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Econ4 Tries to Change the Economic Paradigm

A fairly new group of leading heterodox economic thinkers and activists has come together as Econ4 to pioneer some new forms of popular education about economics. Their work focuses both on the fallacies of conventional economics and the promise of a new economic paradigm.  Check out Econ4’s series of intelligent and engaging short videos which explain the economics of healthcare, housing, jobs, and more.  A just-released video, “The Bottom Line:  A New Economy,” provides a terrific overview of the new types of peer production, cooperatives and other distributed, local, hybrid initiatives that are already taking root across the US. 

The basic mission of Econ4 is to change the study of economics and how we publicly talk about economic choices.  As the project states on its website:  “The economic crisis we face today is not only a crisis of the economy. It is also a crisis of economics. The free-market fundamentalism that attained ideological dominance in the final decades of the 20th century has been discredited by financial collapse, global imbalances, mass unemployment, and environmental degradation. To confront these challenges, we need an economics for the 21st century.”

The term “Econ4” refers to the four central conditions that the economy must meet in meeting people’s long-term needs and protecting the planet.  This chart provides a shorthand overview of the four conditions, which are elaborated in a longer statement on the Econ4 website:

Besides its great videos, Econ4 has a variety of resources for those who wish to explore alternative economics further. 

The project was launched by a number of activist-minded economists, academics and others including Gar Alperovitz (University of Maryland), James K. Boyce (UMass Amherst), Juliet Schor (Boston College), consultant Douglas Smith, Gerald Friedman (UMass Amherst), Gerald Epstein (UMass Amherst), Eban Goodstein (Bard College), Omar Dahi (Hampshire College) and George DeMartino (University of Denver).  I’m pleased to say that I’ve recently joined this impressive group.

In a statement, the Econ4 group writes that it is seeking to build an alternative to economic orthodoxy.  It notes: 

Some recent initiatives are tackling important elements of this gap. For example, the Institute for New Economic Thinking, to which George Soros has committed $5 million/year over the next ten years, is seeking to develop pragmatic alternatives to laissez-faire economics in financial markets. The U.S.-based Schumacher Society together with the U.K.- based New Economics Foundation is launching a New Economics Institute to promote environmentally conscious economics. The New Economy Working Group is working on educational materials for civil society groups concerned with economic justice, environmental sustainability, and peace. The Solidarity Economy Network is seeking to advance cooperatives, fair trade organizations, open-source technologies, and other alternative forms of economic organization.

What is missing is a unifying vision of economics that brings these and kindred initiatives together, and a strategy to translate it into lasting impacts on the economics profession and on economics as understood by the public at large. This vision must be more than the sum of disparate parts; the strategy must set out systematically to reorient economics education as well as economic practice.

Our aim is to change both the economics profession and common-sense understanding about how the economy works and should work. For this we need to disseminate new ideas, train the new generation of scholars and public intellectuals, and advance new research agendas.

Here’s hoping that we can moving this agenda forward, not just in the US but internationally.  Any thoughts about the Econ4 work can sent here.  

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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