Meme Wars: The Creative Destruction of Neoclassical Economics
Edited by Kalle Lasn with Adbusters. Seven Stories Press, 400 pp, softcover
Meme Wars: The Creative Destruction of Neoclassical Economics is terrifying—but that's kind of the point.
This thought-provoking work from Kalle Lasn and the Adbusters crew, has horrible news for you: the world is completely and utterly fucked up and nothing short of the complete destruction of current societal thinking and cultural values, coupled with a wholesale perspective shift, will change the certain doom we are facing.
Framed ostensibly as a "real world economics textbook", Meme Wars is also equal parts history lesson, thought experiment, and a collective call to action aimed straight at disillusioned students of all ages, not just the Occupy set.
With contributions from authors like Nobel Prize–winner and former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz (read his contribution here), UBC professor Bill Rees, author Margaret Atwood, and French philosopher Bernard Stiegler, Meme Wars pulls absolutely none of its punches, defiantly accusing neoclassical economists of "perpetuati[ing] a gigantic fraud upon the world", and encourages an overhaul in thinking by attempting to identify the harsh realities of our unsustainable lifestyle, and to show that an inevitable collapse is staring humanity in the face.
Meme Wars also introduces "radical" ideas to the burgeoning econ student, such as bionomics—economic thinking predicated on humanity's relationship with the earth and the wealth that is natural capital—and psychonomics, an examination of the relationship between an advertisement-driven consumer capitalism and our collective mental health.
Externalities and opportunity costs, two concepts acknowledged by modern economics but usually treated as something separate from the "science" of the discipline, are brought to the forefront. Passages implore the reader to consider the ecological and emotional costs of daily activities like sitting in traffic for 30 minutes, while others point out how divorce and crime are good for GDP, while social connections, exercise, domestic work, and natural resources aren't even factored in.
An essay entitled "Happinomics" by Vancouver's Ian Bullock, which details a thought experiment he undertook riding local transit, questions the relative lack of value society places upon feelings of goodwill, while Julie Matthaei, hired on as a radical economist at Wellesley in 1978, offers up a profound and poignant essay on how she ended up shifting her approach to teaching economics. Ecological degrowth economist Herman Daly explores the concept of a steady-state economy and Tarek El Diwany details his conversion to Islamic economics and skewers the idea of economics as a religion above critique.
The book also offers profiles of pioneering economic thinkers like John Maynard Keynes, monetary economist and chemist Frederick Soddy, Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, who examined economic thinking through the lens of laws of thermodynamics, and Keynes protégé E. F. Schumacher, who coined the term "Buddhist economics".
Gilles Raveaud's dissection of Gregory Mankiw's highly popular Economics 10 class at Harvard is cutting, accusing the former George W. Bush economic advisor of peddling a narrow political agenda with his course material and his economics textbooks, which are used by hundreds of thousands of students across the globe. A later piece from David Orrell points fingers straight at universities for continuing to disseminate said ideology and encourages cooperation between postsecondary disciplines to reign in economics' unchecked aggression.
Of course, the book is hardly a dry treatise on the ills of the world. The tongue-in-cheek course description for the fiction "Psych 283 Dissociative Survival Cognition" is brilliant satire, promising a class that "will provide you with the rationalization skills necessary to navigate the ethical stresses of comfortable, mindless affluence." Recommended course reading? A Shore Thing by Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi.
Full of Adbusters' culture-jamming hallmarks, the art direction in Meme Wars is fantastic, with every page inviting meditation on the nature of reality and our strange relationship with it. There are no page numbers to orient the reader, but one could interpret that as a deliberate choice to further encourage critical, free-wheeling thinking and analysis.
There is some admittedly deep philosophical thinking taking place that I can't claim to fully understand—Timothy Morton, I'm looking at you—and if you haven't had the extreme pleasure of making it through a semester's worth of intro econ, some of the jargon can be slightly confusing.
Fully engaging with this book requires a lot of critical thinking and the acknowledgement of some very inconvenient truths, not to mention probably enduring accusations from your right-wing friends that you're "just a crazy radical spouting brainwashed nonsense".
(Don't listen to their lies.)
However, Meme Wars should be required reading for anyone wants to challenge their ideas about the modern economy and the people who champion it.
And if you end up being the only one of your friends who thinks the unsustainable capitalistic system is soon to collapse and destroy the world as we know it, well, you'll have one heck of an "I told you so" on the other side.
Adbusters' Kalle Lasn and Darren Fleet host a public talk/book launch for Meme Wars: The Creative Destruction of Neoclassical Economics on February 5 at 7 p.m. at the Norm Theatre in the SUB Building on the UBC campus. Admission is free.