On the ECONO front, play the Endgame on campus by causing righteous mischief in the corridors of econ departments everywhere. Disrupt classes, slap up posters, and nail manifestoes to professors’ doors. Time to overturn the suicidal neoclassical consensus and spark a Copernican shift in economic thinking worldwide!
A theory, a paradigm, that has worked quite well for many years suddenly becomes problematic. Contradictions emerge; the theory no longer seems to predict reality. The scientific community huddles up. A flurry of experiments are conducted, information shared, papers written and conferences held. Out of this intellectual turmoil, a promising new theory emerges. It’s subjected to rigorous scrutiny and tested in a myriad of ways. If it bears up, it’s finally accepted as the new theoretical framework, the new norm, the new “truth.” The scientists behind it are nominated for the Nobel Prize. The community settles back down, but now with a greater understanding of how the world really works.
This is a myth!
Thomas Kuhn, in his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, tells us a different story of how paradigm shifts really happen. They are almost always nasty, messy, dirty affairs — very much like political revolutions, like putsches. The old guard jealously protects its turf. The dissenters are ignored, stonewalled, refused publication and tenure, ostracized and obstructed in every way — until tensions reach a boiling point.
This is the lesson we who seek to overthrow the neoclassical paradigm must learn: An old paradigm will not be replaced by evidence, facts, or “the truth.” It will not be thrown out simply because its forecasts are wrong, its policies no longer work, or its theories are proved unscientific. An old paradigm will only be replaced by a new one when a group of fired-up mavericks orchestrate a coup, grab the old-school practitioners by the scruffs of their necks and toss them out of power.
Five hundred years ago Copernicus proposed a new model of the universe — and suddenly the stubborn math that had befuddled the Ptolemaic astronomers magically fell into place; if the earth circles the sun, rather than the reverse, it works!
The science of economics is in an eerily similar situation right now. How could we have missed this simple truth? That the human money economy is a subset of the Earth’s larger bioeconomy, not the other way around.
This shift in perspective changes everything. It invites us to see the world with fresh eyes.
The economists of the future will step down from their towers of perfect rationality, draw inspiration from psychology, sociology, anthropology, mythology and neuroscience, and start taking some baby steps into new worlds of emotion, social relations, religion, morality and values. They will do rigorous fieldwork in the streets, slums and favelas of the world. They will know what it feels like to go hungry, to lose your home, to have to resort to crime to pay for a life-saving drug. And they will come to a stunning conclusion: When the chips are down, cooperation rather than selfish interest is the key to survival.
The successful economies of the future will be less about interest rates, tax codes and money supplies and more about innocence, playfulness, empathy, trust, social organization, and figuring out the real cost of things.
A new breed of bioeconomists will abandon the dream of creating a rigorous, math-based science on the model of physics. Instead they will nurture a new dream: to create a bionomics — a social science, that cuts across and unifies all the other sciences into one all embracing super-science.