Philosophical economists and privatised oceans

conomics is a discipline filled with jargon. Obsessed with scientific objectivity and mathematical truth, the study of the economy can sometimes seem too technical to tackle without expertise. According to Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek Finance minister during the 2015 Financial crisis: “There are no real experts, and the economy is far too important to leave to the experts.”

Talking to My Daughter About the Economy explains the theory without the jargon. Through myth, literature, and Varoufakis’ personal experience as an economist, teacher and parent, he investigates debt, trade, markets, and inequality. Varoufakis’ daughter Xenia lives in Australia, so he starts his discussion by asking why the British invaded Australia and not the other way around.

Varoufakis is primarily interested in exploring an sustainable and democratic economic model. He suggests that in the wake of environmental degradation and ecological destruction the next eras of human existence will be typified by a clash between an urge to “commodify everything” and to “democratize everything”; Varoufakis envisages a world in which the oceans and the forests and the atmosphere are privately owned by large groups of people, to safeguard them for the future.

A central point Varoufakis argues is that Western societies have become overly dominated by their markets; no longer do our civil structures contain marketplaces, but markets have become the driving forces behind our social structures and lifestyles, which has generated, in Varoufakis’ view, deep inequality. He traces this change from the start of the Industrial Revolution to today.

The consequence of a society dominated by markets is that societies value the exchange value of goods and services more than their experiential value. For a market society,a forest fire is a good thing; trees have no exchange value but the water and helicopters used do.

Varoufakis’ political and economic opinions are progressive, but this book is persuasive and clear. With examples and analogies as far reaching as Mephistopheles and debt, Oedipus and prophesies, and Prisoner of War camps in the Second World War, Varoufakis seeks to reimagine economic education to make it more accessible and humane. What Varoufakis is really interested in doing is reinventing the study of economics; in his view, economics is really a form of philosophy, and not a verifiable science. Economics investigates human behaviour; with all it’s mathematical models and technicality, economics can’t predict the future and the discipline would benefit, he argues, if experts stopped pretending they were oracles of wisdom and truth. While economists would lose a lot of power if this shift were to take place, they would, according to Varoufakis, stop making mistakes for which they are ultimatly responible