Post #2008 Constraints within economics prevent engagement.

What are the self-imposed constraints on new economic thinking?

The purpose of science is to give as best we can a picture of relevant reality. It is not the results of applying a method to a problem only because the problem is tractable with the method. Aa Aristotle made clear, each un known has is appropriate method.The first criteria is to pick a good enough example of the problem that, if understood, would actually throw light on the problem, not just on the method.

Economics seems to operate under extreme constraints on what it can or should study. Big data can find the tiny fraction of you that correlates with the tiny fraction in many others, but it cannot find the Plato or Bob Dylan in you. So big data misses lots that is relevant to actual humans. The admonition to grad students and tenure seekers to find a good data set might be good careerism but bad science.

If we accept the constraints, like keeping economics separate from politics or the other social sciences, how can we live up to the challenge for new economic thinking? New economic thinking probably requires introducing new aspects of reality, new “variables”, into the discussion. To introduce new methods without considering new aspects of reality probably can’t bring us very far and reflect a conservative – “things have to change in order to remain the same” approach, which might provide an important clue as to the motive for the slow movement of new economic thinking.

Constraints emerge because we stay within assumptions that we do not violate:

The assumption of capitalism.
The assumption that ownership is not a legitimate category of economics
The lack of discussion of the caste system that divided us into owners and workers, labor and capital.The legitimacy of corporations

Economics bypasses all the interesting categories of how the day is spent by an unemployed spouse, by the retired, trust fund babies, artists choosing poverty, those filling out time to retirement by playing videos at their desks, adventurers. We don’t look at the content – much of which is not “economic”- of the lifestyles of the one percent.

Why do we stay within these constraints?

Good manners?
Not wanting to shake up colleagues?
Fear of consequences to career?
Fear of destabilizing society?

Put another way: the world needs managing of the relationship between humanity and the globe, which needs to be a mix if economics, ecology, politics, philosophy, historical understanding, dealing with human nature and civil society. Is economics up for it, or is it holding on to old assumptions that help prevent any integrated approach?

Is there a better way to frame the question?

Post # 2004. World Economic

Financialisation as the Core Problem for a “Social Europe”


For more than three decades, increasing financialisation has been a core feature of the European economy. This process does not only lead to economic instability, but also to social inequality. A driving force of financialisation in Europe are the internal market institutions of the European Union, aggravated through the introduction of the Euro and the programmes for rescuing the common currency. The European Union, principally, should be the most suitable institution to limit financialisation in favour of a more social Europe, given that it is often considered to be a shield against the harsh winds of globalisation. However, both the legal foundations as well as the political power relations within the Union are more likely to rather pave the way towards a deepening of financialisation and social inequality.


More diagnosis, but the language more pointed.

2001.Radical numbers

Provocation # 148. Radical numbers.

The following is sketchy.

I like Musk’s use of numbers.

“Two  billion wall batteries  would be needed  to meet all the world’s energy needs.  Difficult? Most people think impossible. We have 2 billion cars, replaced every twenty years. We can do this. “

If we took the social side in the same straight-forward way, what draconian but adequate measures would be necessary. A few off the top ideas floating around:


•Stop all air transportation  October 31. Use internet
•Cut population radically
•War can do it.
•One child families gets each child 4 parents.
•Food. Seed production increased and distributed. Everyone plants.
•Freeze on mortgage payments, cut rent. (Down come the banks).

•Unemployment is first step toward redeployment,

You get the idea. Necessary but impossible? But something will happen.


Two major narratives to start:

◦Collapse; climate,  food, grid, finance

◦Cohere, struggle but widespread survival with dignity..

Smart money right now seems to be  on cohere (though private conversations suggest widespread skepticism), because if you win, great, and if you lose no worse than if you had bet on collapse. But since this takes many smart people who, in choosing the likelihood of society cohering,  out of the effort to work on draconian measures, which consequently hurries us toward failure.


What to do?

Post # 2000. Intro to the book

The 2000 post seems like a landmark, though I remember the disappointment that moving the year from 1999 to 2000 was not so exciting.  To mark this occasion now  here is the introduction  to a book I am drafting, the intro is of course still a draft,

The working title is

GardenWorld and Civilization:
Its Politics economics and philosophy-
The drama of humanity

Click on link for pdf

intro aug 5

Here are the opening paragraphs..

Any politics which does not aim toward the humanization of its people and the gardening of the world is not an adequate politics.  – DC.


Since we all want to live in a vital combination of nature and civilization, why do’t we use our wealth to go there? Without a goal to enhance the globe and its nature we have embraced the blind path of killing it off. The goal was to develop technology so as to free people from work and to live in a beautiful world – but not to free them from income. The world we have, where technology, governance and infrastructure support the wealthy and their professional supporters, but not the majority of people, needs to be seen as a grand failure. There is a goal for the world, a mix of nature and civilization, what I am calling GardenWorld, that has a deep appeal to many and could possibly be a goal to which we can work. GardenWorld would replace the drive for growth and consumption that has benefitted the few and not led to a society we love nor can trust, that limits basic security and creates meaningless work and worse unemployment..
We can think our way to a better society rather than just being carried along like a semi out of control. Our society is not ready for autonomous driving (though the tech world is moving us there). We need a shared sense of what is happening and we need a goal to know what we are doing. “Without a vision the people are lost.” We are not
using our intelligence to furthering the well being of the species but to enhance favored individual lives. Early societies had elites that took the well being of the population through the complex process of food as crucial, and managed fairly well.
A return to thinking about how the human species and the natural environment can be interrelated is essential, to our survival. We are organized to favor increasing complexity linking money, innovation and markets rather than favoring flexibility to deal with breakdowns and misjudgments. Flexibility may even help us to a more delightful life. While we need innovation, we also need, as a balance, restraint and reflection on secondary consequences of innovative proposals. Proposals need to be consistent with society, with the human life cycle, as well as technical requirements. Learning to appreciate each other and others cultures needs to be the core of a new culture for humanity.
One lesson I hope we all understand: it is very important to be better educated: philosophy , history , anthropology. We tend to believe that we already know the outlines of what is important. This is not true. In fact we have built institutions that reinforce narrow thinking by creating narrow departments and a current practice that supports careers management, not insight .

post # 1998 How can we…?

We need to deal with large population, low quality of life, (because most people are too anxious and insecure, and threats loom large or have already arrived), no future path for making only things that fit climate change  (requires making things with less extraction and less energy use, over all and getting there fast)  and distribute  income.

we need to discuss

  • what needs to be produced
  • how it is produced – the organization off work (Roberto Unger’s stress on the benefits of an advanced mode of production that is too narrowly held moves in a very interesting direction)
  • how income or its equivalent  can be distributed
  • What to do about narrowly held assets, such as land,  that prevent .. just about everything for most people.
  • The militarization of social conflicts.



post # 1997 Economics gives no guidance

Provocation 147 Economics gives no guidance.
Surprisingly economics, the thinking about the use of resources to meet needs, fails to tell us anything about what resources to which needs. Under climate change pressures we should be shifting our consumption and our production to things that are helpful under new conditions. But economics has no guidance on what we should have been spending for what nor guidance on what to produce now that is truly useful (and attractive).

Why do we use a word like utility for meeting needs and desires? It is so ugly, resonating with basic usefulness such as electricity and water (utilities), but not with delight and taste. “What is the utility of the flowers on the breakfast table?” What conspiracy holds us in thrall to this terrible vocabulary?

Bentham, “Utility is the sum of all pleasures.” Marmalade on my toast? Utility? In whose language?

What economics would be helpful in a time of collapse and what economics would be helpful in a time of rebuilding?

post # 1996. Report, comprehensive

After the weekend heat and the NYT article on climate, we are about to be swamped by a tsunami of good and bad writing about climate  and society. Here is one that seems pretty good.

After four years of drafting, debating, rethinking, and revising, the IPSP report is finally published! This work represents an incredible effort from our 200+ authors all around the world.
Entitled “Rethinking Society for the 21st Century,” the report is available from Cambridge University Press in multiple forms: as a 3-volume set, as separate volumes, and as a Kindle e-book. Please visit the CUP website for information about how to get the book.
You can read the executive summary of the report here!

1995. Failure of policy recommendations – no common sense

From Bill Easterly

“The UN is not alone in producing action plans that nobody notices. The World Bank promotes itself as the “Knowledge Bank” for action recommendations. Yet a recent World Bank study found that 31 percent of the World Bank’s “knowledge products” full of such recommendations have never been downloaded, and 87 percent were never cited.”

Why are the policy recommendations of the Policy Institutions not more used? Because they are not useful?

Society needs ideas but the ideas that come from the Institutions are mostly riffs on current policies, or criticisms of current policies. But very little with recommendations for what to do differently.  The ideas remain within the current paradigm supporting those doing well in the current paradigm, climate and marginalized population treated as ignorable externals Some forward looking ideas fail common sense. For example, dealing with a housing crisis by proposing more housing that uses more energy to build and to run, and end up creating middle class priced housing as middle class jobs are disappearing. Or job creation that provides cheaper skilled worker to existing oligopolies thereby keeping the machine of wealth concentration running full time and full tilt. The point is that proposals that pass the common sense test for future directions are very hard to come up with. Much of society knows this, but the Institutions grind out proposals that are not adequate to the now widely shared view of what’s wrong. So the proposals are useless and unused. Society runs without leadership adequate to the situation.

A local wine and cheese shop that does tastings was visited by public health. “You can’t dry wine classes with a towel, you need a $4000 machine that will dry them to 197 degrees.” A friend wants to redo the windows in his house. Finds there are really only two suppliers. Why cant he find a local shop? Because windows have to pass tests for energy compliance that require expensive testing equipment. Guess which companies can afford the Equipment? All local window manufactures are long closed.

Yesterday I drove through Redding and the Carr fire area. Suburbs surrounded by dry brush. The houses are built on prime farmland and the hills, where the houses should be, grow brush.