Home > economics profession > Strengthening heterodox economics by engaging with different perspectives

Strengthening heterodox economics by engaging with different perspectives

from Irene Staveren

In the next issue of the Cambridge Journal of Economics (last issue of 2010, available online now), there will be a mini-symposium on the relationships between post-Keynesian economics and feminist economics (edited by Colin Danby and myself). It argues that there is a win-win situation from such an engagement and that such cross-fertilizations are under-explored. In my own contribution, I have identified the concepts of gender, the household, and unpaid work/caring as three key feminist economic concepts that would help post-Keynesian economics to deepen its analysis. At the micro level this would, for example, help to improve the understanding of how households deal with uncertainty, for example by adapting their mixes of paid and unpaid work. At the macro level, it may broaden the analysis of how inequalities (like class) interact with changes in aggregate demand, for example through a disaggregation of savings rates and propensities to consume by males and females. Furthermore, I have suggested that three key concepts of post-Keynesian economics may enrich feminist economic analysis: uncertainty, market power and endogenous dynamics. For example, the post-Keynesian distinction between risk and uncertainty seems crucial for explanations of caring, unpaid work, and a broader understanding of gendered rationality beyond the stereotypes of rational economic man versus caring noneconomic woman.

I don’t believe in a unified heterodox economic theory. But I do think that much more can be learned from intra-heterodox discussions at the level of methodology, theory, empirical method, research themes, and policy advise. I would therefore welcome other symposia developing such engagements, accross journals and conferences.

  1. Dave Taylor
    March 24, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Appreciating your work, may I offer you the best of luck with the mini-symposium, Irene.

    On the subject of a unified heterodox economic theory, may I suggest unification may take a form similar to agreement on the evolution of life. That unifies the understanding of particulars at different levels of complexity, from amoeba to humans.

    As a control system, economies may be autistic (like firing a bullet), accept just financial feedback (like steering a ship), allow also for cumulative drift (as in Keynesian navigation), or even more intelligently, anticipate the target moving (as a guided missile reacts to feedback of the differential of its position, a ship’s captain to warnings on charts and from a lookout, and entrepreneurs to relatively falling profits). In short, there may be no feedback, immediate feedback, or combinations of feedbacks representing the past, present and future.

    Sometimes the best one can do is fire a bullet; at start-up there is no history to allow for, and even Keynesians too often forget Keynes expected to change tack when the shortages of post-war Britain had been made good by prosperity. Such alternatives tend to co-exist, but to be prominent in different phases in the lives of economic institutions.

    • Peter Radford
      March 24, 2011 at 5:14 pm

      Dave: It’s all in that word “unified”. I agree that a single theory probably is beyond us. But a collection of theories, each suited to a specific context, and each with a related or common core, is not. Perhaps this is more an eco-system of theories than a monolith. The one thing we should surely have learned from the past three decades or so is that monolithic responses are doomed to fail, because as you suggest, the world around us is inextricably complex. Such complexity resists singular explanations. Unless, of course, the theory can be reduced to some content free statement such as “markets are always efficient … because … well … markets are always efficient”.

      Irene: I look forward to reading more. I believe there is a rich trove of ideas waiting to be discovered as the various strands of heterodoxy interact more in this way. Good luck with your symposium.

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