Home | About | Donate

Calling Pandemic a 'Pivotal Moment' to Make Lasting Changes for Families, Economists Demand $50 Billion In Relief for Child Care Industry

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/06/22/calling-pandemic-pivotal-moment-make-lasting-changes-families-economists-demand-50

I wouldn’t trust the (self proclaimed) Center for American Progress with a wooden nickel. I DO trust Stephanie Kelton and any economics professor from UMass Amherst. Jason Furman; well I haven’t really looked at him. My motto is “Don’t trust anything any economist tells you, including me.” And if you think that means I’m saying that everything every economist says is wrong, you’re not going to understand if I explain it to you.

What is about Stephanie Kelton that is trustworthy? Would you say a lack of economic understanding defines poverty or creates it?

Economics: the branch of knowledge concerned with the production, consumption, and transfer of wealth.

“Would you say a lack of economic understanding defines poverty or creates it?”

No, I would not.

“Economics: the branch of knowledge concerned with the production, consumption, and transfer of wealth.”

I wouldn’t argue with that. It’s no worse than most, and better than many. Here are three more, from introductory textbooks currently in print pulled off the shelf more or less at random:

A (from a prominent British economist of the middle of the 20th century): “Economics is the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.” The authors who begin their book with that quote go on to say (paraphrasing), “Economics is the study of how human beings deal with scarce resources in the face of unlimited human wants.”

B (from one of the more thoughtful modern economists, who as it happens coined the term, “modern economics”): “Economics is the study of how human beings coordinate their wants and desires, given the decision-making mechanisms, social customs, and political realities of the society.”

C (from another current textbook): “Economics: The study of the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.”

I swear I did not know that was that author’s definition until I opened the book. I had already rejected one of the first three because it failed to give a definition.

Personally I don’t care for any of them. For one thing “A” fails both because economics is not a science and because it makes the common but false claim that human wants are unlimited. For another, all of those definitions and most others take economics to be a valid academic discipline attempting to give honest answers to important questions. I do not.

The reasons are too lengthy to include here, but they can be found in a book with a hokey and unlikely title, Economics Unmasked: From power and greed to compassion and the common good (2011; still available from ~greenbooks.co.uk). When I happened upon that book 10-12 years ago I had already sussed out most of the story, and the thesis of the book was the missing link in my effort to discover how and why a subject so important could be represented to the world in such patent nonsense as is found today in virtually every formal textbook in economics.

“What is about Stephanie Kelton that is trustworthy?”

Well, for one thing, I knew her mentor, the late Fred Lee, personally. He was a mentor to me as well, although I never was able to take a class from him. Almost single handedly he rediscovered and brought to light much of the vast literature in economics that takes issue with the dominant paradigm in whole or in part, under the umbrella label of “Heterodox Economics.” That body of work stands in the same relation to the “neo-classical” mainstream as Protestantism and all of the other sects descended from it stand in relation to the Catholic orthodoxy.

“Classical-tradition” economics (the mainstream) is not a science but a revealed religion. It stands in the same relation to genuine science as “Creation Science” and other similar pseudo-sciences do. Since the mid-20th century, and in sharp contrast to earlier periods, heterodox schools of thought have been suppressed by the major professional associations (American Economics Association and its British counterpart). Thanks in large part to Fred, these heterodox schools are now rampant, and are now in the majority in many Economics departments worldwide.

There isn’t time or space to go into those details, but in terms of Ms. Kelton, she has taken it upon herself to wield her PhD not in support of the unbridled Capitalism of the classical mainstream but in real-world application of good sense and good science to economic issues. I don’t have the stomach to try to do battle in that field, although I might have done so had I begun my education in the field 20 years earlier. My orientation is along the lines of what E. F. Schumacher called “Buddhist Economics” (Schumacher was a devout Catholic), similar to what non-economists such as Wendell Berry have been saying all along.

Virtually everything humankind is doing today is completely unsustainable. See Annie Leonard’s “Story of Stuff” videos. She happens to be the Executive Director of Greenpeace USA. The future will be vastly different from the past hundred years, whether Homo sap get our act together or not. Science and technology have conferred many benefits, some of which cannot be sustained, some of which would be of great value if they can be sustained. There is no physical reason we could not keep them. The problems, as always, are political, so ultimately spiritual.

Well said, Thank you.

I’m afraid economics is a part of the great mystery for me most of the time especially when applied to populations outside the agreed upon systems, capitalism, socialism, or communism. I do understand this, and if there is a choice it would be (B) This does raise a lot questions from simple economies of pre-contact people in the Amazon to globalization. I see there is more to these relationships than most people understand, including me.

That it is ultimately spiritual is an interesting rubric for examination.

I am familiar with Annie Leonard’s “Story of Stuff” and liked it very much. Thanks for reminding me.

I agree we humans need to change how we do things.

Thank YOU for the opportunity to explain a bit of my take on economics, which I hope will be of use to others here who need it. After the first two of nearly 20 3-credit courses I said it was 90-97 percent bogus, and that which 3-10 percent is NOT bogus is anybody’s guess. Twenty-five years later my opinion hasn’t changed, but I have a much better understanding of what’s wrong with it and how it came to be this way.

That’s one reason most people find it an inscrutable mystery: It really doesn’t make sense! Another is that “they” really like to keep it that way, maybe because they know it’s not what it claims to be. Another is that in the process of learning it one either gives up (in exasperation or in rebellion) or “drinks the Kool Aid” and learns to “believe six impossible things before breakfast” like the Red Queen, which is to say one learns it by rote, which I think many economists do, the reason their explanations don’t seem to add up.

Interesting that you prefer “Door B.” That definition is from David Colander (it’s CO-lander, not COLander!), who teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont. He is something of an outlier (“heterodox”), but he shuns all qualifiers, preferring to be called simply an economist. Astute and clever.

I remember that “trichotomy” of Capitalism, Socialism, Communism from grade school. It is misleading, and was even then. There have been few if any “pure” examples of any of those, and Soviet “Communism” was communal only in that chronic housing shortages kept things crowded. It was certainly nothing like that practiced by the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. in any country not ruled by a single authoritarian “strongman,” there is a spectrum of institutions owned and/or managed by the state and ones owned/managed by private persons.

“This does raise a lot questions from simple economies of pre-contact people in the Amazon to globalization.”

“We’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden,” or at least to a balance of small-scale agriculture and manufacturing, and real communities in lieu of virtual" ones. What Annie Leonard is saying without naming it is that the underlying (or overarching?) problem is resource throughput.

“I agree we humans need to change how we do things.”

Exactly what I mean by saying that the ultimate problems are spiritual in nature, no pun intended but let it stand.

1 Like

It is I that should be thanking you. It is rare indeed to find someone that is objective, knowledgeable, maybe unbiased too. I glad to know I’m not the only one being a bit lost or at least confined to the consequences on this.

The Red Queen has persisted for 150 years and so interesting is the adventure, even if we stumble a little along the way, still learn. Or, the way a deaf-mute indian (Will Sampson) saved the ending of One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I guess sometimes and from some perspectives it is tolerable.

I choose (B) because I thought it might be the most reliable is terms of examination, certainly worth a look and probably a little more conservative than the average person’s estimation. A luxury of the unfamiliar or just plain luck. Like having Einstein sit in on your physics class.

Sound reasoning on Stephanie Kelton. There is also Winona La duke from this orientation.

I agree on most all these points, no better place than the garden.