Skip to main content
Palgrave Macmillan
Book cover

Human-Centred Economics

The Living Standards of Nations

  • Book
  • Open Access
  • © 2024

You have full access to this open access Book


  • Locates key disequilibrating factor in economics driving poor outcomes on inclusion, sustainability and resilience
  • Presents a concrete theoretical and policy alternative to neoliberalism and the Washington Consensus
  • Proposes deep reforms of the international financial, trade and development architecture to meet Paris climate goals
  • This book is open access, which means that you have free and unlimited access

Access this book

Hardcover Book USD 32.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Other ways to access

Licence this eBook for your library

Institutional subscriptions

Table of contents (7 chapters)


About this book

This open access book examines the chronic underperformance of economies with respect to inclusion, sustainability and resilience. It finds that the standard liberal economic growth and development model has evolved over the past century in a fundamentally unbalanced manner that underemphasizes the crucial role of institutions – legal norms, policy incentives and public administrative capacities – in translating market-based growth in the production of goods and services into broad and sustainable gains in social welfare at the household level. Correcting this imbalance of emphasis in economic theory and policy between markets and institutions, production and distribution, and national income and household living standards is the single most important step required to transcend 20th century trickle-down “neoliberalism” and replace it with a more human-centred model of economic progress in the 21st century.

The book breaks new ground by integrating the principal institutional dimensions of the social contract into the heart of macroeconomic theory and presenting extensive corresponding reforms of domestic and international economic policy to refocus them on the median living standards, rather than primarily aggregate wealth or GDP, of nations. This is the bottom-line measure of national economic performance, and it depends on the strength of both markets of exchange and institutions in such areas as labour and social protection, financial and corporate governance, competition and rents, anti-corruption, infrastructure and basic necessities, environmental protection, education and skilling, etc. Extensive comparative data are presented demonstrating that countries at every level of economic development have ample policy space to narrow their “welfare gaps” – their underperformance on these and other key aspects of household living standards relative to the frontier of leading policy practice in peer countries.


“John Maynard Keynes argued that the ideas of economists are more powerful than we realize; that they determine the framework in which we think about the economy and hence the specific policies that determine economic and social outcomes. This excellent volume argues that the framework of liberal economics is no longer fit for purpose. It proposes a revision of the standard framework to address issues such as rising inequality, climate change, and social polarization. It challenges us all to think afresh, building on the strengths of conventional economic analysis while at the same time recognizing its weaknesses.” 

Ravi Kanbur, T.H. Lee Professor of World Affairs, International Professor of Applied Economics and Professor of Economics at Cornell University and former Director of the World Development Report and Chief Economist for Africa at the World Bank


 “A new social contract and just climate transition are urgently needed, but they will require a fundamental reform of economics as it has been taught and practiced for the past half century. This book proposes the most serious and specific replacement of neoliberalism and the Washington Consensus I have seen. It should be required reading in academia, governments and international organizations—and for anyone interested in systemic rather than piecemeal action on social and environmental justice.” 

Sharan Burrow, Former General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation and President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions 


“Free market capitalism is sick and the soul searching of economists, who bear some responsibility for its weakened state, has yet to produce solutions. In ‘Human-Centred Economics,’ Samans focuses on non-market institutions to re-anchor the market economy. Institutions affecting distribution and average worker well-being – democratic political formations, collaborative international relations -- should be as integral to economic thought as market forces. This friendly amendment to economic theorizing supports an important policy proposal that seeks to address persistent problems of underdevelopment, climate degradation, excessive financialization, and 21st century declines in human well-being. This provocative book deserves a wide readership.” 

William Milberg, Professor of Economics and Director, Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies, The New School for Social Research 


“This is such a timely and important book. It provides a crucially needed compass and roadmap for the growing number of governments which are setting national goals based on social and environmental wellbeing rather than a sole focus on GDP growth. And it brilliantly addresses the intellectual and moral flaws in current economic theory and practice by setting out a new humancentred operating system for the conduct of economic policy. I cannot recommend it too highly.” 

Stewart Wallis, Executive Chair of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance and former Executive Director of the New Economics Foundation 


“In ‘Human-Centred Economics: The Living Standards of Nations,’ Richard Samans takes us back to the basics and lays out, in clear and compelling prose, where we have gone wrong. He identifies the * Richard Samans is Director of the International Labour Organization’s Research Department and has been its Sherpa to the G20, G7 and BRICS processes. He was formerly Founder and Chairman of the Climate Standards Disclosure Board, a Managing Director of the World Economic Forum, and Director-General of the Global Green Growth Institute. He served in the second Clinton-Gore Administration as Special Assistant to the President for International Economic Policy and NSC Senior Director for International Economic Affairs and was previously economic policy advisor to US Senate Democratic Leader Thomas A. Daschle. Embargoed Draft: Not for citation or onward circulation. gap between the concerns of classical political economy and much contemporary economic policy and explains what is at stake in this disjuncture. In deconstructing the social contact and framing it as indispensable to both national wealth and collective well-being, Samans provides an alternative vision for macroeconomics in a learned but accessible text that is as useful for advanced undergraduate and graduate students seeking a deeper understanding of the field as it is for policymakers interested in scaling action on inequality and climate change.” 

Jennifer Lynn Bair, Professor of Sociology and Associate Dean for the Social Sciences, University of Virginia

“This book achieves a rare feat: anchored in a critique of the past, it sets a template for the future. Rather than go down the rabbit hole of academic shortcomings, Richard Samans goes straight to the key policy challenge of our times: particularly for middle-income and high-income economies ‘more growth’ is not the most important policy target; more inclusiveness, resilience and environmental sustainability is. He argues that the ‘living standards of nations’ needs to be internalized at the multilateral and national levels. In this respect, there is kinship between Samans and J. Bradford DeLong’s Slouching Towards Utopia; Samans delves more decisively into the international development policy domain—and aims to show what liberal political economy could deliver in the 21^st^ century.”  Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and former Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme and Director-General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature

“Richard Samans explores why modern economies have underperformed in terms of social inclusion, environmental sustainability and human wellbeing. In doing so, he provides a lucid critique of orthodox economics which seeks to focus on markets as means with growth and efficiency as ends. Invoking the intellectual tradition of classical political economy, the author argues that it will be possible to harmonize economic and social progress in the 21^st^ century only if we can restore the balance between markets and institutions, production and distribution, and national income and living standards of people. This refreshingly different book is an engaging read.”  Deepak Nayyar, Emeritus Professor of Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Honorary Fellow, Balliol College, Oxford and former Vice Chancellor, University of Delhi

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chene-Bourg, Geneva, Switzerland

    Richard Samans

About the author

Richard Samans is Director of the International Labour Organization’s Research Department and has served as its Sherpa to the G20, G7 and BRICS processes.


Bibliographic Information

Publish with us