By Kate Raworth
In the age of the selfie, one particular self-portrait matters more than the rest: the image of humanity that has been created by economists. Like most selfies, this one distorts reality, but unlike most, it has far-reaching implications because it, quite literally, alters who we become – and not for the better.
Rational economic man, or Homo economicus, is the infamous protagonist of mainstream economic theory. In my book Doughnut Economics I decided he needed to be made visible, so I drew him: a man, standing alone, money in hand, calculator in head, ego in heart, and nature at his feet. He hates work, loves luxury, and knows the price of everything.
Of course, this is an absurd description of who we are – and no economist would say they actually believed it – but for over a hundred years this character has represented humanity in economics textbooks and mainstream models and is still central to the economic mindset that is taught to the next generation of economic policymakers worldwide.
Here’s the disturbing thing: research has found that merely studying Homo economicus can alter us. A study in Israel found that third-year economics students rated altruistic traits – such as helpfulness, honesty and loyalty – as being far less important than did their freshman equivalents. After taking a course in game theory (a study of strategy which assumes self-interest in its models), economics students in the US behaved more selfishly and expected others to do so too.
The implication? Who we tell ourselves we are shapes who we become.
Since publishing Doughnut Economics in early 2017, I have been contacted by many economics teachers around the world – especially those teaching in secondary schools – who want to encourage their students to critique this narrow text-book model of man and to offer them a far richer understanding of human behaviour. So that got me thinking…
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In the spirit of challenging out-dated economics as playfully as possible, I teamed up with the brilliant duo of puppet designer Emma Powell and songwriter Simon Panrucker to create a one-of-a-kind critique of rational economic man. We decided it was time for a puppet rap battle, with savvy students pitched in debate with their old-school professor.
We would be delighted for teachers, students, networks, institutes, community groups – anyone with an interest in new economic thinking – to share the video in classrooms and online, teach with it, and use it to create discussion and debate (the video ends with a question for that very reason). The fully sourced words and lyrics are available for anyone who wants to catch every detail, and for a deeper dive, read chapter 3 of Doughnut Economics, on which this video project is based.
It’s time for a showdown: Economic Man vs. Humanity. Sit back and enjoy the puppet rap battle – sing along, pass it on, and wave farewell to Rational Economic Man. We need a better portrait of who we are.
2018 September 8