Here are some suggestions

The plethora of problems challenging economics 1200,750
A plethora of proposals on what to do about the problems:

De-growth; Sharing Economy; Microfinance; God's Good Economy; Redeeming Economics; Freakonomics; Gift Economy; Digitalization; Relational Economics; Wellbeing economics; Value of Everything; Value(s); Human Development Index; Biodiversity; Economics of Arrival; Economics of Enough; Economy for the Common Good; Economy of Communion; Utopia for Realists; Poor Economics; Gross Happiness Index; Blossoming Economy; Circular Economy; Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism; Participatory Market Systems Development; Mission Economy; Post-Growth; Natural Order of Money; True Price Movement; Doughnut Economics; Foundational Economics; Development Economics; Civil Economy; Environmental Economics; New Environmental Economics ...

Each proposal addresses one or two of the problems. None address them all. No overall view. It is not that economics itself is problematic, but rather, how we use it and how it has developed. We need to rethink economics from the foundations up - its nature and its use together.

Read this introduction to understand what this Rethink is; or else skip to Chapter 2. Though not written primarily for academics, the arguments here should stand up to open-minded academic scrutiny. They are aimed at a broader readership, of people who want to understand economics and put it into good quality practice - whether economists, financiers, politicians, media pundits, scientists, homemakers, medics, teachers, clerics, technicians, judges, military people, volunteers, climate activists, counsellors, shopkeepers, growers or business people.

About this Rethink

What is this Rethink? What does it do? A rethinking of economics from a different perspective. It is a broad and fundamental critique and reformation of economics, which is both philosophical and practical in nature. This whole document is intended to be a source of ideas from which other documents may be written, rather than a finished document itself. The chapters offer a basic yet comprehensive body of material that can be redacted, condensed, summarised, elaborated or adapted in various ways to help various kinds of reader.

Why this? Many have written about how economics as it has been practised and used over the past century is implicated in major problems of many kinds, like climate and environmental crises, injustices, pandemic, war, mental stress, obesity, addiction, family breakdown, attitude change, and so on. Its theories, formulae and paradigms steer humanity towards such ills and also lead us to overlook important issues like unpaid household activity, which has long been undervalued. So is economics only evil? Not at all; it is, however misused and distorted. This Rethink explores this in a different way than most rethinks do.

What does this offer? ("USPs") This approach might make a contribution to economics because it offers several things perhaps not found elsewhere. We can answer this in two ways. First, generic:

Second, in terms of what is meaningful in economics, yet which few others seem to discuss adequately:

Then there are others that some others already discuss, into which we can make a contribution:

Where from? A concern began decades ago about economics and its role in "destroying the earth," perpetrating injustice, and doing various other harms. Discussion was sparked into life with Mark Carney's 2020 Reith Lectures, in which he argued the need for economics to consider values other than mere economic value. The RLDG came together to discuss them. However, we found that our discussions raised many issues about the meaningfulness, mandate and mindset of economics, which precede discussions about value(s) and issues like the importance of unpaid household work, and the difference between harmful and good economic activity, all became equally important, especially as we incorporated other thinkers. We found those thinkers rather disparate and in need of bringing together.

Where to? The aim of this is to offer a framework for understanding the realities of economic activity, within which flaws in both theory and practice of economics are addressed. It aims to be both coherent within itself while non-reductionist, able to address the diversity and complexity that is economics today, both theory and practice, and set a course for the future.

Who for? For several readerships (as foundational material for each).

Most readers will find some things they disagree with and some they agree with. This Reformation tries to present a broader view in which all views are treated as insights, so we can escape the for-and-against battles.

About Whom? Many of the problems and crises arising from economics (practice and/or theory) are not the fault of economics as such nor economists, but rather of those who 'use' or rely on economics, including policy-makers, media pundits, business people and even the general public, who, for example, idolise economic growth. Economists themselves know these are not the main aim of economics. Economics may be seen as misused. Nevertheless, there are reasons within economics itself, among its theories, principles and paradigms, that fosters such misuse. A well-known example is Adam Smith's excusing of what he called "self-love" but subsequent (mis)interpretation of which has damagingly pervaded economics ever since. In our Rethink we treat the views of both groups as equally meaningful, to tackle both errors in popular views of economics, and flaws in economics itself.

From which perspective? The perspective we take, which guides our Rethink, has six components, described and discussed in Chapter 3: Everyday experience and 'real life' in all its complexity is given priority over economic theory or various ideals [Note: Real and Ideal]. We embrace disparate views, especially, when there is a divide, both sides, believing there is valid insight in each. Dooyeweerd's multi-aspectual philosophy is used as a philosophical framework with which to understand the reality of economics in all its manifestations. Religious, especially Christian, perspectives are treated with critical respect and able to offer insights not usually incorporated in economics. What some economists presuppose as 'the good life' is given explicit shape, as Multi-aspectual Overall Good. We engage with extant thought to listen, affirm, critique and enrich, and cover a wide range to topics of economic theory and practice.

How? We try to do justice to both real-life economic activity and theory, by focusing on the deeper problems that lie at the root of those that occupy most of the discourse. This is partly because problems like those listed earlier often go together and reinforce each other, and may have a common root; it is this root that we seek to uncover. To do this, we review a wide range of recent thinking and discourse in economics, examining problems like climate change or obesity, to show the deeper challenges that underlie them, such as arrogance or narrowed, reductionist views (Chapter 2). We then explain the perspective from which we face the challenges (Chapter 3), then discuss five major issues relevant to economics (Chapters 4-8), ending up by demonstrating how this approach may be applied to environmental economics (Chapter 9), and drawing conclusions that point a way forward (Chapter 10). We cite both popular, professional and academic discourses, though all critically, popular discourses because they can reveal the prevailing mindset and attitudes that pervade society, professional discourses because it reveals something of the mindset of those whose work is economics, and academic discourses because they reveal insights about generic understanding. When engaging with extant thought of any kind, is to Listen, Affirm, Critique and Enrich (LACE) rather than unquestioningly accept or reject. We try to offer a transcendental argument (about the necessary and universal conditions that make something possible), yet always try to relate it to real-life experience.

Width? This reformation addresses both economics theory and economics practice. It ranges over a very wide area, taking into account a wide range of issues that may be said to be "economic" in nature, including: economics as such, finance, banking, accounting, markets, business, employment, environmental economics, development economics, philosophy of economics, non-monetary issues, of both valuation and also unpaid household activity as practised in the so-called Less developed nations and most non-affluent cultures.

Who are RLDG? The Reith Lectures Discussion Group (RLDG) began as a group of around 20 people during the pandemic from all over the world, who are familiar with Dooyeweerd's philosophy and are Christians. Its members come from across the political spectrum, some come with environmental concern, some with concern about poverty or inequality, some with inefficiencies and irrationalities in the economy, yet others with big government and corporations. All believe that reality has an economic aspect that is important that cannot be reduced to other aspects, and which was intended by the Creator as a blessing-potential for the whole of Creation (what Chapter 4 calls "Multi-aspectual Good". The group has expanded to include others (and it now also discusses Artificial Intelligence, covered in the 2021 Reith Lectures). Its discussions are recorded on

"http://christianthinking.space/".

Whether? We recognise that much in this might be wrong, especially in its detail, but much might offer useful insights to both economists and those who use economics. We try to exercise self-critique. Most of us in the RLDG grew up in affluent cultures (though some have been intimiately involved in non-affluent cultures), so this Rethink might require some modification from the perspective of non-affluent cultures. However, we have always tried to think beyond presupposing affluence as 'natural' or a proper aspiration in itself, and recognise genuine value in any culture.

Words? A glossary defines the words and phrases used here, but some deserve special mention. Example: Where most use "developed nations", "advanced nations", "advanced economies" or words like "Western" or "Global North", we use "affluent cultures", "affluent" rather than "developed" because we are concerned with economics rather than technology or technique, "affluent" rather than "rich" or "Western" because our meaning goes beyond mere economic wealth and geography to include attitude, and "cultures" rather than "nations" because there are elites who run even the poorer nations who aspire to at least some facets they see in affluent nations. Where we restrict our thinking to actual nations, national economies or their governments, we use "affluent nations" or "affluent economies".


Created: 28 March 2023 from xnr2 and various notes. Last updated: 20 April 2023 arranging USPs. 10 May 2023 draft. 5 June 2023 rid ---. 11 July 2023 finished USPs; rid =====; pdf. 21 July 2023 some rw. 9 December 2023 problems, plethora. 29 December 2023 Ecx itself ok. 29 March 2024 USPs rw; notes moved to n.html; 6 elements of perspective. 23 May 2024 rw intro.