Flat White

Economics: throw out the male, pale and stale and we’ll have utopia. Apparently…

21 January 2020

5:00 AM

21 January 2020

5:00 AM

The latest stroke of identity politics disingenuity is directed at the study of economics. In a self-flagellating piece written for the Sydney Morning Herald, Ross Gittins argues that economics is too white, too male, and therefore, a tool of oppression. 

He hypothesizes that the failure of conventional economics was revealed in the global financial crisis, and that the discipline has hierarchical practices and a macho seminar culture that has produced an inhospitable environment for women and minorities. To support his theory, he refers to *cough* research which suggests that ‘economic ideas privileging the supposed free market, along with an obsession with material indicators such as aggregate productivity and gross domestic product, have fueled an epidemic of suicide, drug overdose and alcoholism among America’s (often jobless) working class.’ 

Ergo, capitalism is failing, and we need a new theory which integrates egalitarian, democratic and sustainability ‘norms’ of acceptable behaviour. In other words, we need socialism.  

I wish I was joking.  

In the West, we are so blithely affluent, that we reserve our greatest criticism for the economic principles which got us where we are. And while capitalism has its foibles, it is still a marked improvement on anything we have tried before. It sure beats socialism al la Africa or the crowning glory of economic disasters, Venezuela. If there is egalitarianism in Venezuela is only that the next person is as miserable and destitute as the last. And if for any reason their population isn’t dying of drug overdoses and alcoholism it’s only because of a lack of supply, not a lack of will 

Problematically, capitalism is usually conflated with corporatism: the former, the embodiment of the free market, and the latter, the corruptor of the free market due to the cosy little tryst between big business and government. Big banks and big pharma are examples of corporatists – they are to capitalism what herpes is to intimate relations: viral, painful and pretty much impossible to eradicate. The GFC is the perfect example of failing corporatism resulting from a systemic malaise in the banking sector. And instead of allowing the chips fall and the sector to rebuild itself the banks got bailed out by their mates in government. How positively anti-capitalist: privatising profits and publicising losses.  

Finally, one cannot wave the flag for socialism without speaking on behalf of the perennial victims: women and minorities. And as someone who ticks both those boxes, I rolled my eyes so hard I almost blinded myself. The relevant study relied upon in this article found female and non-white economists ‘felt’ discriminated against or treated unfairly. I might feel 6ft and immortal, but it doesn’t make it objectively true. Try again. 

So, don’t be seduced by what, on the surface, looks like unicorns and cupcakes. And while the environmental costs of pollution, and the like, ought to form part of the economic equation, a ‘community’ based economic theory supporting wealth taxes and weakening intellectual property rights is a one-way street to eating sawdust and singing The Internationale while the pigs settle into the farmhouse.  

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