Toward a Better World
That is the well chosen title of a marvelous new book by Gerry Helleiner, sub-titled Memoirs of a Life in International and Development Economics. Helleiner, from his home base at the University of Toronto, tells us in this most readable book, in his own modest way, the stories, notably from Africa, of how he devoted his life as an economist to that end. His rewards include his membership in the Order of Canada.
Helleiner describes himself as a progressive economist and is so judged by scholars. He has a strong commitment to social justice, to aiding the cause of poor countries, particularly the smaller of them, and the poorest within those poor countries.
His advise has been frequently sought by those involved in economic development in what we now call the Global South. His students have pursued successful careers in developing countries and with NGOs in the developed countries, and he is justly proud of that.
There is an abundance of quotable quotes. “Economics is not where everyone goes for inspiration or excitement. But I must say that my life as a teaching and practicing economist has been deeply fulfilling and at times wildly exciting.” Surely a great recommendation for being a progressive economist.,
For Helleiner economics is not a dismal science. “I believe the record of the past half century [with particular reference of Africa] which, in truth, does make some despair, can instead inspire hope for the kind of dramatic positive change that is possible.” This is a powerful message to progressive economists of hope in hard times.
On an issue that should be dear to the heart of progressive economists, Helleiner appeals for graduate studies in economics to be more heterodox, and less theory-driven . He describes how his own department at Toronto fell victim to these North American tendencies and how this has adversely affected the program in economic development. (So too was my own field of economic history.)
Ultimately, of course, economics which preaches the virtue of markets must itself respond to their evident failures. Helleiner’s passionate pleas should hasten that day.