Is it possible not to know anything

Knowledge is power and ignorance is no longer excusable

The "Economists for Future" advocate more plurality in economics. (Graphic: Economists for Future)

The current pandemic clearly shows us one thing: our economic system is not up to a crisis of this magnitude. It is at a turning point.

The extreme dependency within global supply chains makes them vulnerable. Not only is the system socially unjust, it also harms the environment and the planet in unprecedented ways. We would need four more planets in reserve if we were to maintain the current lifestyle. We have known that for half a century, we have changed little.

But not only economics itself, also economics are at a turning point. Due to the strong formalization and mathematization, it has moved further and further away from real processes in the last few decades.

What lies outside of pure economic logic fell out of focus. Undeterred by all practical experience, research and teaching are still fixated on the "homo oeconomicus", that rather fictional being who makes demand decisions based solely on income, prices and certain preferences.

The criticism of this - and of the underlying human image - is getting louder. In young scientific networks, the most diverse research approaches are brought together as "plural economics".

The academic world, like so many others, was inspired by the international "Fridays for Future" movement: the beginning was made by around 20,000 "Scientists for Future" from a wide variety of disciplines.

Suggestion for a broad economic discourse

In the meantime there is also the "Economists for Future". They see themselves as thinkers who want to get involved in the "now necessary restructuring of the economy and society" - in a science-based, reflective and democratic manner.

In the best sense of the word, this strengthens democracy, stimulates scientific discussions and pursues new approaches in theory and practice. This is how the Scientists for Future did it.

Claudia Kemfert

heads the energy and environmental sectorat the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) in Berlin. Since 2016 she has been a member of the Advisory Council for Environmental Issues, which advises the Federal Government. For the coming winter semester she was appointed to the new professorship "Energy Economics and Energy Policy" at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg. She is a member of the editorial board of Klimareporter °.

A remarkable book on this change in economics has now been published, edited by Lars Hochmann. 25 authors took part with contributions on different schools of thought in plural economics.

It is not just about the - urgently needed - discourse in and about economics, but also about concrete political action, as the subtitle explains: "Taking responsibility for a better world".

Discourses of this kind are not new, they just lead a shadowy existence so far and are ignored, ridiculed, minimized or even excluded by the established economics.

The broad for-future support movement from entrepreneurs to grandmothers is finally giving such debates the urgently needed public attention and - as already felt in politics - has an external effect on the internal mechanisms of the traditional system.

In order to increase this pressure, the Economists for Future encourage and encourage participation in discourse, process and design with the book.

They are based on five guidelines:

  • Reflection on the practical power of action
  • Transparency of the assumptions
  • Inclusion of different perspectives in diversity
  • participation
  • Enabling and enabling a better society

Many individual book chapters are devoted to these dimensions in different ways, which makes reading easy and very impressively reflects the possible diversity of economics. Those who are not inspired by this have not understood the principle of curiosity in lively research and teaching.

Do not leave science to privileged elites

But not only students, researchers and teachers at schools and universities will find plenty of material in the compilation for reflection, discussion and further research.

Educational politicians and anyone interested in plural discourses in economics should also have the book put on their desk. Important questions are asked here that we will be faced with in the course of the necessary transformation of our economy and society in the next few years, and possible answers are already outlined.

The book

Lars Hochmann (Ed.): Economists 4 Future. Taking responsibility for a better world. Murmann Verlag, 280 pages, 34 euros. E-book 25 euros.

Reading samples at Libreka or Google.


The most important insight that can be drawn from this very readable book, however, is how much universities can act as part and driving force of democratic societies and how important the democratization of knowledge (science) has become. Knowledge is power and ignorance is no longer excusable.

Research and the transfer of knowledge is a collective effort that we must not leave to privileged elites, but must provide as a democratic diversity.

That is why the book is rightly not just an interference in an urgent debate, but above all an invitation to all those people who want to make a difference: "Together, a better world is possible. Let us turn our back on the old normal", it says at the end of the book.

The time for change is here. Also and especially for economics. "Economists4Future" gives an important boost to this. Overdue. At last.