Paradigm Shift

The great machine of capitalism starts to heave.

Infographic from Whose Crisis, Whose Future? by Susan George

Audio version read by George Atherton – Right-click to download

There’s a tectonic mindshift going on in the science of economics right now, but you wouldn’t know it by tuning in to the likes of Martin Wolf, Paul Krugman, Andrew Sorkin, Lawrence Summers, Tim Geithner, Ben Bernanke, Dominique Strauss-Kahn or most of the professors teaching Economics 101 around the world. These old-school practitioners of neoclassicism are stuck in the past, versed in only one language: the language of pure, unadulterated money.

As oil reserves dwindle and climate tipping points loom, they babble on endlessly about liquidity, stimulus, derivatives, bond markets, sovereign debt, AAA ratings and investment banker bonuses. They never say a word about melting glaciers, eroding coral reefs, rising sea levels, fizzing oceans or the methane that’s bubbling out of the arctic tundra. Like medieval theologians who argued endlessly about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, today’s economists argue incessantly about how economic growth can be sustained forever on a finite planet. Ten years from now, as the blowback from the externalities of their way of doing business repeatedly hammers us and global warming kicks in with a vengeance, we’ll look back in shock and awe – and wonder what it was about these logic freaks and their money narratives that so mesmerized us.

Five hundred years ago astronomers following Ptolemy’s geocentric model of the universe were tearing their hair out trying to make sense of all their calculations of the sun, moon and stars moving around above us in the night sky. It was only when Copernicus pointed out that we are not the center of the universe – the sun does not revolve around the Earth but rather the other way around – that all their convoluted calculations fell magically into place.

Today something eerily similar is happening in the science of economics: Economists and lay people alike are realizing that our human money economy is a subset of the Earth’s larger bioeconomy rather than the other way around. Over the next few years, as this monumental shift of perspective kicks in, all the economic, ecological and financial craziness of the industrial era will evaporate, and a new sustainable way of running our planetary household will fall magically into place.

Economics students, especially PhD students, in departments around the world have a crucial role to play in ushering in this new paradigm. Go to kickitover.org and join the movement.

—Kalle Lasn