Doughnut Economics diagram - by Kate Raworth

Sentientist Economics

Economics is often defined as the social science that studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. That makes it sound like an exclusively human field but maybe we can re-conceive it in broader, Sentientist terms.

When it comes to the naturalism of Sentientism, economics already aspires to consistently apply evidence and reason. As with all the social sciences, of course it struggles with the breathtaking complexity of human behaviour and systems. Simplistic “rational actor” models fail to capture our human weirdness and the full range of human biases warp and constrain thinking as they do in every field.

When it comes to our moral scope there’s even more work to be done. Feminist Economics and Development Economics are trying to corrrect intra-human exclusions and biases. Some economists are also addressing environmental concerns, such as suspected sentientist Kate Raworth’s “Doughnut Economics” (see the image above) and those working on Ecological Economics and Environmental Economics. Those more ecocentric approaches often really reflect an anthropocentric concern for “our” environment rather than a genuine extension of moral consideration. As is all too common with ecocentrism and environmentalism the interests of individual sentient animals rarely get a look in – instead being considered as anonymous components of ecosystems or as resources for instrumental human use.

To address that anthropocentric bias we can dig into the roots of economics. When we consider the “production, distribution and consumption of goods and services” we’re ultimately talking about value. What is valuable for different beings? How is value found, created, exchanged and destroyed? In addition, classical economics often feels like it’s only concerned with monetary value. However, economists already consider barter and other forms of value transactions and the field of Happiness Economics is already trying to consider value in a wider, more ethically connected way (“it’s not all about money!”) in the human realm. Once we’re thinking about value in that broader sense maybe it gets easier to imagine some of the things a Sentientist Economics might consider:

  • Extending our concept of “economic agents” to include all sentient beings
  • What do non-human sentient beings value (security, life, subsistence, liberty, relationships, flourishing…)?
  • How can we measure value and well-being for non-human and human sentients?
  • What value do human and non-human sentients get from each other?
  • How should we think about non-human animal labour?
  • How do we think about freedom and consent when non-humans are involved in value exchanges?
  • What is the boundary between voluntary mutually beneficial exchange and exploitation?
  • How do “ecosystem services” provide value to non-human as well as human sentients?
  • Does it make sense to think of non-human sentients (and maybe human sentients) “owning” property or land?
  • Is it ethical to think of sentient beings (including humans) as products, resources or as being “ownable”?
  • How do power relationships (individual, collective, representational) work in economic systems comprising non-human and human sentients?
  • How should we link Sentientist Economics and Sentientist Politics?

Could papers like this one by economist and suspected sentientist Nicolas Treich (see our conversation here) and this article asking “Can Doughut Economics be Vegan?(and here in Dutch – p27)” mark the start of a new field of Sentientist Economics? Here’s hoping.

Here’s a Twitter list of people linked to Sentientist Economics ideas. More nominations always welcome!

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