Open Letter to Colin James, cc Rod Oram


[Image: cartoon picture of Monopoly game banker running away with a bundle of money. He’s wearing a top hat, waistcoat and has a handle-bar moustache like an early 20th century toff.]

Hi Colin

Thanks for your interesting post.

Rod Oram promised me face to face he would never again use the phrase “the economy” (much like “global economy”).


1. The phrase is classic “Lakoff framing“.

2. Rod agrees that it’s lazy shorthand, too easy to slip into. “The economy” can mean exporters, or importers, or various sectors. It can mean interest rates going up or down. It’s not a single entity capable of being named in a single phrase. “The economy” going well or going rockstar may be good for some sectors or industries and bad for others.

In the Lakoff framing sense it’s usually shorthand for a belief in trickle down theory, neoclassical theory or any other theory which accepts there is such a measurable entity as “the economy”. The “frame” is usually that growing a bigger pie will benefit all.

The trick with “frames” is that because they are so easy to fall into, we unconsciously accept them as reality. Though with this frame there are large vested interests in academia, politics and business in pushing the frame into economics textbooks. Voodoo is wonderful isn’t it?

I hope you agree that in reality “the economy” is just one more contested site in the human sphere. It’s the site where various groups of people try to maximise their positions. Various interest groups, sectors, industries will always seek to argue that their position is good for “the economy”. In short, it’s simply the outcome of power struggles and resource struggles.

So your post, while interesting and valuable in tilting the debate towards natural resource accounting, slightly misses the point by accepting the framing concept of “the economy” or “the global economy” and moving on from there to make its argument.

It’s this problem in your conceptualisation which I think leads to a mistaken stereotyping of Greens as rejecting the “global economy”, by which I think you mean international trade. Sure there are some people who may call themselves greens who seek to withdraw from global trade (“global economy” is too much a frame), but to typecast all Greens this way, or believe that the NZ Greens reject global trade, is mistaken.

Running a “six capitals” line, even including natural capital, without acknowledging the frame of “the  economy” would also be a mistake.
Let me know what you think.
BTW Rod still slips into using the frame “the economy”. A lifetime of habit is hard to overcome even with the best wishes. Remind him for me. 🙂

Kia ora
Kevin McCready

2 thoughts on “Open Letter to Colin James, cc Rod Oram

  1. Colin responded:
    The economy is the making and exchanging of goods and services, which does include many varied activities, including various mechanisms to facilitate the making and exchanging of goods and services. In the absence of a useful substitute for a word broadly understood by the public, I think I will stick with the term, as it appears Rod has.
    Thank you for writing
    Colin James, Synapsis Ltd, 04-384 7030, 021-438 434, fax 04-384 7195, P O Box 9494, Marion Square, Wellington 6141,, website

    I responded but have not had another response:
    sounds like the text book
    have a talk to Rod.
    hope you’re not suggesting I’m misrepresenting him?
    did you read the lakoff stuff?


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