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Contextual economics

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From Neva Goodwin Starting in the early 1990s I have worked with a number of great colleagues to develop a full alternative that we call contextual economics. The name comes from our conviction that an economic system can only be understood when it is seen to operate within a social/psychological context that includes values, ethics, norms, motivations, culture, politics, institutions, and history; and a biophysical context that includes the natural world as well as the built environment. The starting point for our contextual economics textbooks is an inquiry into goals: What are the appropriate goals for an economy? And, relatedly: What are the appropriate goals for the discipline of economics? Contextual economics emphasizes that most traditionally understood economic goals –

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from Neva Goodwin

Contextual economicsStarting in the early 1990s I have worked with a number of great colleagues to develop a full alternative that we call contextual economics. The name comes from our conviction that an economic system can only be understood when it is seen to operate within a social/psychological context that includes values, ethics, norms, motivations, culture, politics, institutions, and history; and a biophysical context that includes the natural world as well as the built environment.

The starting point for our contextual economics textbooks is an inquiry into goals: What are the appropriate goals for an economy? And, relatedly: What are the appropriate goals for the discipline of economics? Contextual economics emphasizes that most traditionally understood economic goals – efficiency, maximizing production or consumption, earning money – are best understood as intermediate goals, that is, means to other ends. The relevant final goals might include, for example, the satisfaction of basic physical needs (e.g., for food, water and temperature regulation; happiness (including a good balance of comfort and stimulation); self-respect and the respect of others; self-actualization and a sense of meaning; fairness in the distribution of life possibilities; freedom; democracy and participation; and a natural environment that supports healthy human life. These may be summarized as well-being. The scope of consideration is all humans, in the present and in the future, and regardless of the extent of their involvement in market transactions.

In defining the economy, contextual economics adds to the traditional trio of “production, consumption and exchange” a critical fourth function: resource maintenance. This includes upkeep of manufactured capital, maintenance and enhancement of a healthy stock of natural capital, and many of the kinds of work listed above as most essential for human survival and well-being. It may be that it was because this work is so often performed by women that resource maintenance has not previously been included in the list of essential economic functions; indeed, it was a leading feminist economist, Julie Nelson, who, as a collaborator on contextual economics textbooks, introduced this concept.

Post-Neoliberal Economics

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