What should economics be used for? According to Pierre-Noël Giraud, the economy must be used to provide solutions to reduce inequalities, or more precisely, uselessness. This concept of uselessness aims to generalize notions of poverty and inequality and is defined as a total lack of perspective to improve one’s own condition or that of others. Uselessness can then characterize extreme poverty in developing countries as much as long-term urban unemployment in developed countries.
The book addresses the situation of useless men in an economy aggregated in three areas: the environment, globalization and finance. The author gives his economic and prospective analysis, suggesting different futures. General public policy guidelines aimed at eradicating uselessness are set out in a final section.
On the first theme, the author demystifies the depletion of fossil natural resources and apocalyptic scenarios related to climate change. In addition, the latter illustrates the complementarity between technical (production capacity), natural (ecosystem health), human (population and education) and social (institutional health) capital. In particular, climate change requires a shift in technical capital investment towards the other three. Otherwise, too much tension on natural capital feeds rural people who have lost natural resources into urban uselessness traps.
Uselessness is also the product of globalization (commercial, financial and technological) that differentiates jobs between nomads and sedentary people. Nomadic jobs (agriculture, industry and related services) are exportable and face fierce international competition, while the fate of the sedentary (public and private services) now depends on the success of the former. When globalization has the effect of diverting nomads from the consumption of local goods, the traps of uselessness open up. The author thus explores migration dynamics through this prism.
The strength of the book lies in its analytical framework and original concepts: the first part offers an astonishing example. We would have liked to find the same rigour in the entire essay, particularly in its final part on the rise of populism.
 Pierre-Noël Giraud, L’homme inutile, Odile Jacob, Paris, 2018, 288 pages, 9,90 € [🇫🇷]