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More anthropologists and fewer economists, please

By Keith Suter - posted Thursday, 2 January 2020

We have too many economists and too few anthropologists in politics. This occurred to me after covering for the media such events as the 2016 Brexit vote in the UK, Donald Trump's stunning 2016 victory (the biggest election upset since 1948), and the 2019 re-election of the Morrison government.

There were many local issues and particular differences. But a general trend was the importance of "cultural" issues rather than "economic" ones. This is reversing a trend that has dominated our lives: "money is the measure of all things".

In recent decades in western countries there has been the growth of (under various names) "new right economic rationalism" and "neo-market liberalism".


In essence the focus is economic. It has been assumed that the "hip pocket nerve" determines political outcomes.

But recent political developments suggest otherwise. The UK's Brexit crisis is a good example. Many UK commentators and politicians assumed that people would vote on economic lines. The UK had done well from its four decades of European Union membership, with almost half of its exports going to the EU. If the UK had to negotiate a new trade deal, it would not get the same favourable grounds as currently prevailed.

However people tended to vote on cultural grounds. They were sick of foreigners (as they saw them) taking over the British way of life. For example, Polish is now the second most common language in England.

They voted to leave the EU even though it could damage them economically. The political class in the UK (and the US) could not believe that the working class would vote against what the political class perceived to be the financial interest of the working class.

Economics was not top of their mind – except in so far as new right economic rationalism had destroyed their jobs (particularly so in what used to be the Labour heartland in northern England).

Economists – and the politicians and commentators who relied on them – focussed on the booming service-based economy around London. It was assumed that somehow the wealth would trickle up towards the north.


To a person with a hammer, every problem is a nail. They could only think in terms of numbers.

Most economists failed to predict the 2008 global financial crisis and they have escaped the consequences of their failed thinking. They are still in business – which is more than can be said of many people in manufacturing and mining.

Ironically many anthropologists have been discussing for decades what new right economic rationalism has been doing to societies. They have seen how these policies have created oases of wealth (such as London bankers) in an ocean of British squalor.

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About the Author

Dr Keith Suter is a futurist, thought leader and media personality in the areas of social policy and foreign affairs. He is a prolific and well-respected writer and social commentator appearing on radio and television most weeks.

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