Economics is both a contested discipline and one that enjoys exceptional societal authority, especially in policy making. It is now facing new pressures and challenges that require rethinking and adjusting its contents and procedures, communication strategies, and policy positions. These pressures derive from the ongoing major crises (pandemic, war, climate change, biodiversity loss) and future societal challenges (inequalities, food security, influence of big tech in markets and on democracy, ageing populations, AI and the future of work, etc.).
The current crises in health (pandemic), international relations (war) and environment (climate change and biodiversity loss) have two important consequences. First, they make existing societal problems and future societal challenges more visible and their solution more urgent. Second, as a response to these crises, policymakers are increasingly considering and implementing policies that go against mainstream economics’ customary policy recipes. The crises alter policy priorities, emphasising long-term policy goals with respect to sustainability, wellbeing, and health, rather than merely short-term goals such as GDP growth or economic efficiency. Countries that predominantly relied on liberalised markets are now seeing the heavier presence of the state in their economies. National production is replacing international trade in key economic sectors and production plants are being relocated to strategically safe and sound locations. These trends in de-globalization, larger governments, restricted international trade and targeted industrial policy are expected to continue and will have effects on the world order as they necessitate the redesign of national and international institutions. Moreover, the current crises highlight deep problems of inequality, poverty, wellbeing, health, and natural resources. These are problems that economics has been accused of ignoring or at least addressing insufficiently or inadequately. Nevertheless, economists have worked on these problems for a long time; it remains to be seen how relevant their contributions will be in shaping the future in changed circumstances. Solving these problems will require more interdisciplinary research and even collaboration between economics and its critics. In sum, current crises and future societal challenges necessitate rethinking and perhaps a reorientation of economics and economic policy.
The serviceability of economics – how well it is able to serve society (its usefulness) and how well it is served to society (via science communication and policy advice) – will depend on how it adjusts itself to the new challenges. We are launching a new project that will organise a series of interdisciplinary events – panels, forums, lectures and a course – to address these issues. The project is called Rethinking the Serviceability of Economics to Society (ReSES). ReSES is an Argumenta project, funded by the Finnish Cultural Foundation.
Although economics plays a major role in shaping public policy and is sometimes criticised heavily for its policy proposals, there has been very little informed discussion between economists, other scientists, and policy makers about its role in shaping policy. Moreover, the communication between different academic disciplines, as well as between scientists and policy makers, has been remarkably poor with respect to the preferred solutions to the aforementioned societal challenges. ReSES aims to improve this situation. The project’s goal is to deepen and broaden public discussion on economics and its roles in society. ReSES will open up and facilitate the communication channels between alternative and sometimes deeply conflicting perspectives on these societal challenges and on the serviceability of economics.
ReSES will bring together experts from various backgrounds (economists, philosophers of economics, social scientists, ecologists, policy scholars, and policy makers) to reflect on how economics can improve its usefulness to society in responding to the contemporary challenges that societies are facing. We will also organise activities targeting the wider public, such as public lectures, panel discussions and an open access course.
You can find our past and future events on our Events page.