GFB Update 2:9, September 2012

A monthly newsletter on the vast and underappreciated world of current affairs books


Prepared by Michael Marien

In This Issue
Book of the Month: Toward a Gaian League of Nations
Feature of the Month: New and Appropriate Economics
General Critiques of Outmoded Economics
Ecological Economics: Critical Books
Scientific and Global Organizations: Critical Books
Textbooks Supporting A Broader Economics View
Alternative Economics Labels: Heterodox, Post-Keynesian, etc
Ten Organizations Promoting New Economics: Appendix

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Book of the Month:


Occupy-World-StreetOccupy World Street: A Global Roadmap for Radical  Economic and Political Reform.  Ross Jackson (Copenhagen, Denmark).  Foreword by Hazel Henderson. White River Junction VT: Chelsea Green, March 2012, 315p, $19.95 pb.  (Full Review)



An ambitious and original book that is the polar opposite of the techno-ecstatic vision in Abundance (GFB Book of the Month, Aug 2012).  Jackson has a background in operations research and was founder of an international hedge fund dealing with currency trading.  He asserts that the current global structure is dysfunctional, undemocratic, and corrupt, with billions of citizens crying out for change, which will not happen under present institutions.  The roots of the current "political/economic logjam" are examined, with chapters describing the assault on nature, the coming peak in global oil production, the global collapse of civilization due to increased complexity, the evolution of questionable economic beliefs, the neoliberal ideology for organizing global economic relationships, the recent financial crisis, and growing inequality in wealth and power that supports the "corporatocracy."

A shift in values is underway, however, toward a sustainable and far more desirable civilization based on a new worldview of Gaian values, especially Gaian Economics, a.k.a. ecological economics, that values natural capital and manages consumption and natural resources (see Chap 11 and FEATURE OF THE MONTH, below).  To realize the vision of a sustainable and just future that works for everyone, eight institutions must be founded by a "Gaian League" of member nations: The Gaian Trade Organization, The Gaian Clearing Union, The Gaian Development Bank, The Gaian Congress, The Gaian Commission to administer Gaian institutions, The Gaian Court of Justice, The Gaian Resource Board, and The Gaian Council of wise elders.  A "breakaway strategy" for getting there is also articulated, involving a handful of small nations from the top and the grass roots of the world from the bottom.


New and appropriate economic thinking is central to Jackson's thoughtful and provocative vision, as explored in some detail by the GFB Feature of the Month, which provides extensive background, including many economists cited by Jackson. 

Feature of the Month:

The Problem of Outmoded Economics


global economy"Economics" is an important construct, having to do with the production and distribution of wealth, and human well-being and welfare.   Despite disclaimers, it is inexorably tied to ideology and values -- political ideas about the good society and how to promote it.  Some economists describe their efforts as "scientific," but this is merely a strategy to legitimate their work and their assumptions, while excluding other economic thinking that is deemed less "rigorous," even if broader and more relevant.  


Economics is often considered as a "social science," but the discipline does not behave as a science, where competing views are seriously debated, and practitioners are truth-seekers above all, open-minded to new perspectives and paradigms. Curiously, alternative views of what economics is and ought to be are highly fragmented and seldom debated. The purpose of this "frontier frame" is to display the growing literature of alternatives, so as to encourage more discussion, debate, and integration.   A new and appropriate economics construct is certainly one of the "evolutionary ideas that can spur our collective progress" (CADMUS Vision Statement) and, arguably, the keystone construct. But how do we decide on what it should be?


The economics of the industrial era and the 20th century is not appropriate to the 21st century service economies, where human capital and natural capital are--and should be--increasingly valued, and estimates of "wealth," national product, and human happiness and satisfaction are increasingly questioned. On the negative side, the world economy and the world environment have been gravely damaged by bad economic ideas in high places, especially simplistic and idealized "free market" economics that brought on the ruinous Great Recession of recent years, and equally simplistic measures of Gross Domestic Product that omit many fundamental components of wealth, as well as activities such as pollution and war that diminishes wealth.


Outmoded paradigms need to be replaced by an economics appropriate to 21st century conditions of climate change, environmental crises, scarce financial and natural resources, burgeoning technology (for better and worse), globalization, large multinational enterprises, an aging-yet-still-expanding population with rising expectations and frustrations, and growing complexity, uncertainty, and concern for sustainability. Transition appears to be slowly underway, yet the dead ideas of "zombie economics" (see Quiggan, below) continue to prevail. This essay seeks to hasten the transition by pointing to the growing flood of critiques, and who wrote what and when. Titles from the 2009-2012 period have been extracted from my Global Foresight Books website (where one can access longer abstracts), while titles from the 1980-2008 period are selected from Future Survey, a monthly publication of the World Future Society that I founded and edited.   They are arranged in six overlapping categories.   An Appendix lists organizations supporting new economics, many of them connected with books cited here.


  1. General Critiques
  2. Ecological Economics
  3. Scientific and Global Organizations (NRC, World Bank, OECD, UN)
  4. Textbooks Supporting a Broader View
  5. Alternative Labels: Heterodox, Post-Keynesian, etc.  
  6. What Must Really Be Done

Items within each category are generally arranged from broad to specific in focus, and recent to not-so-recent. I have seen many of these books, but information on many others is from publisher catalogs. This listing should be seen as provisional, and an invitation to a more thorough treatment of all titles considered here, as well as appropriate titles that have been overlooked. An asterisk (*) indicates titles that appear to be especially important.

New and Appropriate Economics 


U.S. Economy

It is difficult to identify one "knock-'em-dead" book that appears to stand out above all others. Each has some contribution to make. The Skeptical Economist: Revealing the Ethics Inside Economics by Jonathan Aldred of Cambridge U (Earthscan, Nov 2010/288p) discusses views about how we ought to live and what we value, and questions the ethical foundations of economics. Debunking Economics: The Naked Emperor Dethroned by Steve Keen of U of Western Sydney(Zed Books, revised edition, Sept 2011/544p; ) considers the many critiques of neoclassical theory, seen as "a degenerative research program" leading to a belt of hypotheses that shield core beliefs from critics. The Puzzle of Modern Economics: Science or Ideology by Roger E. Backhouse of U of Birmingham (Cambridge UP, Aug 2010/216p) describes how economists have tried to make their subject scientific, and the pace of dissent within the discipline. Reassessing the Paradigm of Economics: Bringing Positive Economics Back into the Normative Framework by Valeria Mosini of the London School of Economics (Routledge, July 2011/176p) questions neoliberal doctrine, as well as attempts to create scientific status, and calls for reformulating 21st century economics in an explicitly-recognized normative framework.
Click here for the full section.
New and Appropriate Economics 


A parallel stream of critiques focuses largely if not entirely on the neglect of environmental concerns.  Several general overviews deserve mention at the outset. *The Bridge at the End of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability by James Gustave Speth (Yale UP, March 2008/295p), former head of the World Resources Institute and Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, passionately argued that our market economy operates on "wildly wrong market signals" and lacks correcting mechanisms; advocates real growth that promotes well-being of people and nature (as measured by ISEW), and ecological economics not as the end of the world by the beginning of a new one. *Natural Capitalism: The Next Industrial Revolution by Paul Hawken, Amory B. Lovins, and L Hunter Lovins (10th Anniversary Edition, Earthscan, June 2010/416p) criticizes regulatory failures and "free market fantasies" that assume perfect information; advocates radical resource productivity, biomimicry, and saving energy as less costly than buying it.  *State of the World 2008: Innovations for a Sustainable Economy edited by Gary Gardner and Thomas Prugh of the Worldwatch Institute (W.W. Norton, Jan 2008) calls for reforming economics in seven areas: shifting focus from growth to well-being, making prices tell the ecological truth, accounting for nature's contribution, applying the precautionary principle, adjusting economic scale, valuing women's work, and revitalizing commons management. Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet by Tim Jackson of U of Surrey (Earthscan, Dec 2009/264p) updates Jackson's 2003 Redefining Prosperityreport to the UK Sustainable Development Commission, proposing "a different kind of macroeconomics" that does not rely on ever-growing consumption and growth, where economic activity remains within ecological scale.
Click here for the full section.

A New and Appropriate Economics 


GovernanceOne important indicator that the above critiques are being accepted, or simply discovered anew, can be found in adaptation of these ideas by large and influential organizations. (This section can probably be considerably expanded, but a few items suggest what is happening). *Beyond the Market: Designing Nonmarket Accounts for the United States by the National Research Council (National Academies Press, 2005/209p) states that the National Income and Product Accounts constructed for the US in the 1930s omit a large part of the nation's product; high priority should be given to five areas: household production, investments in human capital and formal education, investments in health, government and non-profit sectors providing public goods and services (notably with volunteer labor), and environmental assets and services (value changes in stocks of natural resource and externalities associated with pollution).   The World Bank takes an equally radical step forward with *The Changing Wealth of Nations: Lessons for Sustainable Development(World Bank, Oct 2010/270p), which estimates "comprehensive wealth" (including produced, natural, and human/institutional assets) for over 100 countries in 1995, 2000, and 2005.


Click here for the full section.

New and Appropriate Economics 


For students seeking a broader and more "real-world" view, as well as teachers who seek to assist their learning, at least seven textbooks are available.


*Macroeconomics in Context by Neva Goodwin, Julie A. Nelson, and Jonathan Harris of the Tufts U Global Development and Environment Institute (M.E. Sharpe, 2009/437p) covers both standard topics and the broader "contextual economics" approach addressing such topics as macroeconomic goals (decent living standards, security, sustainability), macroeconomics for the 21C and in global context, the three spheres of economic activity (business, public, household/community), and challenges for the 21C (human development, sustainability, discounting the future). *Microeconomics in Context by Neva Goodwin, Julie A. Nelson, Frank Ackerman, and Thomas Weisskopf (M.E. Sharpe, 2nd Edition, 2009/522p) focuses on human well-being and the broader context of economic activity including the five forms of capital (natural, manufactured, human, social, and financial). Microeconomic Theory Old and New: A Student's Guideby ISEE president John Gowdy of RPI (Stanford UP, Jan 2010/208p; see APPENDIX #7) presents contemporary extensions of the core model of economics (Walrasian general equilibrium theory), as well as emerging alternatives. The Economics Anti-Textbook: A Guide to Critical Thinking by Rod Hill and Tony Myatt of the U of New Brunswick (Zed Books, May 2010/224p) might also be considered as a textbook.


Click here for the full section.

New and Appropriate Economics 


The above-mentioned textbooks promote "contextual economics" and "ecological economics." A possible problem in evolution to new and appropriate economics is the profusion of labels. Some examples follow. Post Keynesian and Ecological Economics: Confronting Environmental Issues edited by Richard P.F. Holt of Southern Oregon U et al. (Edward Elgar, Jan 2010/296p) argues that mainstream economics is limited in its ability to analyze and fashion adequate policy and proposes a transdisciplinary approach that focuses on complexity, bounded rationality, and socio-economic dynamics. *In Defense of Post-Keynesian and Heterodox Economics: Responses to their Critics edited by Frederic S. Lee of UMKC (see APPENDIX #3) and Marc Lavoie of U of Ottawa (Routledge, Aug 2012/256p) discusses inter-paradigm cooperation, theoretical convergence, brands of economics, the Trojan Horse of pluralism, and how to move forward. A Primer on Heterodox Economics by Ingrid Rima of Temple U (Routledge, July 2012/256p) charts the development of various schools of thought such as post-autistic economics, evolutionary institutionalism, post-Keynesian economics, German-Austrian economics, and revival of political economy.


Click here for the full section.

New and Appropriate Economics


The complaint that we need more good ideas is seriously incomplete and misleading.  As amply illustrated above, there are plenty of sensible and thoughtful ideas about new and appropriate economics, as well as other important global issues.   This plethora of constructive thinking includes both recently published books (not to mention articles) as well as those published two to three decades ago.  Do economists and policymakers know of these books?  Read these books?  And substantially change their thinking as a result?  One cannot help but sense that there is something very wrong.  Surely, yet another book, article, or journal is not what is needed.  Rather, what is really needed are actions in seven areas, none of which is sufficient on its own. Recommendations include:

1) A Clearinghouse for New Economics   
2) The Summation 
3) National Champions 
4) Designing Debates 
5) Indicators of New Economics Progress 
6) Priority Surveys 
7) Investigative Reporters  Addressing Obstacles 

Click here for the full section.

Ten Organizations Promoting New Economics



At least ten organizations explicitly promote new and appropriate economics. This appears to be an encouraging development. But, however discomforting, it is important to ask if they are succeeding in getting good ideas in high places, or simply in creating more publications (however learned and innovative) and fragmentation, at a time when "leadership in thought that leads to action" (the WAAS slogan) is increasingly needed.


Click here for the full section.

Global Foresight Books is an experimental nonprofit website, the 21st century successor to Future Survey, a monthly publication that Michael Marien founded and edited for the World Future Society. Please visit GFB often, use it freely as a resource, tell your friends (click Forward, below), and think wisely about current affairs.
Global Foresight Books is supported by grants from the Foundation For the Future and The Bermingham Fund.