There's some interesting feedback in the New York Times from the Transition to a New Economy Conference that recently took place at Harvard University. The article underlines a well-known but largely ignored dialectic between the established political economic thinking and what current researchers, students and more popularly accessible economists work at.
We had around 140 attendees from universities around the country. Many of us study in mainstream neoclassical economics departments where interdisciplinary ecological-economics, and the questioning of G.D.P. growth as a primary (or, depending on who you ask, desirable) objective, is still very much fringe thinking. I don’t attempt to speak for all of my peers, but I know that many of us share an enormous frustration with the way in which our supposedly leading institutions teach us about the economy in a way that is myopic, ahistorical, and devoid of nearly any critical conversation about sustainability or human well being. This is particularly troubling as we regularly see our schools accredit future leaders in business, finance, and government, sending them into a world of 21st century problems with a 20th century toolkit.
Trying to undermine the establishment in current thought is going to require the next generation to fill the roles of power that the currently inhibit the system and drive it endlessly into a cycle of boom and bust. It's interesting to see that the ideas of zero-sum growth and steering a national economy away from the relentless pursuit of GDP growth is gaining foothold amongst individuals who will one day decide policy. It remains to be seen if these same trappings of power will cloud their vision and divert their attention to self-interested pursuits.
The US of course is absolutely the last place we'd expect to see this kind of 'transformative economy', that is, a recognition of a need for an entire change of policy and a new model that more accurately represents contemporary problems and requirements. To this end, and following on from my previous mention of The Predicament of Mankind a lot of the new thinkers make reference to the Nine Planetary Boundaries.
These boundaries actually present environmental issues in the framework of economics and human systems. The point being that human activity has a safe 'operating space' within these boundaries and beyond that, the environmental factors will begin to limit our ability to live in the means to which we are accustomed.
Essentially, our own systems have rely on the very stable environmental and climatic conditions that have been present in the Holocene period of the last 10,000 years. Our environmental impact puts us on a tipping point ready to throw these systems into chaos unless new systemic models can be introduced that have a holistic awareness of how they impact the environment and hence themselves.