Towards a Rethink of Economics
- a Multi-aspectual Economics
enlivened with a Christian Perspective
See also full version.
The practice and theory of economics is doing a lot of harm, to environment, to society, to psychology, to attitudes and so on. Many recent thinkers recognise need for radical change. Carney calls us to values and responsibility. Laurent and Dasgupta warn about environmental damage. Goudzwaard, Jackson and Raworth call us to question adherence to economic growth, with Raworth calling defining ecological ceiling and social floor. Mazzucato and Graeber warn us against unproductivity and "bullshit". The Manchester Collective and the UN Statistics Division emphasise the value of "mundane" work and unpaid household activity. Systems thinkers call for a Circular Economy. Some address the macro level, some the micro. How may we integrate all this, and be ready for other ideas as they emerge? This "rethink" tries to:
- Bring together such diverse kinds of recent thinking;
- Remain open to the realities of economic activity, however complex, in all its aspects - those of economics a such together with those of environment, justice, joy, health, faith, etc.;
- Develop a way of understanding: an integrated understanding in which all resonate rather than get bolted on, and which is philosophically sound but also practice-oriented (including a new understanding of money);
- Cleanly delineate the role of a Christian perspective so that it can make a genuine contribution (rather than, as sometimes happens, trying to 'dominate').
The result is what might be called Multi-aspectual Economics, which incorporates Embedded, Multi-valued, Moral, Multi-level, and Responsible Economics (instead of Isolated, Narrow, Harmful, Fragmented and Self-centred Economics). This might prove to be a new paradigm for economics, both its theory and practice.
(Can be skipped.)
There was Economics, busying itself on the ground - and in the ground, mining it. Then along came Justice and complained about poverty and ill-treatment of workers. Along came Ecology, with animals, plants and ecosystems suffering from pollution and loss of home. Soon after, along came Climate Concern. On the sidelines was Theology, watching from a distance. Justice accused Ecology and Climate Concern of making poverty worse, but then came to see that without their help poverty would get far worse. From them was born Climate Justice, something of a warrior. Theology began to take sides. Compassion was silent.
Economics ignored them, feeling comfortable since its feet were on solid ground while they were all up in the air. A few friends of Economics pointed them out, but Economics took no notice. Then the earth quaked, and Economics was scared. Along came Government to pacify Economics (whom it depended on), while throwing a few kisses at Justice and Climate. Economics was doubtful. So were Justice, Ecology and Climate Concern. Lots of noisy arguments. Theology still looked on from a distance. Without warning, Pandemic entered, silencing everyone. Ecology and Compassion began to sing in the silence, but soon the clamour began again and drowned out the singing. God had enjoyed the singing. Indeed, the aim had been a choral symphony, right from the start.
1. Recent Thinking in Economics
Many recent thinkers have identified flaws in current economic theory and practice. For example, Mark Carney, Mariana Mazzucato, Kate Raworth, Tim Jackson, Andrew Hartropp, Partha Dasgupta, the United Nations Statistics Department's attempt at redesigning national accounts, and many more. However, they each focus on one or two problems. See Overview of Approaches to Economics. None of them is sufficient on its own.
This article seeks to draw a broader picture that can accommodate them all. See Section 2. Problems with the Economy
2. The Need to Widen Economics
The broader picture involves widening economics theory and practice in five major ways:
- Embedded Economics instead of Detached Economics: Widen the attitude and perspective of economics, in both theory and practice, to see itself as one aspect of reality embedded within and among all others. Most economic theory and practice largely ignores or reduces other aspects (e.g. "the bottom line"), though some recent ideas recognise them, e.g. biodiversity, climate, volunteering. See 3.1 Widening Economics to See Itself Embedded Among All Aspects of Life below. ;
- Multi-valued Economics instead of Narrow Economics: Widen the idea of value, measurement and money. Most economics sees only economic value, but needs to take other kinds into account. It presupposes value can be measured by numbers (money), but what is the real value of rainforest? Or of unpaid housework? Or of fun and rest? Recent thinkers are struggling with this. To tackle this, we use a conceptual framework that allows us value the supposedly invaluable of many kinds. See 3.2 Value Beyond Just Money and even Beyond Measurment below.
- Moral Economics instead of Harmful Economics: Widen our understanding to recognise the harmful and useless as well as good of economic activity. Most economic theory and practice presupposes only good (e.g. GDP, growth as good), though some recent thinkers recognise, and want to curb, some kinds of harm, e.g. climate change. The useless is the non-essentials we purchase (we throw away 30% of our food!), "bullshit jobs" and so on. See 3.3 The Good, the Harmful and the Useless below.
- Multi-level Economics instead of Fragmented Economics: Widen our view of economic activity to integrate micro, macro and global economics activity. Traditionally economics is divided into micro and macro economics, and has difficulty with global economics, but the overlap between them is increasingly recognised (e.g. household activity impacts national accounts and global climate). We try to not only recognise that but understand the relationships between them. See 3.4 Embracing Micro, Macro and Global Economics below.
- Responsible Economics instead of Self-centred Economics: Widen beyond the competitive 'rational economic actor' to responsibility. Conventional economics largely excludes ideas of responsibility, presupposing a separation of Is from Ought. We believe normativity and responsibility are inherent in economics. See 3.5 Widen Beyond Competitive Rational Economic Actor to Recognise Responsibility.
- Do all this together. As far as we know, recent thinkers and ideas each focus on one or two of the above, and none has tried to bring all those widenings together into a single framework. See 3.6 Bringing All Widenings Together below. - Multi-aspectual Economics
3. Philosophical Framework for Multi-aspectual Economics
This must not remain in the clouds as a trumpet call, but needs to be made systematic and operational. We need to understand what each entails. We achieve this with a radical philosophy by Herman Dooyeweerd. He proposed a suite of fifteen aspects of reality, each of which is a different way in which things may be meaningful, and gives us different kinds of laws, which enable us to function and which define what is Good versus Harmful. We use his suite of aspects as a philosophical framework to help us understand what is going on, where things are going wrong, and how to rectify this. See Section 4. Our Systematic Framework: Dooyeweerd's Philosophy
4. How to Widen to a Multi-aspectual Economics
We suggest the following ways in which each widening might be achieved:
- Embedded Economics: (Widen the attitude and perspective of economics, in both theory and practice, to see itself as one aspect of reality embedded within and among all others.)
When we understand the inherent coherence among the aspects, we will naturally see economics as embedded among other aspects. Detaching an aspect distorts our view and misleads us. The service the economic aspect offers others is carefulness with resources. Economic activity is inherently multi-aspectual; this may be understood via inter-aspect dependencies. See Section 5.1 Economics as One Aspect in a Multi-aspectual Reality
- Multi-value Economics: (Widen the idea of value, measurement and money.)
Each aspect implies a distinct kind of value; economic value is only one of at least a dozen kinds. The value of something is what it could contribute to Overall Good. Functioning in an aspect actualizes that value. Focussing narrowly on economic value undermines actualization of other kinds. Quantitative measurement restricts and distorts evaluation, and some kinds of value must be treated qualitatively. Money should be seen as the aspectual functioning it enables, not as owned commodity. See Section 5.2 As Aspectual Approach to Value and its Measurement
- Moral Economics: (Widen our understanding to recognise the harmful and useless as well as good of economic activity.)
Each aspect offers a distinct kind of good and most, a distinct kind of evil or harm. Dooyeweerd's aspects can help us separate out the harm from the good, in all their kinds. Non-essentials arise from giving undue emphasis to one aspect over others. See Section 5.3 Aspects of Good and Harmful Economic Activity
- Multi-level Economics: (Widen our view of economic activity to integrate micro, macro and global economics activity.)
At each level of economics, different aspects are of primary importance and govern the way economic activity operates at that level. Considering all aspects together can integrate all levels in our thinking and practice. See Section 5.4 Aspectual Levels of Economic Analysis
- Responsible Economics: (Widen beyond the competitive 'rational economic actor' to responsibility.)
Entities (e.g. nation or business) gain their being from aspectual meaningfulness and law, so each type of entity implies responsibility. Each aspect implies a different responsibility. Inter-aspect dependencies can help understand indirect responsibilities, and how economic activity can serve other aspects rather than demand to be served. See Section 5.5 Responsibility from an Aspectual Perspective
- Multi-aspectual Economics: Do all this together.
This is made possible by the fact that one single conceptual framework is able to accomplish all these widenings. See Section 5.6 Bringing It All Together
This provides an integrative conceptual framework for a new approach to economics - including perhaps its associated fields of finance, banking and business.
All these require research and imaginative exploration to be worked out in practice and in economics theory. See Section 5. Using Dooyeweerd's Philosophy to Widen Economics
5. Conventional Economics
But what about conventional economics (of left or right)? Should it be rejected? We believe that it too offers insights, and may be accommodated within that wider picture. See Section 6. Engaging with Conventional Economics
6. Christian Perspective on Multi-aspectual Economics
Systematic frameworks can become boring, and, though they offer understanding, they do not compel action. A religious perspective is what can provide 'spark' and motivation. A Judeo-Christian perspective adds the idea of repentance, and a Christian perspective adds the possibility of salvation and grounds for hope. A Judeo-Christian perspective includes the idea of God proactively and lovingly intervening in surprising ways to solve problems that seem intractable to us, once we unconditionally repent. See Section 7. Enriching with a 'Christian' Perspective
This page, "http://christianthinking.space/economics/xnr.html",
is part of Christian Thinking in Economics, which is part of Christian Thinking Space.
Written in the style of classic HTML, using Protext and Pagestream on an Amiga 1200.
Created: 29 October 2021.
Last updated: 6 November 2021 Vignette. 8 November 2021 section numbers corrected. 9 November 2021 named the areas. 10 November 2021 'instead of'. 17 November 2021 rw asps. 27 November 2021 abstract; better title (was "Rethinking the Economy, Towards a Multi-aspectual Economics enlivened with a Christian Perspective"). 6 December 2021 none suff. 13 December 2021 better abstract, giving four points; vignette in box. 20 December 2021 sp. 24 December 2021 God intervening. 28 December 2021 non-ess. 31 December 2022 rw. 5 January 2022 renamed Unconcerned Economy as Self-Centred Economy, errors.