Learn Economics for Free in the Most Effective Way

carbon output

Economics is a large field filled with nuance – and assumptions. One of those assumptions is that environmental concerns and inequality are secondary to that of economic concerns. These assumptions are questioned in a new course prepared by an international team of economists called the core team. Their work is available for anybody around the world to download and use for free, unlike traditional economic textbooks. You can check it out at The Economy.

Traditional, wallet-busting introductory textbooks do cover topics like pollution, rising inequality, and speculative busts. But in many cases this material comes after lengthy explanations of more traditional topics: supply-and-demand curves, consumer preferences, the theory of the firm, gains from trade, and the efficiency properties of atomized, competitive markets. In his highly popular “Principles of Economics,” Harvard’s N. Gregory Mankiw begins by listing a set of ten basic principles, which include “Rational people think at the margin,” “Trade can make everybody better off,” and “Markets are usually a good way to organize economic activity.”

The core approach isn’t particularly radical. (Students looking for expositions of Marxian economics or Modern Monetary Theory will have to look elsewhere.) But it treats perfectly competitive markets as special cases rather than the norm, trying to incorporate from the very beginning the progress economists have made during the past forty years or so in analyzing more complex situations: when firms have some monopoly power; people aren’t fully rational; a lot of key information is privately held; and the gains generated by trade, innovation, and finance are distributed very unevenly. The core curriculum also takes economic history seriously.

Read more.

Capitalism Will End, Celebrate What Comes Next

beer

The damage that wealthy bankers did to the economy back in 2007/08 is still with us, and that has led to a whole generation questioning the validity of modern hyper-capitalism. That same germination witness ongoing environmental destruction and the erosion of labour rights (amongst a litany of other ills) all for the goal of getting more profit. The rejection of the prevailing thought has caused a few people to be scared of the change to come.

Don’t be afraid of the future, embrace it. Be part of what you want to see come true by examining what’s to come through exploration of what already is.

Fortunately, there is already a wealth of language and ideas out there that stretch well beyond these dusty old binaries. They are driven by a hugely diverse community of thinkers, innovators, and practitioners. There are organizations like the P2P (Peer to Peer) Foundation, Evonomics, The Next System Project, and the Institute for New Economic Thinking reimagining the global economy. The proposed models are even more varied: from complexity, to post-growth, de-growth, land-based, regenerative, circular, and even the deliciously named donut economics.

Then, there are the many communities of practice, from the Zapatistas in Mexico to the barter economies of Detroit, from the global Transition Network, to Bhutan, with its Gross National Happiness index. There are even serious economists and writers, from Jeremy Rifkin to David Fleming to Paul Mason, making a spirited case that the evolution beyond capitalism is well underway and unstoppable, thanks to already active ecological feedback loops and/or the arrival of the near zero-marginal cost products and services.This list barely scratches the surface.

Read more.

Booming Business Boast Sustainability

solar

Business that adapt to climate change are more likely to be successful in the coming years, and business that basically cut their carbon footprint to zero will thrive. This is the thinking behind a growing field that helps companies reduce their consumption and waste while increasing their profits. With the likelihood of global warming reaching two degrees above normal companies will have to change their practices regardless of their industry. It’s good to see that some business are planning beyond the next quarter.

“Sustainable strategy is just that — it’s a strategy. It’s not a function, it’s not an industry, it’s not just recycling. That’s a very, very small piece of a much bigger movement for business,” Loinaz says. “We’re a launching pad for future industry leaders to solve the world’s problems, particularly the most pressing social and environmental ones.”

The health of a company’s labor force is inextricably linked to its environmental practices. Oftentimes the people who extract the resources companies use are underrepresented, marginalized, or disenfranchised. Nearly all smartphones, for instance, are made from mining rare metals and rare earth elements. As investigations show, it’s incredibly dangerous work that often requires miners — many of them children — to hand-dig tunnels hundreds of feet underground, with few safety precautions in place. Local communities are often exposed to poisonous levels of toxic metals and waste as a result.

Read more.

It’s Not the 99%, Class is About the Top 80%

happy workers in a factory

Since the Occupy movement in 2011 there has been conversations about the 99% versus the 1% of wealth holders. The idea then was to show the massive inequality between those in the top 1% of society and everybody else – sadly that inequality has only grown. The rich get richer and everybody else gets left behind.

In order to see real change we need to change the discourse from targeting the 1% to talking about the top 20%. Richard Reeves writes in the New York Times that if we’re going to address income inequality we need to look at all the ways society is structured to help the top quintile at the expense of everybody else.

There’s a kind of class double-think going on here. On the one hand, upper-middle-class Americans believe they are operating in a meritocracy (a belief that allows them to feel entitled to their winnings); on the other hand, they constantly engage in antimeritocratic behavior in order to give their own children a leg up. To the extent that there is any ethical deliberation, it usually results in a justification along the lines of “Well, maybe it’s wrong, but everyone’s doing it.”

Progressive policies, whether on zoning or school admissions or tax reform, all too often run into the wall of upper-middle-class opposition. Self-interest is natural enough. But the people who make up the American upper middle class don’t just want to keep their advantages; armed with their faith in a classless, meritocratic society, they think they deserve them. The strong whiff of entitlement coming from the top 20 percent has not been lost on everyone else.

Read more.

The Future of Economics is a Doughnut

Economists have focussed on just one thing for the last hundred years or so: making money. That might sound fine, but classically these economists have ignored the societal and environmental costs of their proposed money making schemes. Their willful ignorance has unleashed climate change on us all, and that’s precisely where Kate Raworth comes in. Raworth proposes that 21st century economics focusses on the inequality and lack of equilibrium in the world. Once we focus on balancing our global economic system with our global life systems will we all benefit (instead of just the rich getting richer).

Humanity’s 21st century challenge is to meet the needs of all within the means of the planet. In other words, to ensure that no one falls short on life’s essentials (from food and housing to healthcare and political voice), while ensuring that collectively we do not overshoot our pressure on Earth’s life-supporting systems, on which we fundamentally depend – such as a stable climate, fertile soils, and a protective ozone layer. The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries is a playfully serious approach to framing that challenge, and it acts as a compass for human progress this century.

Read more.
Thanks to Delaney!