"Economists should think of themselves as gardeners - not engineers"

Thanks to Tom Beresford for this tip off about a new book on economics by Kate Raworth (Guardian article here) - which asserts that economists need to move away from their centuries-long dream of creating a science as accurate as the laws of physics. What has that left us with? Debt and a burning planet.

In Doughnut Economics, Raworth points us instead to a different set of metaphors - economies as gardens rather than machines (and filled with emotional, unpredictable and creative humans, rather than the rationalist robots of "homo et femina economicus"). Extract below:

If we have learned one thing from the emergent crises of recent decades – from the tipping points of climate change and the rise of the 1% to the near-collapse of financial markets – it is that it’s time for economics to ditch the fake physics. Thanks to more and better data, it has become clear that such economic laws of motion simply don’t exist.

Far from being a necessary phase of development, extreme inequality and environmental degradation are the result of policy choices, and these choices can be changed. In the place of laws to be obeyed, there are design decisions to be made.

So if the economy is not best thought of as a mechanism that returns to equilibrium and follows fixed laws of motion, how should we think of it? Like the living world: it’s complex, dynamic and ever-evolving.

And for economists, that means it’s time for a metaphorical career change: from engineer to gardener. Let’s take off the hard hat and give up on reaching for the economy’s control levers because they simply don’t exist. Instead, put on some gardening gloves, pick up a pair of secateurs, and start to steward the economic garden.

And if you think that sounds laissez faire, then you’ve never done a hard day’s work in the garden: it calls for getting stuck in, digging, pruning, weeding and watering the plants as they grow and mature. 

How can economic gardeners help to create a thriving economy, one that is inclusive and sustainable and will help to achieve the sustainable development goals? By following two core principles: make it regenerative and distributive by design.

More here.

Extra: Samuel Bowles on the end of "economic man"