Economics: A question of democracy

By Ola Helmich Borchgrevink Pedersen 

DSEP at the Bank of England’s Future Forum 2017

If most people do not understand what economists and politicians say when they talk about the economy, we have a democratic problem. At least that is the claim from the newly founded student group ‘Durham Society for Economic Pluralism (DSEP)’. Last week they met the public in Liverpool, together with The Bank of England, to talk about the economy.

Econocracy

The last couple of years, new student societies has been formed all over UK, criticising  the current state of economics. They call their movement Economic Pluralism, arguing that the way economics currently is taught is to narrow and lacks critical thinking. Founded last year, DSEP brought this idea to Durham.

Another main feature of the movement is the focus on spreading knowledge and understanding of the economy to ordinary people, aiming to make economics more accessible and understandable. They claim that economists constrain politics and that the dominating jargon of economics in the public debate excludes ordinary people from taking part in the public discourse.

Last year, former students from the pluralist movement at Manchester University released the book Econocracy, claiming that our democracy has gone from a system of political values and debate towards a system managed entirely by powerful economic experts.

The debate on the role of experts in our society is not a new one, and has got increasing attention after the financial crisis of 2007 with events such as Trump and Brexit.

President of DSEP, Ola H. B. Pedersen, says that it is a crucial point to focus on public education. “We think it is essential for our democracy to have an inclusive public discourse where most people can take part. According to surveys, most people do not feel they understand what is being said when economists and politicians talks about the economy.”

Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang points out: “Economics is 95 % common sense. We hope giving people basic knowledge on topics such as jobs, wages, prices and the national budget will make it easier to understand and take part in the public debate.”

The future Forum

The Bank of England has also recently set its focus on public knowledge about the economy, and dedicated this year’s annual ‘Bank of England Future Forum’ to making economics more accessible. Together with the pluralists organisations Rethinking Economics and Economy, The Bank invited the public to talk and learn about the economy in Liverpool.

The Governor, Mark Carney, pointed out the issue in his opening remarks:

“Three quarters think there should be better education about the economy and half want a better understanding themselves but virtually no – one – just 1 in 10 – think public figures talk about economics in an accessible way. Today, we are trying to bridge that gap.”   

Sally, Dan and Ola from DSEP were co-organisers of the event, hoping to bring this idea to Durham as a good opportunity to see what worked and what did not.

Helping Durham understand Economics

Many Durham Societies already focus on contributing to the local community. The DSEP aim  to develop workshops where locals can learn about basic economics in an understandable way. These projects are part of a wider national vision to strengthen democracy in the UK through ensuring people understand and can take an active role in it.

Image from Bank of England Forum with Durham University 

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