Economics or Anthropology?

About a week ago, a retired academician of economics from Switzerland wrote me following lines in his email:

I recommend you not to spend your time in criticizing mainstream economics, as those critics are widely known within the profession, but to concentrate on more recent ways of thinking  (bio-economics, circular, share economics etc) and to show how these theories are useful for policy making. I suggest to change the title of your thesis: How economic theory deals with ecology.

The unofficial short title that I often use for my PhD is why does mainstream economics ignore ecology? which seems to be too offensive for some economists.

The official and scientific(!) long title is: What is the place of ecology (i.e. ecological literacy) in mainstream undergraduate economics education?

I wrote him back that my PhD investigates why mainstream economics ignored (or downplayed the importance of) ecology in undergraduate education, and it was a fact (based on sufficient evidence as I presented in my 4. progress report) that mainstream education of economics ignored ecology. Nevertheless, I would think about his suggestions.

Then I really reflected on his suggestions, and posted following paragraphs to my LinkedIn timeline:

The economics profession, which is largely controlled by the global corporate/finance/armament oligarchy, doesn’t need to invent new fragmented pseudo sciences like bio-economics, circular economics and share economics; we already have an all-unifying science, namely evolutionary (biological and cultural) anthropology that integrates disciplines like biology, ecology, evolution, sociology, psychology, culture and history.

Traditionally, anthropology studies only historical, ancient societies. It view must be extended to cover also recent and modern societies to become a holistic, pluralistic and complete human science. Economic policies, for the ultimate goal of sustainable well-being for all, including future generations (not for economic development and growth in the neoclassical sense) will be then a natural part of this holistic human science.

Mainstream (neoclassical) economics theory (micro, macro etc.) could be handled by graduate or master lectures within evolutionary anthropology, among other economic theories of other schools (classical, Marx, Veblen, Keynes, institutional, ecological, neoliberal etc.) in the context of pluralist economics education.

I think, a separate economics education is not required, especially if this kind of education is largely controlled by the vested interests of multi-national corporations and their investors.

A multidisciplinary and pluralistic economics education should be a part of evolutionary anthropology. As Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929) said, economics, or better political economy, should be an evolutionary science. Every economist should have a solid anthropology background.

Here is a section below from my 4th PhD progress report (February 2019):

If sustainable well-being for all is the ultimate purpose, what is the purpose of economic education? Acquiring all the necessary knowledge and skills to develop successful economic policies that aim sustainable well-being for the society.

Typical inquiries for sustainable well-being are:

  • What are the most basic needs of people? Which basic needs depend on culture or environment, which needs are universal?
  • How do people live, considering different cultures and environmental conditions?
  • What kind of different cultures and lifestyles are there? How did these cultures and lifestyles evolve?
  • What makes a lifestyle (or production) sustainable or unsustainable?
  • What makes people happy, or unhappy? What kind of policies are required for the happiness of the majority?
  • What kind of technologies serve to the well-being of the majority? What kind of technologies serve only to the interests of a minority?

Looking at these inquires, I come to the conclusion that evolutionary (cultural & biological) anthropology should be at the centre of economic education. Other relevant fields are biology, ecology, physics, chemistry, geography, history of economic thought, sociology, psychology and history of civilizations. As Veblen said, economics should be an evolutionary science based on a broad knowledge of history.

There seems to be other people who think, or thought, exactly like me.

A couple of days ago, I was reading an interesting article by Julien- François Gerber, an assistant professor of environment & development in International Institute of Social Studies (ISS): The Legacy of K. William Kapp

In this article, Gerber explains some ideas of William Kapp about a broad-viewed anthropology:

Perhaps more than any other economist of the twentieth century, Karl William Kapp (1910–1976) was the economist of the oikonomia, radically criticizing the regression of economics into chrematistics.

At a deeper level of inquiry –and this is perhaps Kapp’s most original and ambitious contribution– was his quest for the integration of the socialand natural sciences.

Kapp was also a powerful voice promoting the integration of knowledge (Kapp, 1961, 1985, 2011). For him, the main obstacles to a proper understanding of contemporary problems were the abandonment of the search for a new unity of social knowledge and the resulting compartmentalization and specialization of the social sciences with their self-sealing and closed theoretical systems. Kapp was convinced that a new paradigm in economics was universally acceptable only if it were able to include the relationships to nature and society in harmony with the findings of modern sciences (Gerber and Steppacher, 2012).

Kapp identified the most relevant disciplines in which economists should have enough basic knowledge in order to be able to work competently in their own field: ‘The only disciplines that can claim to have made any headway in the analysis of social structures and institutional interdependencies are cultural anthropology, social psychology, and perhaps sociology’ (ibid.: 202).

Ecology or anthropology? My answer is definitely anthropology!

Written by: Tunç Ali Kütükçüoğlu, 8. August 2020, Feldmeilen-Switzerland

About tuncali

I began keeping aquariums as early as I was nine years old. Since then, I kept many aquariums and lots of fish, plant and invertebrate species. My favorite fish family is of course cichlids with their fascinating behaviors. My relatively new area of interest is low-tech natural aquariums as almost self-sufficient ecosystems that are I think ideal models for sustainable life.
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2 Responses to Economics or Anthropology?

  1. tuncali says:

    When people asked me “what’s the title of your PhD?”, I used to say simply “why does mainstream economics ignore ecology?”

    About a week ago, an academician of economics recommended me to change the title of my PhD, like “how mainstream economics deals with ecology?” My title was apparently too offensive for many economists.

    I told him that I would think about it. Then I really reflected on it, and decided to offer both versions. Take whichever version you like.

    1) Official, polite, scientific(!), long version:
    What’s the place of ecology (i.e. ecological literacy) in mainstream undergraduate economics education?

    2) Unofficial, impolite, sincere, realistic, short version:
    Why does mainstream economics ignore ecology?

  2. tuncali says:

    I think, agroecology (ecology of agriculture) should also be an educational unit (faculty, department etc.) under the big umbrella of evolutionary anthropology, because you can’t separate agriculture from lifestyle, environment, evolutionary history, tradition, food, cooking, local economy and culture.

    In other words, every agroecologist should have a solid background in evolutionary (biological and cultural) anthropology, especially in the anthropology of the region s/he is working in.

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