Preface of my book “Ecological Ignorance in Mainstream Economics”

Ecological Ignorance in Mainstream Economics
Available at Amazon

As I was studying conventional economics at the University of Zurich (2002-2004), I became more and more suspicious of the stuff that we were learning in the name of objective social science. A series of questions began to appear in my mind, such as:

If nature is the primary re-producer, that is, not only a passive raw material resource and a passive dumping ground for waste, why didn’t we learn first of all ecology, which is the economy of nature? After all, the word “economy” (oikos+nomia) shares the same linguistic root with “ecology (oikos+logia). “Oikos” means household in Greek.

I already had a master degree in electrical engineering as I began to study economics. In the department of electrical engineering, we learned first physics (i.e. Newton physics, mechanics, electromagnetics, linear & nonlinear dynamic systems etc.) before learning core theories of electrical engineering like telecommunication because physics was rightfully supposed to be an elementary field for further studies.

How is it possible that an economics student doesn’t need to study ecology and anthropology (i.e. evolutionary human ecology & culture) before learning the core theories of economics?

Imagine a biologist who was not required to learn the modern synthesis of the Darwinian evolutionary theory. Without evolution, you can’t explain anything in biology. Similarly, without ecology, you can’t understand economy in its completeness, especially related with sustainability.

Ecological breakdown, climate crisis, big droughts, big migrations… We are not living in an era of “business as usual”. Consequently, it is no more “business as usual” for the whole education system either; general school and economics education must be redefined; ecological and philosophical literacy must be a top priority.

Furthermore, musical literacy as well as other fine arts must be an integral part of education programs as they enrich the mind and improve the ability for holistic and critical thinking. The ability to see the complete picture in economy, that is, global, complete and long-term view from the historical past to future, has become vital in order to understand the preconditions of sustainable human life on our planet.

Unfortunately, there are still too many prominent environmental economists promoted as “respectable scientists”, who tend to consider GDP (Gross Domestic Product) as the ultimate measure, and GDP growth –which is misleadingly called “economic growth” ignoring the nonmonetary production of nature and society—as the ultimate goal, as if there could be a human economy without human life. As if GDP growth could solve every social and ecological problem of a society. On the contrary; GDP growth obsession and addiction were in fact the cause of many social and environmental disasters in many countries of the world, along with increasing poverty and malnutrition.

My PhD work, which is the core body this book, was an inquiry into the historical roots and causes of this ecological ignorance in mainstream (neoclassical, neoliberal) economics. Understanding these roots & causes is important to surmount the mental and institutional barriers to ecological thinking that is required to initiate the radical social transformation for sustainable and equitable human life on the planet.

We need a different ideology of good life, a different notion of wealth and value, a different lifestyle, and a different kind of civilisation which is not in war against the nature.

After more than ten years of research, I have come to the conclusion that with its myths like “market knows the best” and “GDP growth and technological progress can solve every problem of humanity”, mainstream economics has become one of the primary obstacles to the urgently needed social transformation already mentioned above.

Not surprisingly, my PhD thesis with the subject “Why does mainstream economics ignore
ecology?” at the University of Corsica (2018-2021) was excommunicated from the “Church of Economism” (phrase and article by Richard Norgaard, one of the 16 contributors of my PhD) by a jury of mainstream economists, without giving me a chance for defending my PhD, even though I had asked for a well-balanced multidisciplinary jury. It was very much like sending a thesis that sharply criticised the ideology of Catholic Church to a court of Catholic Inquisition for a final judgement.

Now I plan to complete my PhD at another university, in a multidisciplinary department like political ecology. Whether I can get the PhD title or not, in any case, I will continue to write articles and books on this important subject. My next book project: No Ecology No Economy

Tunc Ali Kütükcüoglu, 22 December 2021

PS: Did you read the preface? What do you thing about it? You can send me your opinions, critiques, questions & suggestions by commenting to this facebook post.

About tuncali

I began keeping aquariums as early as I was nine years old. Since then, I kept many aquariums and lots of fish, plant and invertebrate species. My favorite fish family is of course cichlids with their fascinating behaviors. My relatively new area of interest is low-tech natural aquariums as almost self-sufficient ecosystems that are I think ideal models for sustainable life.
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7 Responses to Preface of my book “Ecological Ignorance in Mainstream Economics”

  1. tuncali says:

    Here, you can read and download my PhD thesis as pdf document:

    Why does mainstream economics ignore ecology?

    My email for your opinions about this PhD thesis: tuncalik1968 (at) gmail dot com

  2. tuncali says:

    Following expression by the musician Brian Eno summarizes perfectly the relation between mainstream economists and mainstream economics: “For every bullshit job there is a bullshit education.” (see “bullshit jobs” by anthropologist David Graeber)

  3. tuncali says:

    Brief story of my PhD at the University of Corsica (Why does mainstream economics ignore ecology):
    * Dec 2018: Officially started with my PhD, after lengthy and tiresome negotiations with my co-director Dominique Prunetti, who never liked and wanted to change the subject of my PhD. Prunetti was a typical mainstream economist (quite shallow minded) for whom science was all about maths and statistics. My PhD director Paul-Marie Romani was the more philosophical type compared to Prunetti, who was sincerely interested in my PhD subject from the perspective of economic thought.
    * Oct 2020: My second PhD presentation won a prize from a French technology organization named SATT-SE. An interview with me for this occasion was published on their website:
    * Feb 2021: I submitted my PhD thesis to the school of doctorate, and waited for feedback.
    * May 2021: I had to wait until May, without any feedback. In May, I was invited to a zoom meeting, in which the jury (excommunication committee) told me that my PhD thesis was not acceptable; I could go where ever I want.

    You may find the details like members of the jury and their accusations on this page:

    In short, I was excommunicated from the Church of Economism* (phrase by Richard Norgaard, one of the 15 contributors of my PhD) without giving me a chance to defend my thesis.
    *) The Church of Economism and Its Discontents, Richard Norgaard (2015)

    For more information about this kind of narrow mindedness and willful (institutional) ignorance in the academy of mainstream economics, you may refer to the book “The Econocracy: The perils of leaving economics to the experts”

    These people were the members of my PhD jury (excommunication committee):
    * Olivier Beaumais (chairman, the most arrogant and aggressive member of the jury)
    * Paul-Marie Romani (PhD director)
    * Dominique Prunetti (PhD co-director)
    * Claudio Detotto
    * Dominique Torre
    * Alain Muselli (director of Doctorate School)

    As soon as I find time from my other projects (literature & music, I will write my tragic story of excommunication in more detail.

  4. tuncali says:

    An episode that illustrates the mindset of the Church of Economism* (mainstream economics) that dominates modern industrial education, which is aligned with the narrow and short-term interests of Big Money:

    A prominent resource economist says to ecologist William E. Rees: “Look Billy, if you continue to spread ideas about the ecological carrying capacity for humans, I can guarantee you that your career at UBC (University of British Columbia) will be nasty, brutish and short.” (begins at 24:00 in video)

    *) phrase and related article by Prof. Richard Norgaard, one of the contributors of my PhD in ecology & economy.

  5. tuncali says:

    Four important resources about the current state of the theory & teaching of economics at universities:
    1) Open Letter: International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics
    “It is not only the world economy that is in crisis. The teaching of economics is in crisis too, and this crisis has consequences far beyond the university walls.”
    2) The Econocracy: The perils of leaving economics to the experts
    3) The Church of Economism and Its Discontents, Richard Norgaard (2015)
    4) Generally, the section D (conclusions) in my PhD thesis, and specifically the subsection D5: Keyword and content analysis of some popular economics university textbooks

  6. tuncali says:

    I totally agree with the American sociologist & economist Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929), author of books like “The Theory of the Leisure Class”, who said: “Economics should have been defined as human ecology. Unfortunately, it has been degenerated into a crude ideology of business and money.”

    My impression is, most people, who are interested and knowledgeable in fields like history, ecology, anthropology, philosophy and sociology, have similar opinions. That’s maybe why mainstream economics is generally hostile to such broad and qualitative fields.

    After 10+ years of research, I’ve come to the conclusion that mainstream economics has been grown into a pseudo-science that promotes narrow and short-term interests of business as “interests of all” (public benefit), using airy and pseudo-scientific business terms like growth, development, added value, modernization, infra structure, investment etc. as justification.

    I think, (a) ecological ignorance, (b) blind belief in continuous & limitless progress and (c) technology fetish can be counted among the core ideological pillars of mainstream economics. Most economists, who are sufficiently ignorant in the forementioned fields, sincerely believe that economic growth (GDP growth) and technological progress can solve every (social & ecological) problem of humanity; there is no need at all for serious social transformation (lifestyle, consumption, values, education, economic and political system, relations with nature).

  7. tuncali says:

    Some quotations from the article “Against Economics” (2019) by the brilliant anthropologist David Graeber:

    Graeber: “Mainstream economists nowadays might not be particularly good at predicting financial crashes, facilitating general prosperity, or coming up with models for preventing climate change, but when it comes to establishing themselves in positions of intellectual authority, unaffected by such failings, their success is unparalleled. One would have to look at the history of religions to find anything like it.”

    Graeber: “To this day, economics continues to be taught not as a story of arguments—not, like any other social science, as a welter of often warring theoretical perspectives—but rather as something more like physics, the gradual realization of universal, unimpeachable [absolute] mathematical truths.”

    Graeber: “… the basic psychological assumptions on which mainstream (neoclassical) economics is based [like the rational consumer fallacy]—though they have long since been disproved by actual psychologists—have colonized the rest of the academy, and have had a profound impact on popular understandings of the world.”

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