Monday, 20 April 2015

Rethinking Economics at Biennale Democrazia in Turin

Written by Alberto Mola, Rethinking Economics Bocconi


TURIN. On the 28th of March, Rethinking Economics Italia took part in the organization of Biennale Democrazia, the prestigious cultural festival held every two years in Turin, with the aim of discussing and spreading a culture of democracy. For a period of five days, crowds of young and old people drowned the city, taking part in workshops, seminars, and debates on offer at the event, concerning democracy, pluralism, and sociological and economic issues.

So, how could there not be an event arranged by RE Italia? Pluralism, in fact, has always been one of the fundamental principles on which the Italian democracy (together with those of most Western countries) was founded. The event was also a chance for the organizers of the newborn Rethinking Economics groups spread all over Italy to meet and discuss future projects. The participants came from the groups set up at LUISS University (Rome), Bocconi University (Milan), University of Bologna, University of Bergamo, University “Cattolica del Sacro Cuore” (Milan), plus members of the national group from the Universities of Genoa and of Pavia.

Rethinking Economics Italia organised a debate - entitled The Limits of the Market - focusing on the market, its mode of operation, and its limits, with Colin Crouch (Emeritus Professor at Warwick University), Elena Granaglia (Professor of Social Justice and Markets at Roma Tre University), and Nicolò Fraccaroli, founder of RE Italia, as moderator. Given the political and sociological background of Crouch, and the philosophical and juridical one of Granaglia, the event was an interesting opportunity to deal with economics from an interdisciplinary perspective - interdisciplinarity being one of the three pluralisms proposed by the ISIPE manifesto.

Both speakers agreed that the market cannot limit and auto-regulate itself because every player can influence the sphere of freedom of others, so everybody in the market employs a kind of power. Therefore, if the market is a confrontation of powers, it should be regulated. Elena Granaglia added that a competitive market is a political construction, and that there has to be an authority that defines its rules in order to create it. A market, therefore, is not a natural occurrence.

The debate continued to address the supposed “trickle down” effect, and the role of economic research in addressing real political economic choices. Elena Granaglia said that in order to measure inequality, income, and in general important indexes, we have to define them, and different interpretations can have significant consequences for the results. It is therefore not possible to divide philosophical questions from those posed by the science of economics. Moreover, even research that seems to belong to some kind of “positive” economics, analysing things for what “they are", contains normative choices.

The last question was more focused on the reform that Rethinking Economics is trying to enact. One of the chapters of Crouch’s latest book is titled We Are All (Partly) Neoliberals, explaining that a reaction to this (partial) society-wide homogeneity should come from pluralism in politics. Nicolò Fraccaroli asked Crouch whether this could come from pluralism in economic education too. Crouch agreed, clarifying that across centuries, scientific progress has proceeded toward a continuously deeper specialisation, shaping the new figures of the “experts” - the technocrats. But the deeper we go into specialisation, Crouch said, the more we lose the links between these specialisations. For Crouch, then, it is necessary to recover a multidisciplinary approach in economic teaching; economic research has also to consider contributions from other disciplines, in order to be able to explain the complexity of the real world.