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Digital Subscriptions > Boston Review > Economics After Neoliberalism (Summer 2019) > ECONOMICS AFTER NEOLIBERAL ISM

ECONOMICS AFTER NEOLIBERAL ISM

We live in an age of astonishing inequality. Income and wealth disparities in the United States have risen to heights not seen since the Gilded Age and are among the highest in the developed world. Median wages for U.S. workers have stagnated for nearly fifty years. Fewer and fewer younger Americans can expect to do better than their parents. Racial disparities in wealth and well-being remain stubbornly persistent. In 2017 life expectancy in the United States declined for the third year in a row, and the allocation of healthcare looks both inefficient and unfair. Advances in automation and digitization threaten greater labor market disruptions in the years ahead. Climate change–fueled disasters increasingly disrupt everyday life.

We believe that these are solvable problems—at the very least, that we can make serious headway on them. But addressing them will require a broad public discussion of new policy ideas. Social scientists have a responsibility to be part of this discussion. And economists have an indispensable role to play. Indeed, they have already started to play it. Economics is in a state of creative ferment that is often invisible to outsiders. While the sociology of the profession—career incentives, norms, socialization patterns—often militates against engagement with the policy world, a sense of public responsibility is bringing people into the fray.

The tools of economics are critical to developing a policy framework for what we call “inclusive prosperity.” While prosperity is the traditional concern of economists, the modifier “inclusive” demands both that we consider the whole distribution of outcomes, not simply the average (the “middle class”), and that we consider human prosperity broadly, including nonpecuniary sources of well-being, from health to climate change to political rights. To improve the quality of public discussion around inclusive prosperity, we have organized a group of economists—the Economics for Inclusive Prosperity (EfIP) network—to make policy recommendations across a range of topics, including labor markets, international trade, and finance. The purpose of this nascent effort is not simply to offer a list of prescriptions for different policy domains, but to provide an overall vision for economic policy that stands as an alternative to the market fundamentalism that is often—and wrongly— identified with economics.

We personally saw the power of this identification in early 2018, when the three of us attended a workshop on “new thinking beyond neoliberalism.” The participants—historians, political scientists, sociologists, legal scholars, and economists—agreed that the prevailing neoliberal policy framework had failed society, resulting in monumental and growing inequality. All of us were horrified by the illiberal, nativist turn in our politics, fueled in part by these chasms.

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Economics After Neoliberalism offers a powerful case for a new brand of economics—one focused on power and inequality and aimed at a more inclusive society. Three prominent economists—Suresh Naidu, Dani Rodrik, and Gabriel Zucman—lead off with a vision “for economic policy that stands as a genuine alternative to market fundamentalism.” Expanding on “the state of creative ferment” they describe, Boston Review has commissioned responses to their essay from economists, philosophers, political scientists, and policymakers across the political spectrum as well as new essays that challenge the current shape of markets and suggest more democratic alternatives. Lenore Palladino explores the misguided logic of shareholder primacy and points to more equitable approaches to corporate governance—such as employee ownership funds. Amy Kapczynski examines how the courts have developed a new, anti-democratic First Amendment that protects corporate speech at the expense of regulation designed to protect public health and safety. And Robert Manduca explores the importance of public discussion about economics by revisiting Chester Bowles's remarkable book, Tomorrow Without Fear, which explained Keynesian ideas to the public after World War II.