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Reasons for the Attractiveness of Neoclassical Economics

Yes, Joachim Spangenberg is certainly right when – with Christian Arnsperger and Yanis Varoufakis in mind – he points to methodological individualism, methodological instrumentalism and the methodological equilibrium axiom. And of course I completely agree with Peter Söderbaum when he stresses the historical background of neoclassical economics. Another factor is that by now generations of people have grown up, learned and studied under conditions of hegemonic neoliberalism.

In addition I would like to point to two other issues: 1. Neoliberal-shaped thinking is encouraged by modern information and communication technologies. The use of personal computers is already so much “a part of this” that in its functional logic one thinks: I press A and the PC “does” something; if I want that, I have to press B … In this way formal logic and one-dimensionality are reinforced. 2. The technology is attractive, because it saves us time. In the end, we are continuously under stress, searching in the internet, under pressure to perfect our technical and immaterial capacities. Even in our free time we play with technology. We never manage to think in peace, are fascinated by virtual worlds, our anti-ecological mobility and our mode of life.

We are winners of globalisation – why should we question global competition and its accompanying dogmas?

Challenges, roles and limits of an economic science that wants to help create sustainability

If sustainability is understood in the sense of the Brundtland Report, and if the basic precept is followed that it is always the condition of the socially weak in our societies and worldwide that must first be improved and their position strengthened, then it becomes clear that what is needed is an economics that intervenes through social policy. It has to help realise these interests in a sustainable development understood in this way. That means it has simultaneously to change a social-political relation of force and, on the other hand, help economies – the goals of economic activity, the way in which they are carried out – to change. That means that economics for sustainability can only be developed as scientific and political cooperation with the protagonists of other scientific disciplines, of very diverse policy sectors and with those fighting for social and ecological sustainability.

Possibilities, impediments and room for manoeuvre for pluralism in economics – in research and teaching – strategies for attaining pluralism, in order to promote economics for sustainability

The possibilities have to be fought for, because what is involved is implementing the wish that economic research and teaching institutions address the issue of social and ecological sustainability. A distinction needs to be made between pluralism in economics in general and pluralism in economics for sustainability. The former can only be a battle slogan in order even to be heard in the first place within economic-scientific institutions. This does not at all mean giving up on scientific and political confrontation with other schools or political competition for hegemony. Pluralism in economics for sustainability is, on the one hand, competition among socially diverse economists with diverse political outlooks, biographies, scientific schools and experience. They carry out their competition for the sake of insights and influence on scientific and political consequences. On the other hand, this pluralism is a necessary consequence of complexity. It is hard to imagine that in our complex world there could be only one generally recognised closed economic theory for sustainability, the more so that sustainability is a contested concept even among the “authentic advocates of sustainability”.

The strategies for implementing pluralism in research and teaching are mainly the diverse political activities of individuals, informal and formal coalitions “in academia”, “in teaching”, in the cultural sector, in social spheres, in official policy and in the various political conflicts.

Consequences for an alternative economic policy

First of all, we need to clarify how “economic policy” is understood and who understands it in specific ways. I understand it to mean the struggle for the realisation of interests in the context of determining the goals of economic policy, of the organisation and realisation of social labour – the developing of resources, their movement in production, circulation, distribution and consumption. Besides this, I understand “socially and ecologically sustainable development” as a social development – to which the development of the economic sphere belongs – toward a society of free and socially equal individuals who live solidaristically with one another and in harmony with nature. Economists who want to work on this must, just like any other citizen, see themselves and behave as political, and thus as economic-political, protagonists. They have to contribute their knowledge and competence in order to illuminate for people the economic contexts and metabolic processes with nature and to influence people’s thinking and behaviour. That means that economists have to practice their science in order to work for sustainability politically and on the economic-policy level. They must do this in cooperation with each other and with the scientists of other disciplines.

Economic policymakers in the stricter sense of the word must likewise be concerned with broad cooperation, especially with economists for sustainability. In so doing they cannot base themselves on a concrete theoretical tradition, but must ask which theoretical school delivers what kind of insights and help and what this means for them if they want democratically and solidaristically to improve sustainably people’s social and ecological conditions of life, beginning with the socially and globally weakest. In the process it is entirely possible that they will find detailed explanations in neoclassical economics, even though they are in fundamental and consistent disagreement with the adherents of neoclassicism and neoliberalism and are fighting for intellectual-cultural hegemony.

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