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How do you define heterodox economics?


What is heterodox economics? Economic theories that underlie how we perceive and understand our natural resources systems is critical to driving effective policy change and business decision-making. Focusing on heterodox economics and the environment for our reporting at the World Resources Forum 2015, we were wondering what people at the conference had to say about it, as it is a complex and diverse topic.

How do you define heterodox economics?


André Serrenho, Research Associate, University of Cambridge

[It’s] non-neoclassical economics. Basically, economics that is not based on the 1950s definitions, but takes into account other factors [other] than capital and labour as the main factors of production, such as energy, materials and land use.


Detlef Schreiber, GIZ [German Corporation for International Cooperation]

So far I’m not using the term heterodox economics and I would have to guess what it means. I think it’s a kind of diversity in economic conceptions, but it has no relevance so far for my work.

*Ed. note: Schreiber works on environmental policy and institutional development at GIZ, which is a state-controlled German company that specializes in international development.


Alice Kaudia, Environment Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Water & Natural Resources, Kenya

From a logical thinking and the prefix hetero, I think it is economics that is looking at different dimensions of issues.

Jorn Verbeeck, Public Waste Agency of Flanders, Belgium 

That’s a good question. I think we don’t use the term at all, because we come here from a “circular economy” point of view, coming from a government administration. We’re not as much into the scientific discussion on what kind of economics do we need to move towards a circular economy.

We’ve got the impression that it is becoming a semantics discussion and by [continuing to discuss] what is the term you want to coin, you go around the debate of what is needed on the ground, [which are] getting projects realized and new initiatives launched.


Garry Jacobs, Chairman and CEO, World Academy of Art & Science

We need an economy that’s not a Newtonian Science of how things work but makes us aware of the fact that we have choices. We define the economic system and [then] we can make it work the way we want it to, and the way it should work, so that it promotes equity, development, [and] maximizes human welfare in a sustainable way.

I think heterodox economics today is more or less everybody who feels there’s something wrong with the existing paradigms. What we need is a new paradigm which takes the best of that thinking and synthesizes it in a higher level. So we tend to relate to the heterodox economists, because they’re the ones who know there’s a problem, even if they’re not sure what the answer is. The goal is human beings, it’s not growth, it’s not a particular monetary systems, [and] it’s not a particular philosophy.


Mila Popovich, Researcher, University of Colorado, Boulder

For me the economy is about relationships, exchange and values. One of the biggest things we point out is that economics is not a hard-core science and is also not a natural law either, it’s a manmade construct…These days we have a whole range of economic approaches coming exactly from the place of relations, to values, to fulfillment and development of our human potential. They range from economics of happiness, Schumacher’s small and beautiful notions, all the way to something I have been talking about, economics of dignity [and] to sacred economics of Charles Eisenstein, or solidarity economics.

This is very revealing that the notion of economics is diversifying exactly according to those needs and values.

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