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Economic analysis 16 May 2017

Changing our values to fight climate change

Technological capital, human capital, regulatory capital and social capital… all are dimensions that the science of economics measures and includes in its analyses. Cultural capital is not a common concept in this science, however. But Timothy Besley, Professor at the London School of Economics (LSE) feels it is fundamental as a conditioning aspect of the economic activity of any organization, institution or country.

The British professor, who gave a presentation at the Journal of the Economic Association – Fundación BBVA Lecture conference series, defines it as “the population’s stock of preferences and values” and maintains that there are many different tools to include it in an economic study model: “polls, like the World Values Survey, make it possible to address these concepts from an empirical analysis perspective.”

It may seem like a highly theoretical approach, but its practical applications are very clear for the LSE Professor; they include facing man-made global challenges such as climate change. In his thesis, Besley explores “how we can trust the political process to attain that change in behavior,” convinced that “one of humanity’s greatest hopes is changing our preferences and values.”

Besley affirms that “economic and political decisions are made in the context of beliefs, values and thoughts. And they tend to affect how people behave and the way in which policies are made.” It is therefore a reciprocal relationship that goes both ways, as the decisions and political actions “bring about changes in preferences” of citizens. “It has been powerful in different areas: tobacco use, the environment and perceptions of machismo,” he said.

Image of Timothy Besley. Journal of the Economic Association - Fundación BBVA Lecture

This is also how it is possible to understand why the use of a common language among politicians and citizens could be behind Donald Trump’s electoral win or the rise of populist parties. “When politicians are just like citizens and speak the same language, a bond is created with them that traditional politicians weren’t able to achieve.

For Professor Besley, legislators should listen to citizens and address their preferences and values. Otherwise, there is nothing to prevent reactions like Brexit from recurring: “If the EU does not reform to reflect the concerns of those who are questioning its raison d’être, then Brexit may not be the last departure.”

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