Thought Control in Economics

An Open Letter to the Ecological Economics Movement

Greetings fellow travelers,
Well, here we are living through a very scary historical moment … nature is dying, ecosystems are crashing and our measures of progress have all gone haywire … and to top it all off, we’re in the middle of the deepest recession since the 1930s. So how come we are not up in arms against the neoclassicists who ignored our warnings and got us into this horrible mess? Why are we still puttering around, posting articles on obscure websites and giving speeches at far-flung conferences? Have we gone hoarse preaching to the proverbial choir? Shouldn’t we be seizing this dark moment – when billions of people are actually paying rapt attention – to capture the imagination of the world with our vision of the future?

Much of the theoretical groundwork of our movement is already in place. We stand on the shoulders of pioneers like Kenneth Boulding, Fritz Schumacher, Howard Odum, Herman Daly and a host of brilliant young economists featured in these pages. Isn’t it time now to ram our agenda home?

The annual meeting of the American Economic Association is a good place to begin. Just about everyone attending this year’s meeting was caught flat-footed by the meltdown. Not one of them saw it coming, and yet there they were, convening, chatting, calmly sipping lattes … a newly chaste herd of converted Keynesians. Let’s crash their January 3, 2010 meeting in Atlanta … let’s march in en masse waving placards that read “your economic system is a doomsday machine” and then proceed to engage them in a spontaneous debate for the soul of our profession.

Meanwhile let’s muscle our way onto the national stage … let’s take Summers, Geithner, Krugman and company to task for their knuckle-headed stimulus packages and bailouts and for their loony notion that the way out of this crisis is more growth, more credit, more consumption, more of that five-planet opulence that got us into this mess in the first place.

Our fight with the neoclassicists is much, much more than a theoretical squabble over paradigms. This is high noon … and humanity’s only got one bullet left in the chamber – one last chance to shift our global system onto a sustainable path. Ultimately, this battle is about who – they or us – will manage the planetary household over the next critical 20 to 30 years … and about whether we have any future at all.

In his classic 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn shows us how scientific revolutions are always nasty, messy, dirty affairs, very much like political revolutions. They don’t unfold quickly or easily or without the painful overthrow of the people in power. Kuhn’s most profound insight is that, contrary to the way scientific progress is supposed to happen, an old paradigm cannot be replaced by evidence, facts or “the truth” … it will not be thrown out because its forecasts are wrong and its policies no longer work. An old paradigm will only be replaced by a new one when a group of maverick scientists orchestrate a coup and throw the old-school practitioners out of power.

So let’s take that lesson to heart, step outside our comfort zones and have some fun! Our coup is long, long overdue …

in solidarity, Kalle Lasn