Home > students, The Economics Profession > WEA online conference: The economics curriculum: towards a radical reformation

WEA online conference: The economics curriculum: towards a radical reformation

The economics curriculum: towards a radical reformation
3d May – 31st May
– a World Economics Association Conference
– with Open Discussion Forum    – http://curriculumconference2013.worldeconomicsassociation.org/


Conference Leader:  Jack Reardon     Co-leaders: Maria Alejandra Madi, David Wheat and Haiyun Zao

Author: Acocella, Nicola  

Title of paper: Teaching economic policy in Italy

Abstract.The birth of Economic policy as a discipline not confined to a set of practical rules intended to explain technical procedures of government intervention is rather recent. The discipline emerged in the late 1950s in Scandinavian countries and Italy only when solid foundations indicating market failures and a theory about conditions for policy effectiveness and design had been developed. The paper intends to explain the reasons for its emergence, the circumstances which helped it to be taught in many Italian universities and a few other European ones, the reasons for its apparent setback and some factors that could facilitate its diffusion in the next years.
Author details: Former professor of economic policy, Faculty of economics, Sapienza University of Rome. nicola.acocella@uniroma1.it


Author:  Angresano, James  
Title of the paper: Orthodox Economic Education, Ideology and Commercial Interests:  Relationships that Inhibit Poverty Alleviation

Abstract. Many factors have been cited for the continuing, intractable poverty condition in most poor countries.  One is that their governments are unstable, rife with corruption, and unwilling to reform their economies, and menaced with failure when they implement reform efforts. A second is the combination of geography and entrenched traditional attitudes that trigger resistance to   what orthodox economic advisers argue is “sound” policy advice. Still other analysts have concluded that the cause of low economic growth is the presence of bad institutions.  A fourth explanatory factor concerns the principal agent problem plaguing the large, bureaucratic development organizations.

This paper focuses on another cause – the  combined and iterative impact of  three unwholesome relationships:  (1)  the relationship  between  the narrow, ideological graduate  economic education and the orthodox development perspective held by the international agencies; (2) the relationship between  international agency policies and  the ideological foreign policy  interests of the USA and UK, interests some argue  that  seek to gain control over poor countries’ resources while promoting implementation  of  a  pro democratic, free market ideology; and (3) the relationship between  development policies introduced by the international agencies and the commercial interests of multinational corporations and international banking firms, the interests of which are  interrelated with USA and UK foreign policy interests.

The conclusion drawn is that there is substantial evidence that demonstrates the poor in developing countries are often better off when their governments ignore the policy advice of the IMF and World Bank.  Countries such as  China, India and other countries in East Asia that have not followed IMF economic programs and prescriptions have seen more of their people lifted out of poverty in times of economic growth than have nations that take the advice of the Washington-based lenders. Unfortunately, although the impact of aid programs such as the IMF’s structural adjustment loan programs can be likened to the “Flight of Icarus” that aimed for the sun but ended in a sea of failure, the international development agencies steadfastly advocate large-scale market reforms to promote poor countries’ development while continuing to justify and propagate their policies through academic indoctrination. What the international agencies fail to recognize, or admit to, is that their orthodox development policies and inherent values had provided an effective ideological shield during the Cold War, but no nation had ever been built on this type of theoretical framework.
Author details: Professor of Political Economy, The College of Idaho, Angresano@collegeofidaho.edu 

Author: Coyle, Diane
Title of  the paper:  The State of Economics and the Education of Economists

Abstract. The financial crisis has reinforced a prior debate already taking place among economists about whether the mainstream of their subject was unduly narrow. The additional question now is the extent to which the character of mainstream economics itself bears responsibility for the present crisis. Most economists—whether in the academic, business, finance or policy worlds—reject the wholesale criticisms made by non-economists and ‘heterodox’ economists, but nevertheless do question what aspects of the conventional approach to modelling might have contributed to the profession’s pre-crisis blinkers. While exciting research has long been under way in behavioural economics, in institutional and development economics and in the well-being agenda, this had not gained much traction in the core curriculum. The gap between the interesting questions or real-world problems and the workhorse economics being taught to students at all levels has become a chasm, and a broadening of the undergraduate curriculum is urgently needed.
Author details: Enlightenment Economics; Smith School, University of Oxford  diane@enlightenmenteconomics.com

Author: Dow, Sheila
Title of the paper: Teaching Open-system Economics

Abstract. The different approaches to economics can be understood in terms of whether economics is understood in terms of a closed system or, if an open system, which type of open system. This paper considers what is implied for teaching, when an open-system approach is taken. The problems with open-system material are analysed in relation to the problem of uncertainty more generally. Focusing on issues of communication and persuasion, we consider the relative attractions of closed-system and open-system material for students as well as for teachers. The issues are addressed of how to build up an open-system programme and the respective roles of models, methodology, history of thought, history and contextual material.
Author details:  SCEME and University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, Scotland, UK   e-mail: s.c.dow@stir.ac.uk


Author: David Hemenway
Title of the paper: What I would like economics majors to know

Abstract. I have been teaching microeconomics for more than four decades, and over the past months I have been seriously thinking about this question: “What are some of the most important things I would like economics majors to know before they graduate?” At first I was leaning to such important and well-known ideas as opportunity cost, marginal analysis, moral hazard, externalities, and the prisoners’ dilemma game. Instead I decided on five ideas that are usually not well-covered in economic textbooks:

1. people are not solitary creatures but social animals;

2. tastes are malleable and particularly so for children and adolescents;

3. there are lots of children and adolescents in the world (though few in economic textbooks);

4. retail purchasers rarely have detailed information about the products they buy;

5. large corporations (and other economic institutions) often have a substantial social and political power.

These ideas are discussed generally and illustrated with respect to the market for cigarettes.
Author details: David Hemenway is Professor of Health Policy at Harvard School of Public Health, 677 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115.  hemenway@hsph.harvard.edu


Author: Hermann, Arturo
Title of the paper: Market, socialism and democracy in an interdisciplinary perspective

Abstract. In this period of economic and social distress, a thorough re-appraisal of the foundations of our economic and social systems has been emerging in virtually all the most developed Countries.

We will address some elements of such issues by analysing how, within a pluralistic and interdisciplinary perspective, a number of heterodox theories — in particular, institutional economics, Marxism and other theories of socialism and social justice — can help us to identify significant aspects of market, capitalism, socialism and democracy.

In fact, although these “familiar” concepts have shaped the complex “material” and “spiritual” evolution of our societies, it is still largely unclear how this influence has unfolded in real situations.

As a matter of fact, these concepts convey complex meanings which are interpreted differently according to the different theories, interests, values of the subjects involved. Furthermore, these interpretations often acquire an implicit character, since, to each person, they are ingrained in deep seated habits of thought and life in which the unconscious component is likely to play a relevant role.

Also for this reason, the social and political conflicts related to these issues often assume an emotional and intransigent character, which does not help to clarify what are the real aspects at the stake.

For instance, there is a strong conflict between the advocates and the detractors of the market. But what is the meaning of the market? Is it, as held by classical and neoclassical economists, a kind of “exogenous” mechanism strictly associated with capitalism? Or else, is it an institution created and maintained by public intervention and which, for this reason, can be present also in a socialist economy?

In our work, we will employ this pluralistic and interdisciplinary perspective for analyzing some controversial elements of the (i) definition and analysis of the market; (ii) authoritarian and democratic socialism, namely, how to bring together freedom and social justice; (iii) the possibility of reformulating Marx’s theory of value without reference to the concepts of Classic Economics; (iv) the theory of historical materialism and the importance of bringing to the fore also the cultural and psychological factors; (v) the links of these issues with the debate between holism and methodological individualism; (vi) the importance of an interdisciplinary approach for reaching out the manifold aspects of these concepts and, on this basis, to identify suitable policies for our most urgent economic and social problems; (vii) within this ambit, we focus on the psychoanalytic perspective in elucidating many aspects of person-society dynamics, with particular attention on how it can improve the process of policy action.
Author details: Senior research fellow at the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT). ahermann@istat.it


Author: Jan H. Höffler
Title of the paper: Teaching Replication in Quantitative Empirical Economics 

Abstract. In empirical economics, a twofold lack of incentives leads to chronic problems with replicability: For authors of empirical studies providing replicable material is not awarded in the same way as publishing new irreplicable studies is. Neither is authoring replication studies.

We offer a strategy to set incentives for replicability and replication. By integrating replication studies in the education of young scholars, we raise the awareness for the importance of replicability among the next generation of researchers and ensure that a big number of scientists get incentives to write replication studies: credit points and the prospect of publications at least of working papers already during their time as students.

By raising the number of researchers involved in replication and by providing an infrastructure for sharing their information, on the one hand we help to lower the amount of work researchers need to put into making their studies replicable. On the other hand, we facilitate the dissemination of insights derived from replication studies. This as a side effect imposes a significant threat of detection of irreplicable research, following the cases of recently introduced wiki projects for the revelation of plagiarism. In contrast to previous efforts like the report on the American Economic Review Data Availability Compliance Project, with our project we build the basis for the first replicable review paper on reblicability as we give account of which studies were tested and which results were found in each case. After exploring several dozen studies published in highly ranked journals, we have not yet determined a single case where we see replicability is fully ensured. We identified two main problems: First, not all published results can be obtained from the replication material provided. Second, information about how the used data were obtained from the raw data is hardly ever sufficient.

For our investigation, we gave seminars at several faculties. We set up a wiki project for documenting the results of our replications as well as those found in the literature. In our database, we provide information about more than 1500 empirical studies, especially with regards to the availability of material for their replication.

We invite for discussion to develop standards for how to make research replicable and how to write replication studies. For this we provide information about existing projects that facilitate the sharing of material for empirical econometric research.
Author details. Chair of Statistics – University of Göttingen, jhoeffl@uni-goettingen.de

Author: Ietto-Gillies, Grazia
Title of the paper:  The multinationals’ age is everywhere but in the economics curriculum

Abstract. The paper starts with the provocative assertion that TNCs have very little impact on today’s economics curriculum. It aims to show that an understanding of modern economies cannot be arrived at without an understanding of how TNCs operate. It then briefly reviews some of the main theories of the TNCs in the last 50 years. It considers the relationship between economics and the study of TNCs arguing for the relevance of inclusion of such a study for both the micro and macro curriculum. At the micro level the issue of strategic behaviour by TNCs is discussed in relation to the opportunity for strategies offered by transnationality. Such opportunities are related to the enhanced bargaining power – particularly towards labour and governments – open to TNCs. It is argued that the existence of nation-states with their different regulatory regimes in such elements as labour markets, social security and fiscal regulations may create opportunities for specific strategies open to companies that operate across borders. Some macro issues of TNCs’ activities and behaviour are considered, particularly in relation to the manipulation of transfer prices.
Author details: Emeritus Professor of Applied Economics at London South Bank University and Visiting Professor at Birkbeck University of London. iettogg@lsbu.ac.uk

Author: Ormerod, Paul
Title of the paper:  Notes on a Real World Economics Curriculum

Abstract. I propose a fairly root and branch reform of the curriculum.  But it is not meant to be a detailed manifesto.   For example, the core model of agent behaviour in mainstream economics should still be taught.  It is not completely irrelevant to the real world.  But it should be just one of a number of ways in which agents behave rather than the way.  International trade theory, for example, particularly in its latest Sraffa-Ricardo guise, has much to recommend it.  The literature on cross-sectional econometrics inspired by Heckman is important, in ways which become readily apparent when confronted with a great deal of the statistical analysis of such data carried out in the other social sciences.

Inevitably, quite a lot of things from the standard curriculum would have to give.  But the main reforms which I would make are in summary:

  • Teaching macro through the perspective of important episodes in economic history
  • Teaching the use of modern simulation software which enables behaviour out of equilibrium to be explored
  • Teaching alternative models of agent decision making, which again can be examined using simulation
  • Teaching network theory, and using this to relax the assumptions that agents operate independently with fixed tastes and preferences
    Author details: Volterra Partners, LLP, London and University of Durham; pormerod@volterra.co.uk; http://www.paulormerod.com

Author: Passaris,  Constantine E.
Title of the paper: A New Economics Curriculum For A New Century And A New Economy

Abstract: The advent of the new global economy and more poignantly the global financial crisis of 2008 has revealed the pedagogical fault lines on the contemporary economic neoclassical landscape. This paper proposes a new model for economic pedagogy and for the professional preparation of future economists. It describes the errors and omissions in the academic training of contemporary economists and suggests specific remedies and solutions towards enhancing the efficacy of the economics curriculum. The process of modernizing the economics curriculum requires building intellectual bridges with the new global economy, enhancing historical content, acknowledging the academic value of interdisciplinarity, embracing academic mentorship, internationalizing the curriculum and redefining the role of quantitative economics.
Author details: Professor of Economics, University of New Brunswick, Canada. passaris@unb.ca

Author: Roncaglia, Alessandro
Title of the paper: Should the history of economic thought be included in undergraduate curricula?

The mainstream view about the irrelevance of HET is illustrated, and the reasons for it are indicated in the hidden assumption of a positivist idea about the cumulative growth of knowledge. HET is however very important when existence of different approaches to economics is recognized. As an illustration, classical and marginalist conceptualizations of the economy are briefly discussed.
History of economic thought, classical approach, marginalist approach
Author details:  Sapienza University of Rome, Italy, Department of statistical sciences. E-mail: alessandro.roncaglia@uniroma1.it

Author: Syll, Lars Pålsson
Title of the paper: Economics textbooks – anomalies and transmogrification of truth

Abstract. Theories are difficult to directly confront with reality. Economists therefore build models of their theories. Those models are representations that are directly examined and manipulated to indirectly say something about the target systems. Even though all theories and models are false, they may still possibly serve our pursuit of truth. But then they cannot be unrealistic or false in any way. The falsehood has to be qualified. Many of the standard assumptions made in neoclassical economic theory are not possible to make more realistic by de-idealization or successive approximations without altering the theory and its models fundamentally. Three examples from neoclassical economics textbooks – on wage rigidities, the law of demand and revealed preferences – are given to warrant the assertion that some of the model assumptions made by neoclassical economics are restrictive – rather than harmless – and a fortiori cannot in any sensible meaning be considered approximations at all.
Author details: Malmö University, Sweden,  lars.palsson-syll@mah.se


  1. robert r locke
    May 5, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    Economics should like history or English literature be classified as a subject of study not a science. If people begin with this premise, then they can construct curricula that will enrich the field.

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