The critical struggle of our time

Maddy Power reviews (People First Economics) by David Ransom and Vanessa Baird (eds) New Internationalist, 2009

December 14, 2009 · 2 min read

If you’re like me, then as soon as people start talking about economics you experience an urge to bury your head in the sand to avoid trying to decode all the jargon and nuances that tend to go along with a discussion of how and why the economic crisis is happening. People First Economics brings together writers and activists from across the world to give a manageable, but satisfying, introduction to that crisis and alternatives to the system that got us here.

I’ve heard the question ‘Well, if you don’t like this system, what’s your alternative?’ more times than I care to remember (sometimes from the genuinely curious, sometimes from the endlessly self-satisfied, who think that this is the final, lethal weapon in the ideological arsenal of the status quo). People First Economics showcases a range of challenges to current economic and political structures and decision-making processes.

Short chapters include Ann Pettifor explaining the precepts of the ‘Green New Deal’; Michael Albert discussing the model of ‘parecon’ or ‘participatory economics’; Derek Wall looking at how the concept of the commons can be revived; and an open letter from Bolivian president Evo Morales, laying out ten ideas on how to ‘save the world, life and humanity’. We also get a look at the links between the economic crisis and the climate crisis, and why the market-based mechanisms being proposed to deal with climate change are doomed to fail.

People First Economics doesn’t attempt to provide one answer to the crisis of capitalism. Instead it presents a range of solid arguments and inspiring visions that equip the reader to challenge the idea that there is no alternative.

Creating alternatives to capitalism as we know it is a daunting but necessary task. People First Economics is a good place to dip your toe in these choppy waters before plunging in. The book insists that we must take this plunge, because, as former derivatives trader Tarek El Diwany writes in his contribution, ‘Replacing [the current economic system] is … the critical struggle of our time. It is not a system we can reform. We must simply defeat it, because if we don’t, it will defeat us.’


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