What Should Economics Be? Diane Coyle
Diane Coyle asks how economics needs to change to keep pace with the twenty-first century and the digital economy.
Digital technology, big data, big tech, machine learning, and AI are revolutionising both the tools of economics and the phenomena it seeks to measure, understand, and shape. Coyle explores the enormous problems – but also opportunities – facing economics today if it is to respond effectively to these dizzying changes and help policymakers solve the world’s crises, from pandemic recovery and inequality to slow growth and the climate emergency.
Mainstream economics, Coyle says, still assumes people are ‘cogs’ – self-interested, calculating, independent agents interacting in defined contexts. But the digital economy is much more characterised by ‘monsters’ – untethered, snowballing, and socially influenced unknowns. What is worse, by treating people as cogs, economics is creating its own monsters, leaving itself without the tools to understand the new problems it faces.
Coyle asks whether economic individualism is still valid in the digital economy, whether we need to measure growth and progress in new ways, and whether economics can ever be objective, since it influences what it analyses. How can economics adapt to the rewiring of society, including by digital technologies, and realise its potential to play a positive role in the twenty-first century?
In conversation with Romesh Vaitilingam.
Diane Coyle’s Cogs and Monsters: What Economics Is, and What It Should Be in published by Princeton University Press. Buy a copy from our partners Waterstones online or at the event.
Our tenth Festival of Economics run Wednesday 17 – Friday 19 November 2021. It is co-programmed by Diane Coyle (University of Cambridge and Enlightenment Economics) and Richard Davies (professor of Public Understanding of Economics, Bristol University and author of Extreme Economies). You can see the full programme here.
Diane Coyle is the Bennett Professor of Public Policy at the University of Cambridge. Her books include GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History, The Economics of Enough: How to Run the Economy as If the Future Matters, and The Soulful Science: What Economists Really Do and Why It Matters (all Princeton University Press). She has been the programme director of Bristol Festival of Economics since it started in 2001 and now co-directs it with Richard Davies. Follow her on Twitter @DianeCoyle1859
Romesh Vaitilingam is a writer and media consultant. He is the author of numerous articles and several successful books in economics, finance, business and public policy. As a specialist in translating economic and financial concepts into everyday language, he has advised a number of government agencies and international institutions. His work also involves consultancy for the economic research community and training economists in communication skills. He was awarded an MBE for services to economic and social science.
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