Co-Hosts & Co-Authors:

Introduction: A Proposal

The idea of a movement of movements is not new. The concept remains popular, logical, and inspiring yet remains just that—a concept. Near universal woes such as inequality, climate change, and fascist stirrings could pressure diverse movements into a holistic progressive bloc, and in some cases, there has already been progress towards such convergence. There is a rising desire and will for coming together, but in practice, cohesion and even solidarity remain largely elusive.

What is missing is often identified as strategic organizing, while at the same time our anti-authoritarian and pluralist values rightly cause us to shy away from rigid blueprints and vertical chains of command. However, this dilemma presents a false choice. We must get organized, but we don’t need to abandon diversity and self-determination in order to come together around vision and strategy if we build our values into shared vision. Perhaps further effort towards conceiving, sharing, and utilizing a broad but unifying vision and strategy could provide much needed structure for a movement of movements to grow and thrive. And why now? Because there currently seems to be more hunger than in a long time for unity even as there is also considerable doubt about attaining it.

Below, we propose some basic insights, claims, and commitments that all seekers of new societal relations might choose to further develop and refine. The 20 theses are not ours per se, but come from many movements over years, decades, and even centuries.

Of course, none of the organizational or individual signers agree with every word of what follows. Rather, we all feel that in sum the 20 theses provide an excellent basis for debate and elaboration that can, over time, inform not just agreed opposition to existing injustices, but collective pursuit of a better world. 

Here are the twenty proposed theses we together submit for consideration, debate, and refinement.

Thesis One: Foundations

To be comprehensive and liberatory, long-term aims must centrally address polity, economy, kinship, culture, ecology, and international relations because each of these aspects of life not only profoundly influences peoples’ options and well being, but also because due to extensive entanglement, each contributes to and even reinforces and reproduces the defining features of the rest, so that all have priority strategic importance.

Thesis Two: Polity

To eliminate political elitism and domination, to be liberatory, political institutions will need to establish transparent mechanisms to carry out and evaluate political decisions and to convey to all citizens self managing political say proportionate to effects on them. To accomplish that will in turn require that liberatory political institutions include grassroots assemblies, councils, or communes (and federations of those) by which people can manifest their views. It will likewise require that liberatory political institutions provide advanced public education so people’s views are well formed and clearly expressed. And to ensure that deliberations and decisions are made consistent with people’s interests, it will require frequent direct policy participation or, when needed, re-callable representation and delegation that utilizes appropriate voting algorithms.

Additionally, to ensure freedom to each person consistent with freedom to all people, and to benefit all people while also protecting and even advancing diversity, liberatory political institutions will need to guarantee maximum civil liberties. This will of course include freedom to speak, write, worship, assemble, and organize political parties.

To ensure diversity and continuous development, liberating political institutions will need to welcome, facilitate, and protect dissent, and to guarantee to individuals and groups means to pursue their own goals consistent with not interfering with the same rights for others.

Regarding violations, to attain justice while promoting rehabilitation, liberatory political institutions will need to foster solidarity and to provide inclusive means to fairly, peacefully, and constructively adjudicate disputes and violations of agreed norms.

Finally, in light of the entanglement of all key facets of society, liberatory political institutions will have to be compatible with new features in other dimensions of life and vice versa.

Thesis Three: Kinship, Gender, and Sexuality

To achieve an end to denials based on sex, gender, identity, or age, new kinship institutions will need to ensure that no individuals or groups—by gender, identity, sexual orientation, or age—are privileged above or dominate others in income, influence, access to education, job quality, or any other dimension of life that bears on quality of life. To attain that end, liberatory gender and kin institutions will need to respect marriage and other lasting relations among adults as religious, cultural, or social practices, but will need to reject such ties as ways for sectors of the population to gain financial benefits or social status that others lack.

Both for equity and also for the enrichment of personality and affirmation that care-giving conveys, liberatory gender and kin institutions will need to respect care-giving as a central function of society including, perhaps even making, care-giving a part of every citizen’s social responsibilities, and in any event otherwise ensuring equitable burdens and benefits among people of all genders for all household and child raising practices.

Liberatory gender and kin institutions will need to not privilege certain types of family formation or role over others, but instead to actively support all types of families consistent with society’s other norms and practices. And to promote children’s well-being and affirm society’s responsibility for all children, liberatory gender and kin institutions will need to affirm the right of diverse types of families to have children and to provide them with love and a sense of rootedness and belonging, and will need to minimize or eliminate age- and or gender-based permissions and or restrictions, instead utilizing non-arbitrary means for determining when an individual is too old (or too young) or otherwise able or not able to receive benefits or shoulder responsibilities.

To ensure that each person honors the autonomy, humanity, and rights of others, liberatory gender and kin institutions will also need to centrally affirm diverse expressions of sexual pleasure, personal identity, sexual identity, gender identity, and mutual intimacy while they provide diverse, empowering sex education as well as legal prohibition against non-consensual sex.

And finally, in light of the entanglement of all key facets of society, liberatory kinship institutions will have to be compatible with new features in other dimensions of life and vice versa.

Thesis Four: Race, Ethnicity, Culture and Community

Liberating cultural/community relations, including race, ethnic, national and religious, requires that we rectify the negative historical and contemporary impacts of racist, colonial, and otherwise bigoted structures and neo-liberal policies and practices on countries and communities, especially in the global South.

Liberating culture and community will require implementing new participatory cultural/community institutions that ensure that no individuals or groups—by race, ethnicity, nationality, language, religion, or any other cultural community identification—are privileged above or dominate others. To that end, liberatory cultural and community institutions will need to ensure that people can have multiple cultural and social identities, and will need to provide space and resources for people to positively express their cultural/community identities however they choose while recognizing that which identity is most important to any particular person at any particular time depends on that person’s situation and assessments. 

Liberatory cultural and community relations will also need to explicitly recognize that many rights and values exist regardless of cultural identity, so that all people deserve self management, equity, solidarity, and liberty, even while society also protects all people’s right to affiliate freely to enjoy diversity.

To end the reality and even the fear of colonization and race, caste, religious, or national suppression, liberatory cultural and community relations must also provide all cultural communities guaranteed access to means to preserve their cultural integrity and practices.

Liberatory cultural and community relations will also need to eliminate barriers to free exit from all cultural communities, including nations, and must impose no arbitrary non cultural barriers to free entry, including affirming that communities that guarantee free entry and exit can be under the complete self determination of their members so long as their policies and actions don’t conflict with society’s overall agreed norms.

And finally, in light of the entanglement of all key facets of society, liberatory cultural/community institutions will have to be compatible with new features in other dimensions of life and vice versa.

Thesis Five: Economy

Liberating economics will require implementing new economic institutions that ensure that no individuals or classes are privileged above or dominate others and that all economic actors are able to participate fully in determining their own economic lives. To attain such classlessness, liberatory economic institutions will need to preclude owning productive assets such as natural resources and factories so that ownership plays no role in determining people’s’ decision-making influence or share of income.

To attain classlessness, new economic institutions will also need to ensure that all workers have a say in decisions, to the extent possible, proportionate to effects on them, sometimes best attained by majority rule, sometimes by consensus or other arrangements. This will, in turn, entail that new economic institutions have venues for deliberation including worker and consumer councils or assemblies, including that new economic institutions eliminate corporate divisions of labor that typically give about one-fifth of workers empowering tasks while they consign to four-fifths mainly rote, repetitive, and obedient tasks.

Thus, instead of producing a class division based on differential empowerment, liberatory economic institutions will need to ensure that each worker enjoys a share of empowering tasks via suitable new designs of work that convey to all workers sufficient confidence, skills, information, and access to participate effectively in self-managed decision making.

Additionally, to attain equity, liberatory economic institutions will need to ensure that workers who work longer or harder or at more onerous conditions, doing socially valued labor (including socially valued training), earn a proportionately greater share of the social product but do not earn payment according to property, bargaining power, or the value of personal output—while all who are unable to work nonetheless receive full income.

Likewise, liberatory economic relations will need to avoid both market competition and top-down planning, since each produces class rule, alienation, and ecological degradation among other violations. In their place, liberatory economic relations will need to find ways to conduct decentralized cooperative negotiation of inputs and outputs via workers and consumers councils and federations of councils, with additional participatory facilitating structures as needed.

And finally, in light of the entanglement of all key facets of society, liberatory economic institutions will have to be compatible with new features in other dimensions of life and vice versa.

Thesis Six: Internationalism

Internationalism means valuing people in other countries and being in solidarity with their just struggles for decent lives. Liberating international relations will require implementing new participatory international institutions that ensure that no nations or geographic regions are privileged above others, and that, until that is achieved, move toward that result. As a means to that end, liberatory international relations will need to end the subordination of nations in all its forms including colonialism, neo-colonialism, and neoliberalism, but also residual differences in collective wealth.

Liberatory international policy and structures will need to foster equitable internationalist globalization in place of exploitative corporate globalization, including diminishing economic disparities in countries’ relative wealth, protecting cultural and social patterns internal to each country, and facilitating international entwinement as people desire, including implementing reparations and international exchange and aid as well as border redefinitions with these ends in mind.

Thesis Seven: Ecology

Not only for liberation, but literally for human survival, to liberate ecological relations will require implementing new participatory ecological practices that first and foremost cease and reverse unsustainable resource depletion, environmental degradation, climate change, and other ecosystem disrupting trends.

To such ends, liberatory ecological relations will need to facilitate not only an end to fossil fuels, but an ecologically sound reconstruction of society that accounts for the full ecological as well as social/personal costs and benefits of both short- and long-term economic and social choices, so that future populations can sensibly decide levels of production and consumption, preferred duration of work, degrees of self and collective reliance, energy use and harvesting, stewardship, pollution norms, climate policies, conservation practices, consumption choices, and other future policy choices.

Liberatory ecological norms and practices will also need to foster a consciousness of ecological connection, responsibility, and reciprocity so that future citizens understand and respect the ecological precautionary principle and are well prepared to decide policies regarding such matters as animal rights or vegetarianism that transcend sustainability.

Where theses 1 – 7 above address attaining a degree of visionary unity regarding what we seek, theses 8-20 below seek to attain a degree of strategic unity regarding how to win what we seek.

Thesis Eight: Organize

Liberatory organizations are needed for groups to work effectively together with shared intentions while discovering new insights, retaining and sharing lessons, and collectively applying lessons from their own experiences. Such liberatory organizations will need to facilitate learning, preserve lessons to provide continuity, combine and apply energies and insights to win changes, and sustain support for members.

Thesis Nine: Be Strategic

To win liberation requires organizing that counters cynicism with hope, that incorporates seeds of the future in the present, that grows membership and commitment among the class, nationality, cultural, age, ability, and sexual/gender constituencies to be liberated, and that wins reforms without becoming reformist. Liberatory organizing requires relevant, flexible strategy, guided by shared vision, to consistently progress along a trajectory towards lasting, fundamental change.

Thesis Ten: Center Vision

Liberatory organizing will need to realize that doubt about the possibility of a better society is a primary impediment to people seeking change. To combat cynicism rooted in doubt and to engender informed hope will therefore need to be a permanent organizing priority. To that end, liberatory organizing will need to always offer and clarify the possibility and merit of vision and the efficacy of activism, even beyond indicating, detailing, and explaining the pains people currently endure and the tenacious obstacles to change people currently confront.

Thesis Eleven: Promote Participatory Decision Making

To arrive at well-considered decisions, collectively implement decisions, and monitor that such decisions have been carried out correctly, a liberatory organization will need to provide extensive opportunities for members to participate in organizational decision making, including engaging in deliberations with others. To those ends, a liberatory organization will need to establish internal structures that facilitate everyone’s participation including, when possible, offering childcare at meetings and events, finding ways to reach out to those who might be immersed in kinship duties, striving to meet diverse accessibility needs, and aiding those with busy work schedules. 

A liberatory organization will need to also provide transparency regarding all actions by elected or delegated leaders, including placing a high burden of proof on keeping secret any agenda, whether to avoid repression or for any other reason, and to provide a mechanism to recall leaders or representatives who members believe are not adequately representing them, as well as to provide means to fairly, peacefully, and constructively resolve internal disputes.

Thesis Twelve: Build Empowerment, Not Hierarchy

To be liberatory, an organization’s structure and policies will need to approximate, as well as circumstances and priorities allow, the self-management norm that “each member has decision making influence proportional to the degree they are affected.” 

To that end, a liberatory organization will need to be internally classless including being structured so that a minority who are initially disproportionately equipped with needed skills, information, and confidence do not form a formal or informal decision-making hierarchy that leaves initially less-prepared members to perpetually follow orders or perform only rote tasks. 

Likewise, over time, a liberatory organization needs to apportion empowering and disempowering tasks to ensure that no individuals or sectors of members have a relative monopoly on information or position, and no subset of members has disproportionate say whether due to race, gender, class, or other attributes.

Thesis Thirteen: Celebrate & Protect Diversity

A liberatory organization must monitor and work to correct instances of sexism, racism, classism, ableism, transphobia, and homophobia, including having diverse roles suitable to people with different backgrounds, personal priorities, and personal situations. 

To those ends, a liberatory organization will need to celebrate internal debate and dissent and to allow dissenting views to exist and be tested alongside preferred views. It will need to guarantee members’ rights to organize “currents” or “caucuses” with full rights of democratic debate.

 Likewise, a liberatory organization will need to ensure that national, regional, city, and local chapters, as well as different sectors of the organization, can respond to their own circumstances and implement their own programs as they choose, so long as their choices do not block other groups equally addressing their own situations, or deny the shared goals and principles of the whole organization.

Thesis Fourteen: Start Now! Prefigure, Practice, Experiment, & Refine

Liberatory organizing will need to plant the seeds of the future in the present to enhance hope, to test and refine ideas, and to learn experiential lessons able to inform strategy and vision. To plant seeds of the future under present class, race, gender, sexual, age, ability, and power relations, liberatory organizing will need to not only constructively address the ways it’s members interrelate but to also establish internal norms that support building exemplary workplace, campus, and community institutions that represent and refine the values of the movement, which the organization then in turn offers as liberating alternatives to the status quo it combats.

Thesis Fifteen: Engage in Outreach & Build Structures of Outreach

To constantly grow membership among the class, community, nationality, and gender constituencies it aims to liberate, liberatory organizing will need to learn from and seek unity with audiences far wider than its own membership. It will need to attract and affirmatively empower young people and to organize people currently critical and even hostile to its aims, not least by participating in, supporting, building, and aiding diverse social movements and struggles beyond its own immediate agendas, and also by explicitly directly and respectfully addressing critical and even hostile constituencies in communities, on campuses, and at work. 

Liberatory organizing will also need to seek, develop, debate, disseminate, and advocate truthful news, analysis, vision, and strategy among its members and especially in the wider society, including developing and sustaining needed media institutions and means of face-to-face communication as well as using diverse methods of agitation and struggle—from educational efforts to rallies, marches, demonstrations, boycotts, strikes, occupations, and diverse direct action campaigns—to win gains and build movements.

Thesis Sixteen: Build Power Blocs

To sustain deep unity, liberatory organizing will need to go beyond seeking coalitions of diverse organizations and movements who agree on a minimum focus, to develop new forms of cross-constituency and cross-issue mutuality. New blocs of activist movements, campaigns, and organizations will often need to take as their shared program not a least common component of what they all individually favor, but the totality of their individual priorities, even including their differences, so that each movement, campaign, and organization in the bloc aids the rest and all thereby become dramatically more powerful.

Thesis Seventeen: Build Trajectories of Commitment & Momentum

Liberatory organizing will need to seek changes in society for citizens to enjoy immediately, while it also establishes by the words and methods of its struggles, the means it uses in its organizing, and the ideas it broaches and broadcasts, a likelihood that all those involved will pursue and win more change in the future. Liberatory organizing will need to seek short-term changes of its own conception by its own actions, but also need to seek short term changes that others conceive by supporting other movements and projects, both internationally, by country, and also locally, including addressing such matters as climate change, arms control, war and peace, the level and composition of economic output, income, agricultural relations, education, health care, housing, income distribution, duration of work, gender roles, racial relations, immigration, policing, media, law, and legislation. 

Liberatory organizing will need to seek and win gains by means that reduce oppression in the present and that prepare means, methods, and allegiances able to win more gains in the future, always leading toward liberation.

Thesis Eighteen: Choose Tactics to Serve Strategy

Liberatory organizing must embrace a diversity of tactics suited to diverse contexts that best serve flexible, resilient strategies guided by shared vision. 

Liberatory organizing will need to connect efforts, resources, and lessons across continents and from country to country, region to region, community to community, workplace to workplace, and campus to campus, even as it also recognizes that strategies and tactics suitable to different places and different times will differ. 

Liberatory organizing will need to take a long and encompassing view, so as to focus not solely on immediate tactical success or failure—such as stopping a meeting, completing a march, or winning a vote—but also and even mainly on broader matters such as how many new people are reached, what commitments are enlarged or enriched, and what infrastructure is created. It will need to combine respect for the urgency of immediate injustices that need to be righted with the patience that major long-term change requires. 

Liberatory organizing will, to that end, need to understand that vision orients aims, strategy informs program, and tactics implement plans. For each, it will need to pay close attention to implications of choices for advancing immediate campaigns, organization, and consciousness, but also for advancing longer run prospects, all for those immediately involved and for those viewing from a distance. For example, it will need to judge calls for participation in electoral politics case by case, including cultivating a cautious electoral attitude because of the captivating and corrupting dynamics of electoral campaigns, even while also recognizing their outreach potential and reform relevance.

Thesis Nineteen: Practice Regenerative Organizing

Liberatory organizing will need to develop mechanisms that provide financial, legal, employment, and emotional support to its members so that its members can be in better positions to participate in campaigns as fully as they wish and to navigate the various challenges and sometimes negative effects of taking part in radical actions. 

Liberatory organizing will need to substantially improve the life situations of its members, including aiding their feelings of self-worth, their knowledge, skills, and confidence, their mental, physical, sexual, and spiritual health, and even their social ties and engagements and leisure enjoyments. It will need to take a positive approach in all interpersonal and organizational matters, always seeking ways forward. It will need to address disagreements not to win against others, or to elevate self, but to find ways all can progress collectively successfully. Thus minority positions will need to be protected and preserved, as possible, in case in time they prove essential.

Thesis Twenty: Foster Leadership From Below

Liberatory organizing will need to understand that we are all different and that successful insights and paths forward are found, communicated, and advocated by some people earlier than by others in acts of “leadership”. Liberatory organizing will need to celebrate such acts but also to prioritize methods that ensure acts of leadership do not yield lasting differential empowerment. The key personal contribution of any leading person or group is elevating other persons or groups into leading, while organizational relations must propel and abet that priority.

Conclusion: Three Goals

Our primary goal is to make the case that organizers and diverse movements would benefit immensely from a widely shared positive perspective. We would benefit from a framework for coalescing around shared vision and strategy, for helping to identify shared aims, and for leveraging collective power to win immediate reforms on a trajectory of societal transformation. 

Would it matter if activists were to arrive at such a shared outlook that could span a country, many countries, or even the world? Would it matter if people who mainly address and seek anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian, anti-ecocide, or anti-war gains were to all share a unifying positive vision? Would it matter if behind calls to enrich and align struggles in different places for different gains, there arose a shared perspective? 

If not, there’s no need to think further on sharing these or any other theses on liberation. But if such a shared stance could assist each progressive, radical, revolutionary endeavor and could especially align them into much more effective mutual support, then seriously considering the idea of arriving at a shared positive perspective and a strategy for achieving it is essential. 

Our second goal is to move forward from identifying the need for a widely shared visionary and strategic framework, to proposing this particular draft framework for engagement. Are these ‘20 Theses for Liberation’ sensible, flexible, and general, but also rich enough to sustain a productive discussion and even generate shared, effective advocacy? They come from movements, experiences, organizations and diverse individuals, but we do not propose them as the only possible formulation. 

Across the broad spectrum of progressive and radical movements, there are sure to be reactions that these 20 theses are too long, too specific, lack something favorable, include something unfavorable, go beyond our means, utilize imprecise or un-preferred terminology, or are just something that no matter how worthy, will likely be ignored. Our hope is that these concerns are not a stopping point, but a starting point for undertaking further examination, discussion, debate, improvements, and refinements towards a shared basis, however different it might look from this draft, for future activism and organization building. 

How might such a final shared viewpoint emerge? By people talking, writing, reading, debating in person, in periodicals, in organizations. The result, of course, wouldn’t be a fixed, unchangeable stance. It would instead continually alter in accord with new experiences, contexts, and insights. The best result would be a continued, collective process of refining, adapting, and utilizing a unifying framework. We would be building and sustaining a culture of coalescing around shared vision and strategy—which is the work of building a movement of movements. We would be bringing separate agendas into powerful solidarity with one another. 

Our third and final goal is to invite engagement and responses to these 20 Theses, for which we must stop writing and start listening.


By Antara Haldar on INDEPENDENT

We’re signing our own death warrant putting too much faith in the market in our era of big tech and globalisation. Antara Haldar argues that it doesn’t have to be this way

It was the economic analogue of 9/11. The moment that changed everything.

Ten years ago this September, the iconic Lehman Brothers was the first domino to fall, setting off the event that has defined the times we live in – the Great Recession. It was like one of those big-studio disaster flicks (so much so that Bond movie director Sam Mendes has turned his attentions to the theme in his new work at London’s National Theatre, The Lehman Trilogy). Cue explosive trailer.

The year is 2008. A few wicked men – let’s call them The Quants – come up with a plan to achieve world domination. They unleash a reign of terror – holding the terrified, helpless masses hostage to their diabolical scheme; threatening their homes, their livelihoods, their savings. It looks like the end is nigh.

Just when we’re all starting to give up hope: enter the hero – the dusky saviour. Tall, dark, handsome and, above all, cool. Oh, and of course, with that baritone – the voice from God. He doesn’t quite screech onto the scene on a motorbike in a studded leather jacket – but almost; yes, indeed – the Harbinger of Hope definitely knows how to make an entrance.

Legislation is enacted. Bailouts are issued. Uplifting speeches are made. Yes we can, indeed. Peace is restored on earth. Or is it?

In the midst of the sound and fury – the heart-wrenching scenes of family homes being foreclosed, the tense images of placard-wielding Occupy protesters in Zuccotti Park, Congressmen making impassioned speeches – in some places, it’s business as usual.

Cut to an image of an innocuous figure somewhere in the echelons of the ivory tower, your average college economics professor: tweedy, bearded – all the loveable, deceptively harmless stereotypes. On a blackboard, he is drawing an all too familiar image: the ever-laconic, bashfully feminine downward sloping demand curve, always yearning for a fillip; and the relentlessly optimistic, thrusting supply curve, gazing north with no upward limit. The two intersecting at the equivalent of the G-spot of economics. The story being told here untouched by the storm raging outside, as disconnected from reality as the blackboard from a smartphone screen.

The pan of the camera in that last scene – its ever so slightly creepy quality – is warning enough. We can almost hear the menacing score in the background. Hollywood has schooled us sufficiently for that. We know we’re witnessing an ember of evil that remains unextinguished by the regulation and political rhetoric – something that can’t be snuffed out by physical force or even bombs: the idea of the economy.

And we know that we’re being set up for a sequel. The financial crisis is merely Act One.

The history of human ideas is so profoundly chequered, so saturated in overt perversion that the competition for the top spot for which one is most evil – the “most dangerous idea in the world”, as Francis Fukuyama puts it – is stiff. Genocide, slavery, colonialism, sexism and nuclear war are all worthy contenders in terms of the misery they are capable of inflicting. But I would argue that there is something just as demonic – that we systematically underestimate.

My answer, ostensibly far more vanilla, underpins – even valourises – the blood-splattered items that usually make the usual “top ten” lists. It’s annihilation without the oomph. A chronic killer, all the more deadly for striking in silence. Far more lethal than media favourites terrorism and cancer put together.

It is the notion of the modern economy.

Economic activity – the proverbial butcher, baker and candlestick maker – has existed for millennia, but for most of that period the relationship between people and things was the right way around. Things existed for people, rather than people for things. It is only as recently as the last century or two that this began to change.

The Industrial Revolution unleashed forces so profoundly powerful that its vortex drew everything – but everything – into it. The world that emerged in its wake was fundamentally different from what had come before, flipping the order of priority so that every other aspect of society became secondary to the organising logic of the economy; all else reduced to grist to the mill of the economic machinery. In his 1944 classic The Great Transformation, the social theorist Karl Polanyi coined a term for this rupture between economy and society: disembedding.

But the roots of the current economic crisis go back to the period immediately after the Second World War. In 1948 a young economist by the name of Paul Samuelson published a textbook called, simply, Economics. The title proved apt: it more or less defined the discipline since its publication. By far one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century, he went on to become the first American to win the Nobel Prize in economics – and ushered in an era in which America would authoritatively dominate, not only the global economy, but economic thinking. The volume presented a kind of unified field theory for modern economics and did so in what Samuelson emphatically insisted was the subject’s “natural language” – mathematics.

The congealing of consensus in the discipline that quantitative economics was the only game in town came at a price. Samuelson was one of the “good guys” – particularly on account of incorporating into mainstream economic thought the insights of the British economist (once considered a heretic for advocating more government spending when the economy was in a slump), John Maynard Keynes. Nor was he, by any means, the first to liberally deploy mathematics in economics – several before him, including Leon Walras and Alfred Marshall, had done so earlier in the 1900s. But against the backdrop of a world reeling from major tectonic shifts, quantitative economics offered the promise of a seductive certainty that made it central to the reconstruction of the post-war world. If the Industrial Revolution was the technological moment in which the rupture between the economy and society occurred, the methodological shift to the quantitative was the ideological one: the instant in which the intellectual arsenal of the supremacy of the economy became unassailable.

While the tenor of the discourse (that had once boasted a cast of characters like Adam Smith and Karl Marx) in the past had been more overtly political, the new paradigm was based on the notion that mathematical rigour produced politically neutral decisions. Not only was the complexity of political choice obfuscated, but quantitative economics established a monopoly over the conversation – excluding from it both other disciplines (former friends, like sociology, history, politics and philosophy) and ordinary people (whose lives it, ironically, increasingly dictated). Its identification of itself as a science justified – by analogy with the laws of nature – the complete abrogation of moral responsibility: just as an apple does not experience falling as an indignity inflicted by the laws of gravity. The cumulative result was a discipline that was insular and elitist – and imbued with a deep sense of invincibility. The Model was king, and the complexity of reality a footnote to it.

The post-Industrial Revolution economy made the tail-wagging-the-dog logic of things controlling people the norm – but this new mode of economic thought, by invoking the authority of pure science, silenced dissent as simple-minded and elevated it to the status of an unqualified symbol of progress.

If the Industrial Revolution was the prequel to the current economic moment, rest assured that it has a sequel. And that it will be – in Hollywood lingo – “bigger and badder” than what came before. The seismic shifts – globalisation, financialisation and technologisation – associated with what is euphemistically referred to as the “new economy” are poised to make the changes of the past look as incremental as an iPhone upgrade.

The Uber-Amazon-Airbnb-Tinder economy has changed how we travel and shop, live and love. Tech titans like Google, Facebook and Twitter have now become instrumental to how we vote – and how we think. That’s to say nothing of the developments in AI and genetics that are on the cusp of catapulting us into the dystopian future that was once the exclusive preserve of sci-fi.

If the manufacturing economy was the Frankenstein’s monster to human society’s Dr Frankenstein, the forces of technologisation are the equivalent of Godzilla – comparable to the shift from cavalry to chemical warfare. And, to the extent that the forces of, for instance, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and climate change represent existential threats of a kind that we have never encountered before, history may not, this time, even have the luxury of repeating itself.

To trust our destiny to the tyranny of The Model – a regime “of the 1 per cent, by the 1 per cent, for the 1 per cent”, to borrow a phrase coined by my co-author, Nobel prize winner in economics, Joseph Stiglitz – is to willingly sign our collective death warrant. The seemingly inoffensive corduroy-clad economics professor from Scene One of our story is to The Model what Oppenheimer was to the Manhattan Project – without him there would have been no device for The Quants to detonate. Far from the trickle-down advertised on the tin, the financial crisis has revealed the current economic system to be a can of worms devoted to funnelling up. The system is broken. By design. How much more evidence do we need? The explanation lies not just in the usual suspects that are vilified – the greedy bankers and corrupt politicians – but, even more fundamentally, the hubris of economic theory. If the current rubric could have nearly burnt the world to cinders tweaking algorithms for the derivatives market, can you imagine what they can do with the combined power of robotics and eugenics?

Polanyi’s prophesy was that this upside-down world order – in which monopoly money was real and people reduced to human chessmen at its will – could not endure. That the homogenising zeal of the modern economy, eviscerating labour, land and money was not only wrong, but unsustainable. And all the evidence suggests that this scenario is playing out. As we live more and more in the digital realm and less and less in the physical, the epidemic of alienation is exacerbated – undermining the only things (government, community, the collective contract) that might have the power to rein in the forces at play.

If populism is the primal scream that society is emitting in response to the financial crisis, obliteration will be the product of allowing the system to carry on. Injustice – and ultimate destruction – are written into the flowchart of our current economic system.

In a culture increasingly, and admirably, committed to standing up to structural injustice on various axes with righteous indignation – gender, race, ethnicity – the discourse on inequality still speaks in a relatively meek voice. The 99 per cent, predictably losers in the economic lottery, continue to harbour a sneaking suspicion that it’s somehow their fault that they didn’t make the cut – that they may legitimately have missed out on merit. Economic theory nods encouragingly on.

And this is where the solution lies. There is a line from the Preamble of the Constitution of UNESCO that has stayed with me: “Since war begins in the minds of men,” it goes, “it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” Every piece of the intricate latticework of human civilisation started with an idea. This is the defining feature of the Anthropocene; the essential hubris of humankind – the capacity to think our way into an alternative reality.

And, so, because we made it, we can change it.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to give a talk at Oxford. I was buoyed to see a group of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed undergraduates gathered, especially on a Friday night. The topic was “radicalising the curriculum”. The very “woke” students thought I would talk about race, or, if I was feeling eclectic, gender. As I started my talk, I could see some uncomfortable shuffling: what was the trouble, I thought? Was I being seen as a traitor to the cause, a sell-out for buying into the all-encompassing logic of economics?

The problem, I found out afterwards, was different: many in the audience (historians and sociologists, philosophers and biologists) were alienated by my use of the term “neoclassical economics”. How deeply ironic that these young adults, some of the best and brightest in the country, whose economic futures will be determined by this system of belief – who will never own homes and have their “avocado habit” blamed for it – can’t even name the ideas that serve as the blueprint for their world. After some coaxing the students – especially the politically invested (who, like me, were often made to feel embarrassed for this trait) – admitted that they were driven away from economics by the maths.

The methodological penis envy of economics has led to a field that is closed to a degree that has made the subject almost Masonic. But economics, as a discipline, is failing even on its own terms – as a predictive science. In the last few decades, it has not only missed the story of the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, but also been hard pressed to explain other major global events, such as the rise of the economies of the Global South, such as India’s and, particularly, China’s.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom: to borrow the tag line of the World Social Forum, another world truly is possible. Most importantly in the realm of ideas. The work of Nobel prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, together with legal scholar Cass Sunstein and fellow Nobel laureate in economics Richard Thaler, could fundamentally shift our understanding of the protagonist at the heart of the economy. Their work has helped replace the sociopathic hyper-materialistic rational actor that has been at the centre of economic analysis for centuries – known as homo economicus – with a better fleshed out, more human account. Developments in behavioural economics – drawing on the breakthroughs in the cognitive sciences, particularly moral psychology – are establishing that human beings are not entirely selfish and respond to non-material incentives.

The work of Stiglitz on asymmetric information picks a gaping hole in the notion of perfect markets. The only woman Nobel laureate in economics, Elinor Ostrom, demonstrated the importance of community-based solutions to market problems. Amartya Sen’s work on the inversion of means-ends reasoning in economics has been crucial: is the bicycle important, as Sen asks, or what a person can do with it? The Nobel archives curate – and reward – an endless array of contributions to a field that disproves many of the central tenets of economic theory; yet, in the face of wave upon wave of assault, neoclassicism – like the Trump presidency – seems to emerge virtually unscathed.

The challenge, then, is to join the dots between these individual breakthroughs to construct a genuinely new paradigm. Building what I call the “three Cs” into economics – cognition, context, and most importantly community – will go a long way towards making economics a more socially accountable discipline. But, ultimately, it will have to be a matter of putting ethics before economics.

The current mode of economic thought – neoclassicism – is not the only possible one. Nor has it been in place since the beginning of time. The notion of choosing to set aside market logic is not as radical or old-fashioned as it seems. We do it all the time. It’s the reason that we don’t pay our romantic partners for sex, hire friends to invite to dinner parties or lease out parts of our anatomy as billboards.

We need, following Polanyi, to re-embed – in humanity, and in the humanities.

Martin Luther King – as often quoted by Barack Obama – was fond of saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” But we are the ones tracing out that line. We hold the pencil in our hands. But before the world can change, our ideas about it need to change. Otherwise we are complicit in accepting the system. Saying that the monster that is the market must control man is like saying that the invention of the atom bomb makes nuclear war inevitable. Markets and morals are not mutually exclusive.

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