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John Weeks humanised economics as discipline, questioned power of capital



By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*
Prof John Weeks, widely admired development economist passed away on 26th of June 2020 at the age of 79. His death is a blow to many friends, comrades, colleagues, students and fellow progressive economists. He was born in Austin, educated in Texas and Michigan, lived and worked most of his professional life in the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, UK where he continues to be a Professor Emeritus after his retirement. His urban upbringing and professional life in metropolis could not confined himself within narrow silo of privileges. He looked at issues of everyday working class lives beyond territories. His publications show his abilities as an interdisciplinary researcher spanned several continents. He did not fall for the fashionable wave of regional specialisations within economics for career progression. His extraordinaire mind and research interests moved around issues in different continents from Africa, Americas to Europe undermining the ideological narrative of capitalism. He looked at academic life of a development economist as praxis.
In pursuit of emancipatory and progressive ideals, Prof John Weeks has contributed immensely to humanise economics as a discipline. He has questioned the power of capital and legitimacy of market logic in economics as a disciplinary praxis. He warned about the dangers of free market and its anti-democratic tendencies. He did not forget to underline the limits of capitalist development. Prof John Week has been revealing fairy tales of mainstream economics that serves the 1% rich and obfuscates reality and distorts policies. His critique of neoclassical macroeconomics is incisive. He argued that the so-called objective, empirical and scientific analysis led by model driven economics does not reflect on realities of life and society. It resembles only with ruling class ideology masquerading as science.
Prof John Weeks was a member of the Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE) and International Initiative for Promoting Political Economy (IIPPE) based in London. He was one of the founders of Economists for Rational Economic Policies, as part of the European Research Network on Social and Economic Policy. He has played a major role in establishing Progressive Economy Forum in London and worked as its Coordinator till his death. Prof Weeks blazed the path of economics as a social and political praxis. After the murder of George Floyd, he has written about his childhood memories of white supremacy and racial segregation in American society. He was agitated by the institutionalised and structural adherence to racial repression and continuity of apartheid for African Americans in USA. Prof John Weeks philosophical insights led him to visualise how populism is a tool of authoritarian right-wing politics accelerated by neoliberal economics without any substance. He called right wing populism as racists, ultra-nationalists and authoritarians. His commentaries on poverty, deficit, debt, inflation, COVID-19 led public health crisis, monetisation and austerity reflect on his commitment to the politics of radical transformation. The arc of humanism and history used to frame his theoretical engagements with economics as a discipline.
Prof John Weeks’ death has created an intellectual void within radical and transformatory politics and emancipatory economics. His generosity, research and publications continue to inspire new generation of economists fighting for democracy that upholds the interests of the marginalised communities across the globe.

*Coventry University, UK

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