BITS & BRIEFS: How the Great Regression began // Leisure for the sake of capitalism // Inequality Paradigm // Evictions never end // Precarity and fast food // State-regulated prostitution

Wolfgang Streeck: “Neoliberalism arrived with globalization or else globalization arrived with neoliberalism; that is how the Great Regression began… Whoever puts a society under economic or moral pressure to the point of dissolution reaps resistance from its traditionalists.”

B35_Tokumitsu_opener_10sec

© Stephan Walter

The rhetoric about leisure being “restorative” emerged since capitalism firstly set us to be productive — by Miya Tokumitsu

Mike Savage: We’re seeing a new ‘Inequality Paradigm’ in social science, and it has to be amplified

Their “American Dream” is in the hands of their landlords. Eviction is the core of American poverty, compellingly shows and asserts Matthew Desmond

Eating unhealthy fast food is associated more with how many hours or jobs your work than with low income per se, a new study finds

> On state-regulated prostitution in the Middle East in the interwar period: the local planning of global mobility — Liat Kozma on her book Global Women, Colonial Ports

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Joseph Schumpeter: Social structures are coins that do not readily melt

Economic sociologists an political economists will surely discern the grace and insight in the following Joseph Schumpeter’s quote (from his magnum opus Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy), which beautifully describes the essence of institutions, their socio-historical embeddedness, as well as their persistence in front of change:  

Social structures, types and attitudes are coins that do not readily melt. Once they are formed they persist, possibly for centuries, and since different structures and types display different degrees of this ability to survive, we almost always find that actual group and national behaviour more or less departs from what we should expect it to be if we tried to infer it from the dominant forms of the productive process.” (Schumpeter 1943: 12-13) 

Joseph SchumpeterCapitalism, Socialism and Democracy

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The Role of Money in Social Life: Morality and Power in the World of the Poor

by Ariel Wilkis*

“Perhaps behind the coin is God.” — Jorge Luis Borges, The Zahir (1949) 

My book The Moral Power of Money: Morality and Economy in the Life of the Poor (Stanford University Press, 2017) offers a new focus for interpreting the multiple power relations that configure the world of the poor. It analyzes heterogeneous money exchanges among the urban poor in Buenos Aires and regards how the money circulates on formal, informal and illegal markets, through welfare and NGO assistance, and around political, religious and family ties. Along this path, the moral dimension of money plays a critical role in the production of economic, class, political, gender and generational bonds. In an innovative dialogue that includes Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology of power and the sociology of money of Viviana Zelizer, this book proposes the concept of moral capital to interpret the connections between money, morality and power. This sociology allowed us to understand that money is more like a puzzle comprised of several pieces. The concept of moral capital allows reveals that the pieces of money are shaped by ideas and moral feelings, and that each of these pieces differs from the others. The dynamic of these pieces—a dynamic involving hierarchies, tensions and contradictions—challenges the definition and the negotiation of people’s status and power in specific social orders. This research explores the roles of money that do not appear among its functions in economy textbooks. Along the way, we hit upon subjects such as hierarchy, domination, status and competition. In short, the proposal of this book is to build a toolbox based on the moral sociology of money to understand the role money plays in social life today.
The Moral Power of Money morality and economy in the life of the poorIn Argentina and in other parts of the world, the capitalist credit market has expanded to play a key role in the economic lives of the poor. The financialization of the economy shapes the economic life of the poor, creating spheres for distinction and moral domination. The poor must make an effort to have their virtues recognized in order to access credit. By examining how consumer credit began expanding to low-income sectors in 2003, chapter one unveils the moral hierarchies rooted in the circulation of lent money.  This chapter shows the moral ubiquity of money lent in heterogeneous situations, both formal and informal where money circulates. It also reveals how moral capital becomes a guarantee that sustains the power relations at the core of these situations. For those with scarce economic and cultural assets, the daily management of finances involves fighting to have their values acknowledged. Moral capital is their passport. However, like all forms of acknowledgment, it is rare and thus can become a form of domination that some are forced to accept in order to access the material benefits capitalism has to offer.
The chapter two analyzes how the underground economy operates as a moral space of income. This exploration will reveal the dynamics of questioning and legitimizing what has to be done to earn money. Therefore, the concept of moral capital is a useful instrument for understanding how this piece circulates or is taken out of circulation in response to a moral assessment of people’s actions. Having moral capital is the way in to these economic transactions that are not regulated by law. Informal and illegal markets are moral spaces where the legitimacy of money earned comes into play. To get involved in these transactions, moral hierarchies are established among participants and they are the also the prerequisites for successful participation.
The conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs have become the new paradigm of the struggle against poverty. These programs have progressively expanded to around thirty countries in the region that has come to be known as the Global South. The expansion of CCT programs changed the household budgets of the poor and became a focus of public debate. The use of money donated by the State became a way to morally discredit the poor. Money donated to the poor instantly becomes a source of suspicion. To understand this, the chapter three reconstructed the place of money donated by the state in different hierarchies of money. This chapter identifies the different strategies individuals use to elude the biases associated with this type of money such as stigma cleansing rituals, exclusion strategies and silence in response to such judgments. Beyond the efforts to avoid the stigma associated with donated money, the reconstructed scenes show how monetary hierarchies uphold power relations among those who have the authority to judge and those who must acquiesce to such biases.
Through the processes of democratization in Argentina (and most of Latin America) that began at the beginning of the 1980s, political scientists and sociologists began examining money in political life through the financial of political parties and the political clientelism. The chapter four goes beyond a narrative of money’s instrumental use in politics. Has the monetization of political activities dissolved values, commitments, and loyalties among the poor? Is this corruption or an ethical exchange among people who lack cash but possess moral capital? This chapter explores how politics involves power relations that can be understood through the moral dimension of money. This chapter shows how residents of Villa Olimpia, a villa miseria (slum), made political money the accounting unit to acknowledge the fulfillment of political obligations that bind leaders and their followers together in relationships of power. To put it more succinctly, this community places political money at the core of its collective life.
The chapter five narrates the competition between political and religious leaders of Villa Olimpia. It shows how these power struggles are rooted in the accumulation of moral capital associated with the pieces of money. Both religious and political networks create social distinctions among their members. While circulating, political and sacrificed money carry a series of social orders and hierarchies of money that often overlap. Each piece is indecipherable outside of the hierarchy of money and at the same time projects a social hierarchy. Between the two pieces, there is fiery competition for the range of objects and people involved. These two puzzle pieces, regulated by specific systems of feelings and perspectives, compete with one another.
The previous chapters explore how money produces political hierarchies as it circulates. The last one presents the logic at work when money circulates in the domestic sphere. It explores how the social order of the family is rooted in money. The pieces of money produce a hierarchy among family members (fathers and sons, husbands and wives) to determine each family’s ranking in the social order of the neighborhood. The different pieces of money (with their hierarchies, tensions, conversions) form a unit that allows us to observe and understand the family universe. On the one hand, they help us understand intergenerational relations. The parents instill the value of safeguarded money in their children. This piece of money shows how people create and recreate the family social order in the sphere of money, which involves both mutual assistance and conflicts, helping complete family projects or tearing them apart. On the other hand, they help us understand gender relations as well. Safeguarded money provides a piece of evidence that applies to all the pieces. Its circulation carries gendered obligations; men and women are judged based on whether they meet these obligations. Poor women are viewed positively when they safeguard their households both emotionally and economically. In the hands of women money had to be used to guarantee family continuity. Any other use of the money would be questionable, transforming the safeguarded money into suspicious money.
The contributions from the moral sociology of money stem from an ethnographic reconstruction of the everyday life of poor people who live in Villa Olimpia. In this work, I identified and assembled the pieces of money that best captured the dynamics of solidarity and conflict that characterized social bonds. However, the book takes the arguments, concepts and empirical evidence presented in the hope of reimagining economic sociology (Aspers, Dodd and Anderberg 2015) outside Villa Olimpia and the world of the poor. The moral sociology of money that I propose is a theoretical and methodological toolbox that can be applied to other social worlds, establishing bridges with other areas of knowledge in sociology.
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* Ariel Wilkis is a researcher at the National Council of Scientific and Technological Research (CONICET) and Co-Director of the Center for Social Studies of Economics at the National University of San Martín, Argentina. 

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Great academic opportunities: 22 calls for papers, 5 postdocs, 4 jobs, 3 summer schools, 3 awards, 2 PhD fellowships

Dear ES/PE community member, see below an abundant list of great and (especially) interesting call for papersacademic opportunities: 21 calls for papers for conferences and workshops (many are free, some are partially or fully funded), 5 postdoc and visiting positions, 4 job openings, 3 doctoral courses and summer schools, 3 awards, 2 doctoral fellowships, and a call for papers for a special issue — in various areas of economic sociology, political economy, and related fields, with January 4 — February 1 deadlines. Share this post with your colleagues and students. Good luck!

Calls for papers:

CfP: “Global Reordering: Prospects for Equality, Democracy and Justice“, the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics conference, Doshisha University (Kyoto, Japan), 23-25 June, 2018.  DL: January 29
SASE is THE scholarly and professional organization of economic sociologists and political economists. Its meetings are always intellectual fetes because of the richness of insightful contents and a warm stimulating atmosphere. SASE has 16 Research Networks focusing on various aspects of the socio-political study of the economy, and during the meeting will be also held 11 thematic mini-conferences.
On the day before the conference will be conducted the 3rd SASE Early Career Workshop for PhD students and junior researchers. Workshop participant will have their full conference fee waived; their accommodation will be paid; and they will be also eligible to apply for a contribution to their travel costs. DL: January 8

> CfP: “Cooperatives in a rapidly changing world: innovation in enterprise and community“, International Cooperative Alliance conference, Hof van Wageningen Conference Centre, Wageningen (The Netherlands), 4-6 July 2018. DL: January 5

> CfP: The 22nd Latin American Social and Public Policy conference, University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA, US), 23-24 March, 2018. DL: January 12 

CfP: “The Markets of Misery, 18-21th centuries” international conference, University Lumière Lyon 2 (Lyon, France), November 18-19 2018. DL: January 15 

> CfP: “Pluralistic perspectives of business history: gender, class, ethnicity, religion“, Association of Business Historians annual conference, The Open University Business School, Milton Keynes (UK), 29-30 June, 2018. DL: January 15

> CfP: “European Spaces of Financialization”, Global Network on Financial Geography fifth seminar, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium), 28-29 May 2018. DL: January 15

> CfP: “Consumer Culture Fairytales: Ecstasy, Fury and Vision“, Consumer Culture Theory Conference, University of Southern Denmark (Odense, Denmark), 28 June – 1 July 2018. DL: January 15

> CfP: “Measurement at the Crossroads: History, philosophy and sociology of measurement” conference, Paris Diderot University, June 27-29, 2018. Students may be granted travel bursaries. DL: January 15

> CfP: “The Firm and The Sea: Chains, Flows and Connections“, the European Business History Association 22nd Congress, Polytechnic University Of Marche (Ancona, Italy), September 6-8, 2018. DL: January 15

> CfP: “Working for Fairness at Work“, the Canadian Industrial Relations Association conference, ESG-UQÀM, Montreal, May 2-4, 2018. A Graduate Student Consortium will be held mainly on May 2nd in the morning. DL: January 18 

> CfP: “Workplace Democracy Revisited: Labour and Practices of Participation, Workers’ Control and Self-Management in Global Perspective“, the 54th Conference of Labour and Social History, 6-8 September 2018, Linz (Austria). DL: January 28

> CfP: “Market Situations – Situated Markets“, the 5th Interdisciplinary Market Studies Workshop, Copenhagen Business School, June 6 – 8, 2018. Keynote speakers: Jens Beckert and Eve Chiapello. DL: January 29

> CfP: “New Ways of Working: Rematerializing Organizations in the Digital Age” the 8th Organizations, Artifacts and Practices Workshop, VU University Amsterdam (The Netherlands), 21-22th June 2018. There are no fees. DL: January 29

> CfP: “The limits of the market: commodification of nature and body“, an interdisciplinary workshop, University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (France), 13-14 September, 2018. No participation fee. DL: January 29

CfP: “The return of politics to employment relations“, British Universities Industrial Relations Association conference, Middlesex University (UK). DL: Jan 30

> CfP: Hoover Archives Summer Workshop on Political Economy for established scholars, Stanford University (California, USA), 25-29 June, 2018. If admitted to the workshop, scholars will be provided with a $2500 honorarium. DL: January 31

> CfP: “Employment relations in the 21st century: Challenges for theory and research  in a changing world of work”, the Industrial Relations in Europe conference, KU Leuven (Belgium), 10-12 September 2018. DL: January 31

> CfP: “Gender, Race, Class and Ecology in and through Critical Political Economy“, Critical Political Economy Research Network of the European Sociological Association midterm workshop, University of Lisbon (Portugal), 1-2 June 2018. There is no fee for attending the workshop. DL: February 1

> CfP: “Money on the Left Word, Image, Praxis“, the Humanities Division of the Modern Money Network interdisciplinary conference, University of South Florida (Tampa, Florida, USA), March 9, 2018. DL: February 1

> CfP: “Post/social/isms” conference, Gólya Community House, Budapest (Hungary), 24-25 May, 2018. No fee for participants without funding. DL: February 1 

Calls for contributions to special issues:

CfP for an issue on “Digital Work and Labor in the New Economy“, Research in the Sociology of Work. DL for submission of papers: January 15

PhD scholarships:

> Regulating Responsibility? Transnational Corporations, Human Rights & Global Production Chains”, Lord Kelvin/Adam Smith 4-years PhD scholarship, University of Glasgow (UK). DL: January 12

PhD candidate to work on the Geography of Corporate Financialization, KU Leuven (Belgium). DL: January 31

Prizes:

> Joseph Dorfman Dissertation Award in the history of economic thought and methodology, The History of Economics Society. DL: January 8.

Egon-Matzner-Award for Socio-Economics for a junior scholar by the Centre of Public Finance and Policy, Vienna University of Technology. DL: January 10

> The CES Research Network European Integration and the Global Political Economy and the journal Comparative European Politics announce their Paper Prize for researchers in early stages of their career. DL: January 31

Schools and doctoral courses:

> CfA: “What is work?“, PhD course at the Graduate School, Arts at Aarhus University (Denmark), 31 January – 2 February ,2018. The course is free of charge. DL: January 15 

> CfA: The Global Network on Financial Geography spring school for early career researchers, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium), 30 May – 2 June 2018. The Spring School is preceded by the 5th FinGeo Global Seminar. DL: January 15

> CfA: “Social enterprises and research methods: Qualitative methods, mixed methods and international comparisons“, the 7th EMES training school for PhD students and early career scholars, Marseille (France), June 19-22, 2018. The fee covers participation, accommodation, full board, and teaching materials. DL: January 22

Postdoctoral and visiting positions:

> Visiting Fellowships for junior and senior researcher, Center for the History of Political Economy, Duke University ( Durham, North Carolina, USA). DL: January 5

> Two Postdoctoral 3-year positions in ERC project “Effort and Social Inequality – Advancing Measurement and Understanding Parental Origin Effects”, the Department of Social Sciences of Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. DL: January 15

> Postdoctoral 2-year training program on Social and Economic Inequality, Inequality in America Initiative, Harvard University. DL: January 16

 > Three Postdoctoral Research Associates to support the projects on Socialism in Global Perspective, Exeter University (South West England, UK). DL: January 17

Postdoctoral position in economics and history, The Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University. DL: January 31

Job openings:

> Tenure-stream Assistant Professor in economic sociology / organizations / social theory, Department of Sociology, York University (Ontario, Canada). DL: January 4

>  Professor in Economic Sociology and Sociology of Work and Organizations,  Scuola Normale Superiore (Pisa, Italy). DL: January 26

> Chair in Sociology with expertise in sociology of work or economic sociology, The School of Sociology and Politics at the University of Bristol (UK). DL: January 28

Professor in Consumption, Culture and Commerce, Department of Marketing & Management, University of Southern Denmark. DL: January 28

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Top 10 Most-read Economic Sociology and Political Economy Posts of 2017

As 2017 (already) comes to an end, I rounded up the top 10 most-read posts of the year on Economic Sociology and Political Economy community blog. Besides being interesting, enlightening and thought-provoking, it turned out that these posts reflect to a large extent the complex realities of political economies throughout the world as well as intellectual challenges of those studying them in 2017.
The ES/PE community proudly counts almost 50,000 members, followers, and readers from about 130 countries — researchers, students, practitioners, and activists, who constantly generate more than 150,000 monthly page views on our sites and via social media. As we all conclude this year and mull over the next one, what can be said with certainty is that economic sociology and political economy perspectives and insights will be essentially needed to keep on reflecting, debunking, and realizing. More work ahead…

> “If you think the economy is more important than the environment, try holding your breath while counting your money.”

>top10 Who is an Economist? Here is Keynes’ Answer

Zygmunt Bauman on Liberalism and Neoliberalism

Karl Polanyi on the Rise of Fascism and Market Economy

Theodor Adorno on the Division between Economics and Sociology 

Pierre Bourdieu: Economism is a Form of Ethnocentrism

Economics to Sociology Phrasebook 🙂

Neil Smelser: “Economic sociology, intellectually, is one of the strongest fields in sociology”

Giddens: We are suffering from ‘cosmopolitan overload’ and a huge task lies before us – to create responsible capitalism

World Inequality Report 2018: Great Data, Bright Analysis, Perturbing Reality 

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The Holiday Spirit

This guide to Finnish culture has a pretty revolutionary image of Santa Claus…
 😉
Dear ES/PE community members throughout the world, Happy Holidays!!
Positive, Enlightening, and Transforming New Year!
Oleg Komlik

Santa Claus Karl Marx

The picture is courtesy of Ben Walsh

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BITS & BRIEFS: Jens Beckert // Humanities and finance // Globalization as an idea // Black Neoliberalism // Bridging Comparative Political Economy and Economic Sociology

Congratulations to Jens Beckert on being awarded Germany’s highest scientific award Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize (€2.5 million in research funds) for his work in reinvigorating the social sciences with an interdisciplinary perspective, especially in the intersection of sociology and economics. Beckert, the director at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne and a leading economic sociologist, is one of the few social scientists to receive this honor which historically favors natural sciences.

> Humanities have a sound expertise to understand finance because it is entangled with narrative and realism — by Michelle Chihara

Capturing ideas, capturing economists: Globalization and Free Trade’s rise and fall — by Nikil Saval

> The distance between Comparative Political Economy and Economic Sociology should be bridged — urges Sascha Münnich in the Economic Sociology European Newsletter devoted to this topic

The genealogy of Black Neoliberalism and “progressive conservatism”: From Ed Brooke to Barack Obama —  by Leah Wright Rigueur

The Millennial housing trend of communal living is a return to the Middle Ages common practice — by Ilana E. Strauss

globalization

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World Inequality Report 2018: Great Data, Bright Analysis, Perturbing Reality

world inequality reportThe World Inequality Lab led by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman, Facundo Alvaredo and Lucas Chancel released today the first of its kind World Inequality Report 2018The Report aims to become the comprehensive reference report on income and wealth inequality around the world, and to stimulate extensive global and local debates about it. To pursue the essential mission to promote research on global inequality dynamics and maintain the unique World Wealth and Income Database, the Lab works in close coordination with over one hundred researchers covering nearly seventy countries. 
On the first pages of the Report, state the authors:

“By developing this report, the World Inequality Lab seeks to fill a democratic gap and to equip various actors of society with the necessary facts to engage in informed public debates on inequality…
We show that income inequality has increased in nearly all world regions in recent decades, but at different speeds. The fact that inequality levels are so different among countries, even when countries share similar levels of development, highlights the important roles that national policies and institutions play in shaping inequality…
Since 1980, very large transfers of public to private wealth occurred in nearly all countries, whether rich or emerging. While national wealth has substantially increased, public wealth is now negative or close to zero in rich countries. Arguably this limits the ability of governments to tackle inequality; certainly, it has important implications for wealth inequality among individuals…
Tackling global income and wealth inequality requires important shifts in national and global tax policies. Educational policies, corporate governance, and wage-setting policies need to be reassessed in many countries.”

The World Inequality Report 2018 is a great resource of enormous data and bright analyses, based on a cutting-edge methodology, of our perturbing and troubling socio-economic and political reality. The Report, written in a very accessible manner, is available in English, French, Spanish, German, Russian, Hindi, Chinese, Arabic, and Russian. 
In the course of the last 15 years, Piketty et al. have masterly measured and surveyed inequality in a series of groundbreaking researches. This persistent and continuous endeavour culminated in the publishing of Capital in the 21st Century (2014) which immediately became a bestseller among academics and the general public, signifying an important shift in the way economics, social sciences, and policy makers (should) consider inequality. Within this context, economic sociologists and political economists, based on the richness of our scholarships and our moral obligation to society, must be an essential part of this programmatic shift and contribute theoretical and intellectual insights to explain the socio-political origins, mechanisms, and consequences of income and wealth inequality, on the local and global levels. 
Read this new report, share it; and discuss, teach and study the topic of  inequality — Act.

world inequality report piketty

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Paul Samuelson: Chicago is not so much a place as a state of mind

In 1954 a future Nobel laureate in economic sciences Paul Samuelson published one of his seminal articles “The Pure Theory of Public Expenditure”, which formalized the concept of public goods (which he called “collective consumption goods”) — i.e. goods that are non-rival and non-excludable. In this research, Samuelson showed and asserted that “No decentralized pricing system can serve to determine optimally these levels of collective consumption“. He also highlighted that “it is in the selfish interest of each person to give false signals, to pretend to have less interest in a given collective consumption activity than he really has.” (p. 388).
A decade later, Jora R. Minasian wrote a paper titled “Television Pricing and the Theory of Public Goods” in which he railed against Samuelson’s research and conclusion. Actually, Minasian misinterpreted and misrepresented them. In his bright and stormy rejoinder “Public Goods and Subscription TV: Correction of the Record” Samuelson masterly refuted Minasian’s propositions. In his final words, inter alia, Samuelson emphasized an essential point which is relevant till today:

“The final question is, Why all this? Is it because, despite all denials, Chicago is not so much a place as a state of mind? Is it because of the fear that finding an element of the public-good problem in an area is prone to deliver it over to the totalitarian state and take it away from the free market? The line between conviction and paranoia is a fine line… Only a bigoted devotee of laissez faire will find the theory of public goods, properly understood, subversive.” (Samuelson 1964: 83)

University of Chicago Department of Economics
Samuelson, Paul A. 1954. “Pure Theory of Public Expenditure.The Review of Economics and Statistics 36 (4): 387-389.
Samuelson, Paul A. 1964. “Public Goods and Subscription TV: Correction of the Record.”  The Journal of Law & Economics 7: 81-83

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Is Homo Economicus Dead?

by Peter Fleming*

In Martin Scorsese’s film The Wolf of Wall Street the narcissistic, egotistical and money hungry investment banker Jordan Belford memorably summed up his attitude to life: “Let me tell you something. There’s no nobility in poverty. I’ve been a poor man, and I’ve been a rich man. And I choose rich every fucking time.”
Belford is terrifying not simply because of his ruthless demeanour and unscrupulous greediness. He scares us because this persona was celebrated, nurtured and encouraged by a particular economic paradigm: neoliberal capitalism. He’s a product of our own making. At the end of the film we are left wondering, how could such as monster be unleashed on society?
Jordan Belford is meant to epitomize ‘homo economicus’ — the self-interested, utility maximizing individual that is at the heart of neoclassical and mainstream economics. Of course, homo economicus is an imaginary figure, an idealization that economists assume we more or less approximate. An ‘as if’ proposition (let’s assume people act as if they are self-interested individuals) that feeds abstract econometric formula and theorems. While homo economicus has been around since the days of Adam Smith, only with the rise of Thatcher and Reagan did governments have the audacity to completely rebuild society after its image. And behavioural economics has done little to dethrone the trend.
The Death of Homo EconomicusThere is a problem with The Wolf of Wall Street narrative. I noticed it when I began conducting research for my new book The Death of Homo Economicus: Work, Debt and the Myth of Endless Accumulation (Pluto Press, 2017). When the myth of homo economicus was used to inspire the wholesale reform of education, the workplace, healthcare and government agencies, it wasn’t really the rich who were affected. Ironically, the wealthy tend to enjoy a more socialist and gentler surroundings, particularly the plutocracy. No, homo economicus was probably designed for those who could never live like Jordan Belford, namely, the unemployed, working poor and the middle-classes who were least likely to successfully live up to the ideals of possessive individualism.
A good example here is human capital theory developed by Gary Becker, Milton Friedman and T.W. Schultz. It assumes that people actively invest in their own earning potential through skill acquisition, training and education. But the notion has strong ideological elements too. Chicago School ministers alleged that Marxists are wrong for seeing any clash of interests between labor and capital because now everybody’s a capitalist of some sort. Moreover, human capital cannot be owed by anyone else and its benefits are only accrued by its individual possessor. Thus, why should anyone else pay for its investment, particularly the public purse?
In one foul swoop, human capital theory helped break unions since they’re irrational in this worldview. It also stigmatized public investment in education and training. Now you are on your own, and tough luck if who can’t afford a tertiary education. We can draw a direct line from neoclassical ideas like human capital theory to massive problems today facing working people such as student loan repayments, insecure contracts and low wages. Of course, the ultra-rich curiously had little interest in human capital or its cognates for this very reason.
The provocative title of my book is trying to highlight what has happened after 30 years of being water-boarded by the ideology of homo economicus. It is truly bizarre that following the 2007-2008 financial crisis the glorification of homo economicus didn’t die. Indeed, the ethos is promoted in both the public and private sectors more now than ever, driven by policy makers, politicians and captains of industry. Economic historians will be trying to figure out why for years to come.
However, what about the real people who have to live their lives according to the extreme and largely unworkable ideal of homo economicus? This is where the real tragedy of neoliberalism lies in my opinion, which is consistently swept under the carpet and seldom mentioned in the American Economic Review. In the real world, homo economicus is sick and dying off at an alarming rate. Two areas are explored in the book to back up this point.
When filtered through the lens of neoliberal capitalism, homo economicus is first and foremost a worker. She requires income to invest and consume. Hence why work is still so celebrated, even in the face of structural unemployment, a stress epidemic and the coming wave of robotics that threatens to abolish work for good. For sure, over the last 15 years a near suicidal work ethic has emerged, exacerbated by economic insecurity and mobile technology. Epidemiologists have increasingly pointed to the public health crisis that’s unfolding due to overwork and stress. It’s now up there with smoking.
Just look at the case of Moritz Erhardt. He was a 21-year-old Bank of America intern working in London. He put in an incredible 71 hours of non-stop work and died of an epileptic seizure. The tragedy raised serious questions about the killer-work ethic that is condoned in many institutions, even among the poor and unemployed. For example, I also mention another UK case of a very ill woman whom the government declared fit for work and thus ineligible for welfare payments – she died the day the letter arrived.
I also examine the issue of debt, particularly student debt. I suggest this directly stem from human capital theory and the argument that funding education is strictly a private responsibility. In the US the student loan bill stands at a breath-taking US$1.26 trillion. And the stress and anxiety caused by indebtedness is killing people. For example, Jason Yoder incurred a $100,000 debt studying at Illinois State University. He committed suicide after he failed to find a job. His mother said that even when preparing for her son’s funeral the debt collector agency constantly called about the outstanding sum.
So this book is about how an idea – homo economicus – is sadly still alive and well in theory, but in practice represents an unfolding human catastrophe that is hidden in plain sight. When I imagine homo economicus personified I don’t see The Wolf of Wall Street’s Jordan Belford. Jason Yoder is closer to the mark.
The real question at the heart of the book is this: What will replace homo economicus and what kind of economic analysis will emerge as a result?
Market individualism is basically about privatizing the economic event. Not only public assets and state organizations, but the individual productive act itself, with work as leading example. There is no way to collectively let off steam and call for progressive change. Workers fall in upon ourselves and remain mute as a result. Thus we need to vigorously revive a notion of the public good in my opinion, where economic (mis)fortunes are lived not as a private torment but openly acknowledged as a trans-individual phenomenon. Homo Politicus is thus diametrically opposed to homo economicus because s/he reverses the privatization of work and debt, viewing it as a shared problem that no individual should face alone.
This is the central message of my book, The Death of Homo Economicus.
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Peter Fleming is Professor of Business and Society at Cass Business School, City, University of London. He is a columnist for the Guardian and the author of The Mythology of Work, also published by Pluto Press (2015).

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