My long-term research goals all involve bringing together insights from my 'Re-thinking the MarketLink opens in a new window' project. This was a programme of work initially activated under the ESRC Professorial Fellowship I held between 2013 and 2019 and which is likely to help shape the research I will be undertaking for the remainder of my career. Increasingly, my work focuses on key moments in the history of economic thought where a particular meaning was imposed on a certain conceptual, methodological or analytical choice. I then seek to understand the political conditions under which these meanings first emerged. The aim is to trace the contingent aspects of those moments but then to see how the solutions developed survived the conditions of their creation and became established as a transcendent disciplinary common-sense.
(1) I have already completed two research monographs from this project. (i) The first was published in 2014 and is called Uneconomic Economics and the Crisis of the Model WorldLink opens in a new window. It focused on the contrast between those things that could never happen in economists' self-made model worlds of perfect market coordination and those same things actually happening with dire effect in the real world during the global financial crisis. (ii) The second of these completed books was published in 2018 and is called simply The MarketLink opens in a new window. It focused on the very different ways in which the idea of 'the market' has been established in the last 250 years of economic thought and how each of these departs from how the same idea is used today in political discourse.
(2) At the time of writing - the autumn of 2022 - I am on the verge of finishing the first draft of the next book from my 'Re-thinking the Market' project. It will be called Economics Imperialism and the Mathematisation of the Market Model. The objective will be to take the reader to the heart of the economics imperialism phenomenon in an attempt to allay fears that the whole of the social sciences will have to submit to economists’ all-conquering market model. In being seen as an embodiment of an essential mathematical logic, it is now often said that there are no limits on the social subject matter that economists’ market model can explain. Any two moments of human interaction are indistinguishable from one another according to the behavioural truths encapsulated by the mathematics of the market model, which suggests to the economics imperialists that there is only one way of doing social science. However, I take a very different position. I argue that economics imperialism promises more than it delivers. I adopt a history of thought perspective to question the economics imperialists’ assertion that mathematisation has brought additional precision to economic theory. Each of the four main ways in which the market model has been mathematised since the 1870s has led to something of an impasse. On every occasion, the introduction of mathematical logic into the market model has forced out economic content. The more robust the mathematical treatment, the less the ensuing market model appears to say about economic lives that might possibly be led. The mathematics imperialism to which economic theory has surrendered thus produces palpably shaky foundations for the economics imperialism that its proponents wish to introduce across the entirety of the social sciences. The supreme self-confidence of the most optimistic economics imperialists appears difficult to justify when it is understood how little of genuine economic significance the mathematics enables them to actually say.
(3) Over time, I expect to publish more books that serve to further flesh out this overall programme of work. (i) I need to write a book that has long been at the preparatory stage on the way in which Robinson Crusoe metaphors influence economics pedagogy. Unlike others who have looked at this question, though, I want to show that Crusoe does not stand alone in Daniel Defoe's works in displaying the character traits that have captured economists' attention. My book will take a whole-Defoe approach to historicising the characterisation of homo economicus. (ii) I also want to write a book that shows how Adam Smith has been positioned in the field of International Political Economy and how this differs from what historians of economic thought say about him. Smith is ever-present in IPE's appeals to its own pre-history, but it is a curious account of The Wealth of Nations that seems to owe more to the way in which it was being interpreted in the nineteenth century than to close study of the text. The economic globalisation that Smith wrote about in the eighteenth century was very different to the economic globalisation of the nineteenth century, which in turn is very different again to the economic globalisation that today's IPE scholars write about. (iii) Increasingly, my thoughts have turned to the background assumptions of empire that underpinned many of the conceptual developments in economic theory in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These are concepts that still provide much of the vocabulary for understanding the economy in everyday life, but their imperial origins often get completely lost. (iv) I have become increasingly interested in the approach taken by Jane Marcet and Harriet Martineau in the mid nineteenth century to popularising the claims of political economy to audiences who would not normally have been exposed to them. They took a story-telling approach that mixed economic principles with prose fiction. (v) I also intend to write a book on Brexit and Covid, one that will set the response to both events by British political elites within the context of the prior 'war' over the redefinition of the history curriculum for English schools in 2013. It was then that we saw the first challenge to professional expertise and the juxtaposition of alternative expert cultures that reduced technical questions to who was most emotionally invested in their own preferred solution. (vi) I also remain a contributor to two major Oxford University Press textbooks: Erin Hannah and John Ravenhill's Global Political Economy and John Baylis, Steve Smith and Patricia Owens's The Globalization of World Politics.