“Neoclassical economics,” writes Edmonton-born mathematician David Orrell, “sees the world in terms of independent, autonomous agents that act to maximize their own utility, measured in terms of financial success.” Such thinking is full of erroneous assumptions that neither reflect reality nor consider social and planetary costs, argues Orrell. It is an “economic ideology that glorifies selfishness.”
Orrell, author of the best-selling Apollo’s Arrow, dares to question this linear, reductionist mindset in his new book, The Other Side of the Coin. The economy really is greater than the sum of its parts, he argues, and a paradigm shift is long overdue. His bold and timely manifesto explains the whys and the hows of such a change.
An overhaul may be underway already, largely thanks to feminists and environmentalists. In the present model, only the exchange of money matters. So housework doesn’t count, and a tragedy like the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill can be valued for causing a net gain in Gross Domestic Product. A fully reworked GDP would also measure things like human misery and loss of biodiversity – which are now neatly categorized as “externalities.”
Orrell’s prose is lucid and occasionally tongue-in-cheek. (He includes a summary of the Pythagorean view, entitled “Axioms of evil.”) He often employs quirky anecdotes or analogies as a means of engaging readers with sometimes arcane, often mind-boggling, concepts. For example, he introduces a discussion of fuzzy logic with the story of Jimi Hendrix and his famous interpretation of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Orrell analyzes the mysterious mechanisms of a system that involves us all, and describes a positive alternative. Readers with an interest in world affairs, and the signposts of hope, will add The Other Side of the Coin to their must-read lists.