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Democratic Crisis and the Responsibility of Economics, I

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM

Loews Philadelphia, Anthony
Hosted By: Association for Social Economics & Association for Evolutionary Economics
  • Chair: Charles J. Whalen, State University of New York-Buffalo

Pecuniary Valuation and the Age of Trump

James K. Galbraith
University of Texas-Austin


The rise of Donald Trump reflected a victory, perhaps decisive, for the economic perspective over its competitors. Veblen would not have been surprised.

Democratisation of Economic Research and Policy by Building a Knowledge Commons: Inspiration from Cooperatives

Asimina Christoforou
Athens University of Economics and Business
Fikret Adaman
Boğaziçi University


The article argues that the current economic crises are deeply rooted in an institutional crisis, in a social and democratic deficit. By insisting on the virtual reality of ‘homo economicus’ and excluding alternative behaviours and rationalities of the real economy, economists are at high risk of producing inefficient and unjust theories and policies. Therefore, we propose the democratisation of economic research and policy by building a knowledge commons. The aim is to socially re-embed the economy and economics by re-defining knowledge to incorporate substantive aspects of human life and well-being as well as to embrace the plurality of people’s values, priorities and rationalities. The article begins by envisioning a knowledge commons as a space where knowledge is shared and deliberated upon by all interested parties in science and society on the basis of participatory and democratic principles and practices. It focuses on the key role of democracy to underline the social and moral values that define it and the conditions that need to be met to enhance people’s capacities to realise these values. Then the article concretises its arguments by presenting the case of cooperatives as a source of inspiration for building a knowledge commons in economic research and policy. Cooperatives offer fertile ground to develop principles and practices of public participation, democratic decision-making, redistribution and reciprocity. Moreover, they have the potential to constitute a force for social change by creating prefigurative and transformational relations for a self-governing and solidaristic economy and society. The article describes ways in which economics could learn from alternative non-capitalist economies and non-commodified forms of commons in order to employ participatory and democratic values and practices in research and policy.

Commodified Attention, Commodified Speech, and the Rejection of Expertise

Zoe Sherman
Merrimack College


In this paper I aim to consider some aspects of the system of communications within which expertise may be created and accepted… or rejected. For speech to be recognized as an expression of expertise, it has to be recognized as making a legitimate truth claim grounded in something other than, and broader than, the speakers’ narrow self-interest. Almost by definition, the content of the truth claims made by an expert are difficult for the nonexpert to assess. To recognize expertise must be an expression of trust. The communications system we inhabit has two features that corrode that trust: commodified access to attention and commodified speech. The advertising industry and the media that serve it treat our attention as a commodity. Attention sellers have developed into niche marketers and attention buyers have developed the practice of placing narrowly targeted orders for eyes and ears. As a result, we are grouped into such different attention clusters, it is nearly impossible for anyone to be recognized as a trustworthy speaker by members of multiple clusters. In addition, much of what we hear is said by people who speak on behalf of others to earn a paycheck. We are continually confronted with speech that is untethered from any authentic speaker – it is neither fully the speech of the buyer nor of the paid producer – and we encounter this speech as members of bundles that are increasingly disjoint from one another. These are not conducive conditions for the cultivation of broadly recognized expertise.

When Things Don’t Fall Apart: A Hirschmanian Perspective on the Global Crisis and the Developing World

Ilene Grabel
University of Denver


In a paper drawn from When Things Don’t Fall Apart: Global Financial Governance and Developmental Finance in an Age of Productive Incoherence (MIT Press, forthcoming 2017), I challenge the dominant view that the global financial crisis had little effect on global financial governance and developmental finance. Most economists, including those drawing from a range of heterodox traditions, discount all but grand, systemic ruptures in institutions and policy. Against this narrative I argue instead that the global crisis induced inconsistent and ad hoc discontinuities in global financial governance and developmental finance that are now having profound effects on emerging market and developing economies. My chief normative claim is that the resulting incoherence in global financial governance is productive rather than debilitating. In the age of what I term productive incoherence, a more complex, dense, fragmented, and pluripolar form of global financial governance is expanding possibilities for policy and institutional experimentation, policy space for economic and human development, financial stability and resilience, and financial inclusion. I draw on key theoretical commitments of Albert Hirschman to cement the case for the productivity of incoherence. The methodological prescriptions that flow from Hirschman’s work take the form of proscriptions to reject evaluative criteria that purport to determine ex ante or ex post whether particular policy or institutional innovations are coherent, viable, sufficient, scalable, and significant. Inspired by Hirschman, I argue that meaningful change often emerges from disconnected, erratic, experimental, and inconsistent adjustments in institutions and policies as actors pragmatically manage in an evolving world.

Capitalism vs. Democracy and the (Ir)Responsibility of Economics

Richard Wolff
DemocracyatWork.Info and New School


The Cold War and its narrow ideological legacies kept mainstream economics from asking let alone seriously examining economic systems other than capitalism (with its employer-employee dichotomized structure). Mainstream economics especially ignored a long-existing system - worker or producer cooperatives - whose structure embodied the very democracy so strikingly absent from capitalist workplaces.
JEL Classifications
  • B5 - Current Heterodox Approaches