Alternative Economics Summer Schools, Part I: The urgency of a new economics

*Feature photo: Intervention of Adbusting in front of Economy Department. Vienna. 2018

Over the last two very exciting semesters in Glasgow and Barcelona, we had the chance to learn about globalization, local development, creative industries, and other relevant topics. However, I have to confess that I was still looking for something outside of the mainstream orthodox economics approach, and its failed attempts to be “sustainable”. For that reason, I decided to apply for two summer schools in the alternative economics field. Before I describe the content of both courses, please allow me to share what motivated me to get involved with such topics.

2018: 10 years of the last Global Financial Crisis and the new IPCC Report

This September, we “celebrated” the ten year anniversary of the Global Financial Crisis, and the natural question that comes out of is: what has changed since then? Or even better, have we learned with the aftermath of the GFC?

To me, the answer seems obvious: not much, if anything.

Economics and business schools all around the world are teaching the same theory, references, and applications that were used over the last decades. We are basically studying the same guidelines and fallacies that got us into this mess. To cite only a few: “the market regulates itself”, “environmental impacts are externalities”, and “growth is essential for development”. Such understandings led the uncontrolled market to the catastrophic economic and environmental situations we are all familiar with. The bankruptcy of nations, the increase of capital concentration on the 1%, and most importantly, the deterioration of the quality of life of the population, were not enough to change our economics studies’ curriculums.

The global economy framework needs to grow constantly in order not to collapse. And given the slow recovery and stagnation of many western countries over the last years, some specialists are already suggesting that a new financial crisis is on the way.

How many times do we have to crash into the wall before deciding to reconceptualize our obsolete economic framework?

Besides the economic field, another recent event that invites us to reflect upon the urgency of a new curriculum is the fact that our planet is being destroyed, and we are approaching the “point of no return” and the Earth’s sixth mass extinction, according to the scientific community. A couple of weeks ago, the most recent IPCC report was released, in which scientists, academics and specialists argued that we have only 12 years left before we reach this point. To avoid an unprecedented catastrophe, a radical reduction in CO2 emissions will be necessary, and consequently a radical change in our economic system and lifestyle as individuals. Climate change studies are not a matter of being sympathetic to nature anymore, but a survival strategy for the following century. The importance is clear when, for instance, you realize that climate change and ISIS expansion are directly related, or when food insecurity due to climate change is the key driver behind the current Central American’s migrant caravan towards the US.

“Prioritise growth or prioritise life? We can’t do both”. Video by: The Rules.

Surprisingly, almost as a religion (Herman Daly), the belief on the orthodox economic theories as a natural science has not been affected by the GFC or the threat of climate change, and the call for alternative methods is still taboo. In contrast to the famous sentence of Margaret Thatcher which affirmed that “There are no alternatives” to neoliberalism capitalism, economics students from all around the world organized themselves in order to claim for a revision of the economics curriculum. The most known bottom-up student’s organization is Rethinking Economics, that besides pushing departments for programme changes, it also proposes new courses, organizes lectures and workshops, creates content on relevant topics that are not discussed in class.


Urban art of the unfortunate but historic Thatcher speech. Google Images.

Sorry Miss Thatcher, but yes: there are plenty of alternatives! And it goes way beyond capitalism and its alleged varieties (if there is any practical any difference after all). In times of rising nationalist right-wing movements all around the globe, it is crucial to bring concrete and reasonable solutions to the table.

From TINA (There Is No Alternative) to TAPAS (There Are Plenty of Alternatives)

Despite the refusal of the majority of economic schools to accept the need for reformulation, many institutes have developed interesting courses of heterodox or alternative economic studies over the last decade. They avoid falling into the dualistic trap of capitalism vs. socialism or left vs. right but instead offer a third way that takes into account our contemporary, real-life challenges. Some examples of these schools of thought are ecological economics, the solidary economy, steady-state economics, post-growth society, de-growth, a-growth, feminist economy, doughnut economics, and many others.

Thirsty to get some inspiration for my thesis research topic engage with topics that acknowledge the critical problems mentioned above, and therefore to push for real change, I participated in two summer schools and one workshop this summer. Over the next few days, I will be sharing my experiences at these summer schools in hopes that it inspires other GLOCALs to try them next year! In the meantime, you can check out the basics by following these links:

In the meanwhile,…

If you are interested in such topics and want to make a difference as individuals, here are some practical quick tips that you can put into practice already today:

Finally, I invite all colleagues from my program and from the new cohort 2018/2020 that are interested in alternative economics to create a study group to exchange ideas as well as readings, news, and videos. If you’re interested, please get in touch and let’s work it out 🙂

Written by Daniel

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