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Originally published by Open Democracy 

Written by: Amanda Janoo and Gemma Bone Dodds

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As world leaders scramble to limit the spread of COVID-19 and save millions of lives, we are increasingly hearing concerns regarding how social distancing and lockdown measures will impact the economy.

Governments and economic commentators fear a “stock market crash” and a “recession worse than 2009”, and are developing economic stimulus plans accordingly. But using GDP and stock market values as a barometer of economic health is misguided. The existing policy landscape is constrained by economic ideas and tools built for another time.

In this moment, our economic policies must be oriented towards meeting basic needs, promoting essential activities and facilitating a ‘Great Pause’ while we figure out to overcome this global pandemic. There is no longer an economic status quo available to us. What does this mean in practice?

1. The stock market is not a reflection of our economic reality

Stock market values are often used as a measure of economic vitality because they are meant to anticipate future monetary values. The problem of course is that no one knows what the future will look like. Therefore, now more than ever, the stock market has only the narrowest ability to reflect the real world and is therefore not a good guide for us in these times. If policy makers want to avoid a financial collapse, they should seriously consider shutting down the stock market for a period to limit run-away, anxiety-ridden trading. Or at least ensure that any Quantitative Easing or liquidity injections are based on a quid pro quo that cancels debts for businesses and citizens.

2. We will enter a recession – and that’s okay

When you hear policy markers fearing a recession, this means they are fearing that GDP will fall for at least two consecutive quarters. As the economist Frances Coppola has argued, “recession is the wrong word, because it implies this is bad. Better to call it ‘protective contraction’. We need a huge drop in GDP”.

If we learn one thing in all of this, it is that we are the economy. As we take a moment to stand still, the economy equally becomes more still. Our tendency to move, gather and work together are fundamental drivers of the economy. As millions stay at home to protect themselves and others, the economy will contract. Doing anything other than reducing economic activity right now would be putting our collective wellbeing in danger. GDP will drop during this time, and that’s okay.

And remember: just because the economy is not growing does not mean that we cannot ensure that everyone’s basic needs are met. Now more than ever we need to recognise that the economy is the system by which we provide for one another. A system that can and should provide for what our families and societies need most.

3. Economic policies for a ‘Great Pause’

During this period of crisis, we must abandon the old metrics of economic progress and listen to what people need. Economic policy responses must be swift and strategic and focus on meeting everyone’s basic needs and safeguarding essential parts of the economy. Combined, policies must enable a ‘Great Pause’: allowing us to bunker down, buy time, and keep ourselves and others safe while we focus on ensuring equitable access to health, food, housing, income, while enabling businesses (especially SMEs) to pause their operations until we have a handle on COVID-19.

Make no mistake, such policies will require significant public expenditures and we must implement strategies now to ensure that the economic costs are paid by those who are able to afford it. We cannot repeat the mistakes made following the 2009 economic recession and allow for governments to balance budgets through toxic austerity measures.

This is a unique moment for global solidarity, as only a globally coordinated response can combat this pandemic. Now is the time to go into offshore bank accounts, to close tax loopholes and to generate a global relief fund so that we do not allow this crisis to further consolidate wealth into the hands of the few. As we work to protect those closest to home, we must not forget that no country alone can combat a pandemic. We are all in this together.

4. Building back better

As we secure lives and livelihoods, we can take the opportunity of this ‘Great Pause’ to learn and reflect on what is truly important to us. And instead of rebuilding a broken system, we must consider the policies required to build back better so that our economy delivers social and ecological wellbeing.

We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to learn from the complete disruption of the economic status quo. We have known for some time that the 21st century obsession with growth creates extreme inequality and environmental degradation, but we haven’t yet found a way to create a path to something different.

This is a time to ask important questions – what is important to us when our very lives are under threat? What have we found that actually, we can live without? Where have we found meaning, and connection? What do we realise we have taken for granted and what can live without? What do we need our economy to deliver so that we can all live meaningful and fulfilling lives?

We have already seen how many of the workers who have been kept in poverty wages and economic precarity are actually the most critical for our collective wellbeing. Healthcare workers, farmers, grocery clerks, delivery drivers and caregivers have become the heroes of our day. Meanwhile, this moment of pause has brought increasing clarity to the things we value most, we now see how valuable (in every sense of the world) food, health, income security, education, mobility, access to nature, social connection and public services are to us.

This Great Pause gives us the time to consider how we can build an economy on these foundations. We must not return to business as usual, looking to financial markets and GDP growth figures for guidance. Economic policies must be oriented towards protecting and promoting the economic activities that are essential for social and environmental wellbeing. We have an opportunity to build back better.

The shape of the new economy is not a distant, dry set of policies. It is something we are living in and exploring right now. Let’s be present, move forward with compassion and explore the shape of things to come.

We invite interested people to engage in the conversation at WellbeingEconomy.org.

By Sam Butler-Sloss, Co-Lead of WEAll Youth Scotland and Organiser at Economists for Future

I got involved in the Wellbeing Economy Alliance because the case for repurposing and redesigning the economy to deliver wellbeing for people and planet is overwhelming. Yet, as a student of economics, it is unclear to me to what extent the economics profession agrees with this. 

In my experience, most economists want to enhance the wellbeing of humanity through analytical contributions. Yet, in the past several decades, dominant economic theory and practice has made a number of consequential errors that have compromised the discipline’s ability to fulfil this goal. Chief among them is the de-prioritisation of the single greatest threat to the wellbeing of humanity in the 21st century – the climate and ecological crisis. 

 Across teaching, research and public and policy engagement, economists have failed to adequately engage in this issue. The most cited journal in economics has never published an article on climate change. The teaching of economics remains abstracted from ecological foundations. And even as other academic disciplines have become increasingly vocal on this issue, economists have remained too silent. 

Worse too, when economists do engage, they often distort the problem. To name a few examples, their models tend to leave out tipping points, catastrophic risks and treat all threats as ‘marginal’. As a result, many economists’ contributions have been used as evidence to scale back, rather than scale up, climate ambition. 

The economics profession’s insufficient response to the climate crisis puzzles me – it appears they are not even living up to their own standards.  

Firstly, over the last several decades, economists have tried to convince the world that they are ‘scientific’. But, if they pride themselves on being scientific, then they must take the most important science of our day seriously.

Secondly, if the purpose of economics is to further human prosperity, then in an era of environmental breakdown, the exclusion of the natural world is only undermining that very goal.

 Thirdly, the priorities of economists are often governed by cost-benefit analysis, but there is no scenario that is more expensive than unabated climate change. Even when using this dangerously narrow framework, the economic imperative for urgent action is clear. With the inclusion of harder-to-quantify aspects, such as distributional justice, this imperative for action is only amplified.  

You might ask, why focus on economists? Is the inaction not the fault of politicians? Is it not a lack of political will? Sure, political willpower is in serious shortfall. As COP comes to an end, all eyes are on the world leaders. Rightly so. They must show leadership: they must take decisive and ambitious action or step aside for those that will. But pressure groups must also dig one layer deeper and ask how policy-makers make their decisions. For better or worse, economics has a central role in this process. If we are going to radically ramp up the ambition of climate policy, we must change how it is designed. We must change economics. 

That is what motivated us, a group of students from across the world, to found Economists for Future. To arrest the climate crisis, economics must move from getting it wrong to making it right. 

At Economists for Future, we are critical optimists. We have a deep belief in the power of good economics to make the world a better and more humane place. But we believe that we are currently not living up to our responsibility to help create and communicate a policy framework that accelerates the transformation to a more sustainable, prosperous and fairer world. 

At this stage, failure to step up to this responsibility and to seize this opportunity is to let down the world. If economists cannot engage in this economic transformation the science requires—then who? If we do not raise our game now—then when? The likelihood is it will be too late. In which case, history has every right to judge us harshly. 

In our one-page open letter we lay out the case for economists to raise their game. 

We are encouraging everyone to sign and share it. 

 

Reposted from Mint Magazine

Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, Mariana Mazzucato was crowned the winner of the new Not the Nobel Prize by public vote in London last night.

Mazzucato, Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London, was recognised ‘for reimagining the role of the state and value in economics’.

The award ceremony was hosted by comedian Mark Dolan in central London and attended by fellow finalists Steve Keen, Kate Raworth and Tom Rippin.

Economists Jessica Gordon-Nembhard, Laura Carvalho, and Randall Wray were also up for the innovative award celebrating the thinkers and doers who are finding economic solutions to the challenges of the 21st century.

Receiving the award for Mazzucato, Henry Li shared her remarks paying tribute to her fellow finalists: “Dark times need enlightened thinking. I’m honoured to receive the prize alongside some luminary economists asking critical questions. To name a few, Steve [Keen] encourages us to ask about the structure of our financial system, Kate [Raworth] encourages us to get real about both the analysis and implementation of a circular economy, Laura [Carvalho] helps us to rethink macro-economics questioning the assumptions behind austerity.”

Mariana Mazzucato is the Founding Director of the UCL Institute for Innovation & Public Purpose (IIPP) and author of ‘The Entrepreneurial State’ and ‘The Value of Everything’. Her research has revealed that every piece of technology that makes the iPhone ‘smart’ was government funded: the Internet, GPS, its touch-screen display and the voice-activated Siri. She argues that the public sector’s role can and should extend well beyond fixing market failures to co-creating markets, especially in responding to climate change and the Green New Deal.

Henry Leveson-Gower, creator of #NotTheNobel Prize and CEO Promoting Economic Pluralism said: “Over the past half-century, the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics has celebrated ideas at the heart of an economic system heading for collapse. We urgently need fresh economic thinking to meet the challenges of ecological breakdown, financial crises, and soaring inequality”.