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The Church of Economism and Its Discontents

The Church of Economism and Its Discontents 

Two centuries of explosive economic growth have radically altered our material and ideological worlds. With human activity now the major driver of geological change, the industrial era has come to be called the Anthropocene. This inquiry instead adopts the term Econocene, underscoring its ideological foundation: economism. The concept of economism, the reduction of all social relations to market logic, often appears in critiques of political movements and neoliberal economics. Our concern here is with economism as a widely held system of faith. This modern “religion” is essential for the maintenance of the global market economy, for justifying personal decisions, and for explaining and rationalizing the cosmos we have created. This uncritical economic creed has colonized other disciplines, including ecology, as ecologists increasingly rely on economistic logic to rationalize the protection of ecosystems. More broadly, economism often works syncretically with the world’s religions even though it violates so many of their basic tenets. A Great Transition is needed to replace economism with an equally powerful and pervasive belief system that embraces the values of solidarity, sustainability, and well-being for all.

Today’s World
Environmental scientists are recognizing that Earth’s geological history has moved into a new phase, as human activity now has a significant impact on the Earth system itself. The term for this era, the Anthropocene, is not yet official, but it has stirred critical discussion about the present and future, human and planetary. Although it identifies humans as the key driver of environmental change, the term Anthropocene suggests that the sheer number of humans alone is driving this change. Some contend that Technocene would be more apt since the development of fossil fuel technology has been critical to the acceleration of local and global change. Let me join this discussion from a social science perspective and offer a new term for consideration: Econocene.

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