My good friend Rob Salmond has written an excellent post over at Policy Progress about the importance of the political left talking about economics.
If folk on the left are to challenge the caricature that they are economic illiterates swimming against the tide, we need – all of us – to confront economic issues much more directly.
Rob is of course right. But how has economics somehow become a dirty word to many on the left? It seems to me that the motivating drivers for the involvement of most on the left of politics are equality, fairness and social justice. In turn this seems to have meant for many that discussion focused on the direct mechanisms for achieving this through social policy. The point of course is that economics matters for those values as much as those social policy factors.
As someone who did not study economics to any great degree I have in the past found myself put off from studying economics, partly on the basis of buying into some of the stereotypes about where many economists are coming from. But as Rob (and others in the comments on the post) points out there is some great work underway, some of which has been discussed here, such as the work of Stiglitz and Sen on genuine progress indicators or Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level. These people’s work can not be dismissed by the right, and it must be understood by the left.
I was also interested in Jordan’s comment on Rob’s post when he asked
how can we who do have an understanding of economic policy debates and principles and the implications for our politics and our societies, make that more exciting – to the extent it’s the main focus of debate and campaigning energy inside our political movements?
I don’t know the full answer to that question, but I am sure that a part of it is talking about economics as part of the package of progressive politics, rather than in isolation. The direct links need to be drawn between social progress, environmentally sound development and the economic ideas that underpin them. Its no different than anything else in politics- there needs to be a vision and a believable and relevant narrative to go with it.
In any case, for those who are interested there are a number of links in Rob’s post and the comments that go with it that provide loads of references to some exciting progressive economic ideas.