A cataclysm sentence for economics, Episode 26

  • Guests: Peter Bent, François Allisson, Herman Daly and Sara Stevano (see below for more information).
  • Host and Producer: Maria Bach, Centre Walras Pareto, Unil, Lasuanne (former Assistant Professor of Economics at the American University of Paris)
  • Guest hosts: Wilhelm Aminoff, Wyatt DeLong, Farrah Aridou, Jonathan Noulowe II and Paul Harding, students of a history of economics course at the American University of Paris.

Inspired by Radiolab’s episode on the cataclysm sentence, this episode explores whether we could find a cataclysm sentence for economics. Radiolab had found out about the famous and award winning physicist, Richard Feynman, who in the 60s wanted to revamp the physics undergraduate degree to get more researchers into physics. He started his course at Caltech with what he called the cataclysm sentence, which is:

“If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence was passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words?”

We changed it a bit to apply only to economics:

“The one piece of economic knowledge that you would pass on to a future society if ours were to perish in a cataclysm.”

Along with students at the American University of Paris, we interviewed four people, an economic historian, an ecological economist, a feminist political economist and an historian of economics. Here is the list of their cataclysm sentences:

Peter Bent, Department of Economics, Trinity College, Connecticut, USA

Julie Nelson’s (UMass Boston) definition of economics: “The study of the ways societies organize themselves to provide for the survival and flourishing of life.”

Herman Daly, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, USA

“Although not reducible to biophysics, the human economy is nevertheless ecologically constrained, especially in its primary macroeconomic goal of aggregate growth, by the fact that it is a physical subsystem of a finite ecosphere that lives from a non growing  entropic flow of solar energy captured by scarce and depleting terrestrial materials.”

Sara Stevano, Department of Economics, The School of Oriental and African Studies, London

“Power relations are intrinsic to economic phenomena at multiple and interconnected scales.”

François Allisson, Centre Walras Pareto, Unil, Lausanne

“Economics was a temporary science
Necessary in times of perceived scarcity
To understand the ways
In which human needs
In various ways of organising human activities”

(pictured above)

While everyone had slightly different takes on the task and took us down different avenues of knowledge, there were several common themes. So fasten your seat belts, as we take you on a journey of discovery and at times a rather philosophical, utopic and radical discussion about what really matters.

Featured music (apart from the usual intro and outro music): Sounds by Jordan Powell, Erokia: https://freesound.org/people/Erokia/

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