Book Review: The New Economics - A Bigger Picture

The publication of 'The New Economics - A Bigger Picture' by David Boyle and Andrew Simms of The New Economics Foundation is well timed. Over a year after the collapse of Lehman Brothers many are beginning to feel optimistic about coming out of the recession. However there are a few, those who were gleeful during the darkest days of the credit crunch, who are now glum. People who had hoped that the collapse of the economy would produce a more sustainable system, are now concerned that in fact we're back to business as usual. Where are the new economics we were hoping for? Guide to The New Economics
This book is an excellent guide to concept of the new economics, introducing us to the idea that economics does not have "to be stacked against social, environmental and individual well-being." 'The New Economics' outlines a new way of thinking about wealth and poverty, reconsidering what we place value on in our lives. Boyle and Simms's aim for the book is to show "us that real wealth can be measured by increased well-being and environmental sustainability rather than just having and consuming more things."

Mickey Mouse + the Credit Crunch
The complexity of how the credit crunch happened often leaves us confused and bemused about how our financial systems work, but Boyle and Simms make light work of the process in their introduction, starting with an anecdote about Mickey Mouse. 'What can Walt Disney teach you about financial crises?" they ask. The anecdote tells of the discovery by investigators that one of the many dodgy sub-prime mortgage portfolio's was signed simply 'M.Mouse'. As Boyle and Simms say, "This was a symbolic moment. If Mickey Mouse can take out a mortgage, then the system is revealed to be without any of the checks and balances that are supposed to safeguard us all."

Intriguing Questions
The book is divided into 11 easily digestible short essays. The first essay explains how we got into our current economic problems, the second gives a brief history of the new economics, which gives props to John Ruskin, E.F. Schumacher and Jonathan Porritt. The next nine essays are titled with the big themes of Measurement, Money, Markets, Life, Resources, Trade, Community, Debt, and The Future. Each has an enticingly snappy subtitle question such as, "Money: Why Did China Pay for The Iraq War?" or "Markets: Why Has London Traffic Always Travelled At 12mph?" or "Community: Why Do Fewer People Vote When There Is A Wal-Mart Nearby?"

New Economics Tools and Techniques
These are all cleverly phrased questions, all with bold but slightly abstract subjects, which are so intriguing that you definitely want to know the answer. It is this light and entertaining approach to the very complex and often terribly dry topic of economics which makes 'The New Economics' highly readable. The acronym glossary and appendices which lay out "20 First Steps to Rebuild A Better Economy" and "New Economics Tools and Techniques" are also welcome additions which break down the key information into bite size pieces.

Business As Usual?
We also like that the authors have added a related reading list and notes at the end of each essay so that we can delve deeper into our new found interest in the future of economics at will. But is all this interesting writing just theory? Will we really be seeing the new economics take hold and truly benefitting people and the environment? Or will it just be, as some fear, business as usual? In the concluding essay the authors discuss this question:

"Will the new economics become mainstream? You could say that the original sin at the heart of economics - the 6000 year old disconnect between money and life - is just too ancient to be healed... Yet it is still possible to organize new institutions - social, administrative and economic - that can force our economic systems to make life thrive rather than stifling it. Beyond that the new economics tradition has emerged from a range of influences, some mainstream, some emphatically not, to offer a more fundamental approach, and a set of solutions that are already at work all over the world and with increasing success."

New Economics Foundation
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Tags: Books | Economics