Home > Economics Curriculum, New vs. Old Paradigm > Occupy the teaching of economics

Occupy the teaching of economics

from David Ruccio

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Back in 2009, in the midst of the Great Crash (and therefore at the start of the Second Great Depression), a colleague and friend asked me whether I expected the teaching of economics to change. His view was that, since mainstream economics had so miserably failed in both predicting the crash and providing a guide as to what to do once the crash occurred, it was obvious the economics being taught to students had to fundamentally change. My answer was that, while the need for a change was obvious, I didn’t see it happening—and it probably wouldn’t happen (thinking back to the emergence of the Union of Radical Political Economics in the late-1960s) unless and until students of economics demanded a different approach.

Well, in various places (starting almost a decade before the current crises, with the eruption of the Post-Autistic Economics movement in June 2000), students have been demanding a fundamental change in the way economics is being taught. The latest effort to move that project along is a report from the University of Manchester Post-Crash Economics Society. Here are some of their key findings, which refer to how economics is taught at Manchester but clearly have much wider relevance, in and beyond the United Kingdom:

  • Economics education at Manchester has elevated one economic paradigm, often called neoclassical economics, to the sole object of study. Other schools of thought such as institutional, evolutionary, Austrian, post-Keynesian, Marxist, feminist and ecological economics are almost completely absent.
  • The consequence of the above is to preclude the development of meaningful critical thinking and evaluation. In the absence of fundamental disagreement over methodology, assumptions, objectives and definitions, the practice of being critical is reduced to technical and predictive disagreements. A discipline with a broader knowledge of alternative perspectives will be more internally self-critical and aware of the limits of its knowledge. Universities cannot justify this monopoly of one economic paradigm.
  • The ethics of being an economist and the ethical consequences of economic policies are almost completely absent from the syllabus.
  • History of economic thought is an optional third year module which students are put off taking due to it requiring essay writing skills that have not been extensively developed elsewhere in the degree. Very little economic history is taught. Students finish an economics degree without any knowledge of momentous economic events from the Great Depression to the break-up of the Bretton Woods Monetary System.
  • When taken together, these points mean that economics students are taught the economic theory of one perspective as if it represented universally established
  1. paul davidson
    April 24, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    If you think the economic establishment is going to let alternative views into the curriculum, you are living in a fairyland. As someone who can say they know (or knew) personally such people as Samuelson, Friedman, Solow, Modigliani, etc. I can assure you they are hard headed scientists who think they are the only ones who know what economics is all about– everyone else is confused! And believe me they are hard-headed!

  2. robert r locke
    April 28, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    I’ve been writing economic history for 40 plus years and never found economics useful to my work because it lacks Historical Specificity. I got mixed up with rwer because I read about the post-autistic economists. I felt, if economics did not help study the past, study of the past would help understand present economic configurations and would be useful to economists who seemed to be widening their intellectual horizons. After five years of slogging along on this blog, I’m afraid Davidson is right. But I would use a term other than “hard-headed” for the troglodytes. They are very good at power politics; that’s what got them there. Since, as Soddy says, “orthodox economics has never been anything but the class economics of owners of debt,” they must go. There are lots of examples in history of dethroned intelligentsia, which example should we follow?

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