Meet the Mavericks

Kenneth Boulding, Howard Odum, Hazel Henderson, E.F. Shumacher, Herman Daly … the profession of economics has always been home to renegade thinkers. It has long been torn asunder by violent theoretical conflict. But for the last few generations, Milton Friedman’s neoclassical paradigm has enjoyed a relatively unchallenged reign. Voices of dissent howled in the distant wilderness while the neoclassicists held court, pontificating on cable news and sowing seeds of delusion with their rosy predictions in newspaper business pages. For most of the last 20 years, Alan Greenspan sat on high as the chairman of the US Federal Reserve, dispensing arcane economic wisdom like an all-knowing god.

But the status quo began to heave when books like George Monbiot’s Heat and documentaries like An Inconvenient Truth – coupled with the dire warnings of Nobel Prize-winning scientists about the possibility of a catastrophic tipping point – sent ripples of fear through the public imagination. Is nature really dying? Could climate change really do us in? Are “externalities” really insignificant? Do economists truly know what they’re talking about? Last September’s meltdown, which caught all but a handful of the neoclassicists off-guard, was the final straw, signaling loud and clear that they were living in an imaginary world completely disconnected from reality. In university economics departments and at meetings of the American Economic Association, the neoclassicists still bravely keep up the façade. But students are feeling uneasy, comedians are having a field day, and the Internet is buzzing with swarms of dissenting websites (check out our RESOURCES section at the end of this book). The movement to overhaul curriculums, implement full-cost accounting, pioneer new measures of progress and throw the old-school practitioners out of power suddenly feels unstoppable.

In this section we feature interviews with some of the inspiring people who have helped to catalyze this monumental mindshift.