1 What rules us?
According to John Maynard Keynes, it is ideas that rule us. Unfortunately, some ideas are not very supportive of freedom and prosperity for all. Even when such ideas are seen, it is not easy to find the wisdom to replace it with. We may have an idea of the best form of government; does it embrace the sense of justice that Plato’s Republic uses to compare government? Economics was initially influenced by the mechanistic view of the universe of early science; will it be influenced by the more holistic sense of modern physics?
There will be a brief summary of last term’s principles aim towards living peacefully in prosperity and freedom.
2. What do we own?
This session explores the concept of property. Firstly, through our own sense of what we do and do not own; we can also observe the degree of inequity in the world. Secondly, through the eyes of early economists as they tried to explain who got what. Thirdly, through some philosophers and other influencers of the way we think about property. Finally, what would it take for a world to be not based on property or ownership.
3. What motivates us and who benefits?
Are we only motivated by what’s in it for me? Should we really allow the marketplace to regulate all our activities? Adam Smith’s revolutionary “Wealth of Nations” extolled the virtues of self-interest, the self-regulation of markets, and the accumulation of capital. These ideas have stuck with us, but we have forgotten or ignored what Smith explained of their context and his more enlightened sense of self-interest than mere greed. We now live with the consequences of this forgetting.
4. Is there enough for all?
Our approach to sharing what we find and our fears of there not being enough are not new. David Ricardo effectively described aspects of sharing in the form of economic rent and the law of diminishing returns. Thomas Malthus presented a mathematical theory to prove starvation for the masses was inevitable. These ideas are examined alongside some consideration of those actions human beings are taking which lead to greater inequity and famines.
5. Can we replace the market?
Governments’ policy over time has tended towards either freedom of the market and individual responsibility, or the need to guide or control the market in some way and institute collective responsibility. Two moves towards such intervention are considered, utilitarianism and communism; these were prompted by a growing sense of inequality in society. Neither idea proved to be without problems, but both ideas are still around.
6. How do we meet social needs?
If justice is the constant will to render to everyone their due, can holding to this sense of justice ensure that the changing needs of society can be met? Several significant changes in society in response to injustices are considered, not all resulting in justice. Some of the ideas expressed by
Henry George are presented; he had a radical approach to meeting social needs and never departed from a keen sense of justice.
7. How do we value and set a price?
Today it is common to judge the value of a particular product or service as being the price you can get for it; both the existence of any monopoly position that inflates the price and the presence of any ethical consideration can conveniently be ignored to suit the modern understanding of what economics is about. The ideas behind the law of supply and demand, and the warnings of Polanyi and Mazzucato are considered.
8. At the last resort, what do we turn to?
Recent times have shown how government and central banks need to step in when markets fail and banks crash. Governments and central banks do as they have the power to act independently of market interest. It took the biggest economic tragedy in living memory, the 1930s Great Depression, and a revolution in economic thought, for this to be realised. At the heart of that revolution was John Maynard Keynes; his insight was to look to the wholeness of the economy. In our present troubled times, what can we turn to that brings us together instead of pushing us against each other?
9. Is it freedom from all or freedom for all?
Freedom is something to be cherished, but is this the same as anything goes? When faced with the possibility of authoritarian regimes, freedom can be the rallying call. Freedom of the market may be preferred to a centrally controlled economy. But should the markets be totally free from government restraint? The cry for freedom has led to financial deregulation and a very different approach to ‘regulating’ the economy; perhaps it also led to the 2008 crash. Some of the more recent ideas of market freedom are considered.
10. Which way forward?
Having explored ideas governing today's economics, can we find a basis for a fresh approach that tends towards harmony rather than division? This was attempted in 1944 at Bretton Woods and resulted in the Washington Consensus, and shaped many policies of international institutions since. Perhaps there needs to be a fresh attempt, but on what basis? This course has often referred to a wholeness, a sense of unity or all-inclusiveness; could this guide a new approach to economics?