Economics has struggled to be free from the other social sciences, those that deal with real people and real lives. It prefers to deal with systems that can be reduced to parameters that can be measured and are free from external trends. This misses the possibility for economics being more significant – as science and as social policy.
Capitalism, the preferred frame for economic assumptions, is a way of making devisions. Those with capital decided what to do with it and society mostly follows along. Coffee, tobacco, automobiles, smart phones. In fact capital is a method of making decisions that parallels the weakened political form of democratic participation, but where elections do make a difference. If we look at presidential election, they have always been close, and if the other candidate had won it would, with patronage and media influence, have had some effects. But in the background the corporate interests carry a bigger weight.
In fact we have four interlocking ways of making decisions on the future for society.
- Democracy votes (and is polled)
- Capital ownership decides ( and uses the media)
- Technologists innovate (and use the corporate form)
- Government funds (and uses a revolving door)
To put it more starkly
Looked at this way democracy is pretty weak. We can think of these ad four vectors which can align or not. To my eye capital has come to dominate the other three and has become the major way society makes decisions, sets the amounts and directions. Because economics generally concerns itself with the capital side, avoiding politics, innovation and government projects, it is felt to be less interesting than it could be is it treated all four.
Davos this year might get a bit deeper under pressure from climate concerns. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out: the intensity of climate talk will be high. The question is , will anyone – anyone- dare to raise the question, not of commitments to 2050, but to actions that actually curtail – stop – some fossil fuel use in the next year.