PL3_Paper – What’s The Point Of (Agricultural) Economics?

The brief for this paper (contained in the title) is, of course, far too wide for one ½ hour session. However, it may be useful to try to summarise the critical messages of agricultural (applied) economics to the ‘real’ world of agribusiness and management. In so doing, I hope to be able to highlight the critical shortcomings of the discipline of economics as well.
The problem? At the considerable risk of over-simplification (the congenital condition of applied economists), the world is divided into two unequal parts – those who believe in and fully subscribe to the proposition that ‘economics rules, OK’; those who consider that economics is either marginal to the human condition and sustainability, or should be made so very quickly. On the one hand, markets and commercial viability (and associated competition, level playing fields, minimal regulation and free trade) can be considered as the bedrock of economic sustainability, without which all talk of environmental or social sustainability is mere romantic rhetoric, with no clear guidance for current or future behavior short of praying for the second coming. The devil is in the detail. On the other hand, pursuit of profit at the expense of all other considerations is seen as being at the heart of our current problems – notably the issues of environmental degradation, climate change, financial market instability and consequent real economic instability. These issues are clearly seen as potentially leading to the demise of democracy, the emergence of anarchy and the ultimate degradation of the human condition. The devil is in the conception. How can we make sense of these apparently inherently contradictory conceptions?

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Author(s): Harvey, D.


Organizations(s): SAFRD & CRE Newcastle University