Home > New vs. Old Paradigm, rethinking economics > Rethinking Economics rejects INET’s “Core Curriculum”

Rethinking Economics rejects INET’s “Core Curriculum”

Rethinking Economics Position on CORE Curriculum

London, UK- 16 October 2014 – The CORE Curriculum is not an answer to our demands for reform. CORE is more engaging in its teaching style, but falls short of creating broader content.

RE does not currently endorse any curriculum; instead, we have written our vision of a pluralistic curriculum (http://www.rethinkeconomics.org/#!our-vision/colf) and we support the ISIPE open letter, which we contributed to along with 65 student groups (www.isipe.net). We encourage educators and curriculum writers to sign up to publically support these visions.

What we are looking for is curricula that embody the three pluralisms: pluralism in methodology, pluralism in schools of thought, and pluralism in disciplines. This means at least a key role for the history of economic thought in a way that encourages debate over different schools of thought.

We believe it is important to introduce students to a critical approach to social science in general, meaning that students can engage in debate over schools of thought, rather than be introduced to one narrative. CORE does not supply this in its present state.

Rethinking Economics welcomes progress in economics education, a small part of which CORE has achieved, but we believe firmly there is still much more to be done in economics education reform. 

ABOUT: Rethinking Economics is an international network of student groups, academics and professionals that are calling for change in the way economics is taught in higher education. Through a mixture of campaigning, events and engaging projects, Rethinking Economics connects people globally to discuss and enact the change needed for the future of economics, and to propel the vital debate on what economics is today. 

Joe Richards (Press Officer)
Rethinking Economics www.rethinkeconomics.org

  1. Macro-compassion
    October 27, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Macroeconomics is rapidly on the way to becoming a formal science. My book, which will soon be published, will show how exacting this theoretical knowledge can be and it will provide a better way of thinking about how our social system works as well as being a new tool for the assessment of any particular policy.

  2. Paul Davidson
    October 27, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    unfortunately ,without explanation INET replaced Lord Robert Skidelsky with Wendy to develop a new curriculum for economics -after Skidelsky and his committee had developed a curriculum that would have met the pluralism needs by including Post Keynesian analysis among others in the topics.

    Pressure INET to get Skidelsky’s recommendations back and you will resolve the problem.

    • October 28, 2014 at 10:43 pm

      Hi Paul, the newly (re)formed Skidelsky Curriculum Committee is coming up with plans for a new curriculum. There are several student Rethinking Economics representatives on the committee too. Hopefully more news will follow from Robert himself soon. You can sign up to our newsletter for updates: http://www.rethinkeconomics.org.

      Lead Organiser, Rethinking Economics

  3. October 27, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    Every successful science has advanced on the basis of establishing criteria for determining what is true and what is false; what is relevant and what is irrelevant. In the absence of such criteria the commitment to plurality is a commitment to endless talk leading nowhere.

    • Jeff Z
      October 27, 2014 at 9:42 pm

      Claude, talk is a necessary condition for establishing the criteria that you correctly point out are needed. These established criteria evolved over time, though the conversations of the practitioners. The talk that is going on now in economics may seem like its is going nowhere. It may seem that we have been down this road before. But if the discussion stops, the new criteria that economics needs in order to be a “successful science” never emerge, and nothing changes.

      Even if the discussions seem to rehash old debates (which they sometimes do), or if the seem repetitive and circular (which they often can be) the solution is NOT to stop talking. The solution is to continue to have the discussions until someone finds or builds an exit from the traffic circle.

    • Paul Schächterle
      October 27, 2014 at 9:46 pm

      I don’t understand your point.
      What criterion determines what is true and what is false other than the basics of the scientific method? A description seems to be true if it can be verified. A theory seems to be true if a well-founded prediction turns out to be true or an experiment can be replicated. In subjects where experiments are difficult the focus necessarily lies on more basic things, namely sound observation and documentation and a sound theory (assumptions that are not falsified and an error-free logic).

      The need for “commitment to plurality” is self-evident and does not need to be discussed in any real science. There simply is no argument to not be pluralistic.

      Then there is the point of relevance. Obviously limited assets need to be directed to the most promising fields of inquiry. But what the most promising fields are is disputed and often in flux.
      As far as teaching goes, a limited amount of canonical knowledge is in order, I guess. But the most important thing is precisely to learn what the essence of science is. And that includes the respect for different approaches, hence the praise of pluralism.

      In economics the heterodox demand for plurality serves as a defence against the ideological indoctrination and the suppression of alternative theories on the part of the neoclassical mainstream.
      The mainstream theories b.t.w. often do not qualify as scientific theories. Their assumptions range from falsified to absurd and their logic is sometimes dubious, particularly when the theories are formulated in a way that insulates them from falsification.

    • davetaylor1
      October 28, 2014 at 11:55 am

      I’m with Jeff on this. The one thing I’d say is there is little point in talking if nobody listens. I suggest that is why Claude is right in seeing endless talk leading nowhere.

      Paul Schächterle’s talk about “THE scientific method” seems to assume Hume’s version of it, in which there is seemingly no truth and falsehood, only what seems it, which unfortunately can be a licence and encouragement to lie. A description can be true so far as it goes, and yet incomplete, so any theory based on it will be likewise. So what are we to call Hume’s 1740’s theoretical individual, who knows and therefore understands nothing about what is happening inside his head? Homo Oeconomicus?

      Paul says: “In subjects where experiments are difficult the focus necessarily lies on more basic things, namely sound observation and documentation and a sound theory (assumptions that are not falsified and an error-free logic)”.

      Seems true, but isn’t this merely to replace “true” with “sound”? As I’ve tried to say here so often before, Bacon’s scientific method involved taking things to bits to see how they worked, and keeping on looking until one achieved INSIGHT into how they worked, i.e. could understand (not know in every specific detail) how the bits fitted together in what we would now call a system – and what moved them. This is nearer the pragmatic rather than the accuracy theory of truth, but usually, these are understood technologically, using the behaviour of things you can already see rather than the scientific understanding of what one can’t see.

      I see economists using mathematical language they don’t understand with only the vaguest understanding of the ancient logic of words, which is only true insofar as the meaning of a true arrangement of words (like “scientific method”) is not changed in the process of communication. Despite Claude Shannon discovering how the old logic worked in 1938 and proposing active (i.e. error-freeing rather than error-free) logic in 1948, information and communication science remain totally absent from their canon of the variety of sciences, presumably in case awareness of them revealed what a lot of guff they keep on talking. So school teachers grounding pupils for understanding what the professors will be saying learn nothing of it either, and we remain stuck in the Humean-Logical Positivist-Popperian circle of the blind leading the blind, uncritically using the logic of error-correction to suppress variations which, from the point of view of the so-called “orthodox” theory of economics look like errors: even the ruminations of Keynes on seeing and correcting error discernable only on a “macro” perspective. I moan about economists not listening to me about the need to go back to roots, but nor have they listened to Hanson on patterns of discovery, Kuhn on the need for paradigm change, Lakatos on learning from our mistakes when our assumptions have become sterile and Mirowski on the recent self-glorifying history of economic theorising.

      Since this thread is ultimately about redeveloping the core curriculum of economics, may I contrast the war-taught curriculum of my own scientific training with that provided by the academic academies. To end up a professional experimenter qualified in electronics, we started with a grounding not only in electric circuit analysis but in mechanics, the physics of materials, heat light and sound, engineering drawing and the mathematics of flows as well as quantities; those who arrived exploring their world on bicycles found themselves sharing rooms with kids who (in 1953) had already built their own televisions – never mind crystal sets – or explored foreign lands as radio amateurs. We worked our way through “engineering” workshops learning to use machine tools, then through electronic system assembly, model shops and the drawing office before moving on to the mathematics and theory of electrical power and electronic communication systems and practical laboratory work: my case in cryogenics, the practicalities of miniaturisation for airborne equipment, and (with transistors becoming available to replace thermionic valves (US “tubes”?) exploring semiconductor physics, computer circuits, their design and problems; others went on to specialise in topics like radar systems. In the final year philosophy of science was compulsory, though very unpopular with would-be doers.

      The point I am making is that we didn’t just study electronic systems and their uses, we studied the foundations of them, enabling us to communicate with the many whose understanding shared those more general foundations, and thus to learn from other disciplines. My later work taught me that reliability is more important than “efficiency”, circular paths the key to understanding things as forms of localised energy, and looping algorithmic language (an algorithm being more than a mere recipe) the key to revealing the wheat amid the chaff. But my apprenticeship started at 16. University curricula need to look back to what is not being taught in schools.

  4. October 28, 2014 at 8:41 am

    Additional comment:
    Why do the students not simply read heterodox economic literature themselves to see if it interests them? Mainstream faculty, trained in mathematical and statistical models and methods, are both unable to meaningfully teach heterodox economics and uninterested in doing so.
    When I became interested in economics, I also read in biology and physics to learn how science is actually done. For the same purpose I also read extensively in the philosophy of science. During my graduate studies I also read in the history of economic thought as well as the classics, starting with Adam Smith.
    My experience as a teacher has been that the great majority of students in economics are not particularly interested in the subject. They are there, because unlike student in biology or physics, they have no specific interests at all and so they study economics. They think it is not too difficult and perhaps more respectable than business.
    Most students get their degrees, but don’t become professional economists. Some discover that they have a talent for doing the kind of modelling that professional economists engage in. Then, doing this kind of work becomes their reality. In psychological terms, it is a Gestalt switch.

    • Paul Schächterle
      October 28, 2014 at 11:17 am

      Well, why don’t we close down the economics departments and students can start learning for themselves?

  5. October 28, 2014 at 10:53 pm

    “We” don’t close down economics departments because “we” don’t have the power to do so. Actually, assigning the faculties of most economis departments to teaching mathematics in high scholls and colleges would be the greaest contribution to society that they could make.

  6. davetaylor1
    October 30, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    “Editor”s 30th October post on “repressive tolerance ” speaks for itself. Looking back through the significant discussion here, it seems to be a reaction to Paul Davidson (second comment here).

    It is interesting to see how Paul is envisaging a new curriculum allowing discussion of what is already extant: perhaps with some justification taking Keynes’s developed thought as the “orthodoxy” against which to measure (or in Tony Lawson style, to “contrast”) all others. That’s a line familiar to me as a Christian – and indeed this is ultimately the same issue: the orthodox “catholic” position is that Christianity is “for everybody”, not just the Chosen Race, the winners of Holy War, the presbyterian Elect, Nietzschian supermen, the 1 per cent. We (including our thoughts) are none of us perfect, but there is even less hope of “salvation” – or even improvement – for the self-righteous than for those scared of what they might find if they examined their consciences.

    By contrast, my own (long but actually considerably foreshortened) comment above was arguing from the way science has improved by going back to basics as far as is possible at any given time, as “paradigm change” – which tends to accompany developments in instrumentation – provides new data and new ways of looking at even familiar data. I’m as appreciative a Keynesian as Paul is, but Keynes died in 1946, before electronically enhanced instrumentation developed for World War II led us into the Information Era, where much communication previously needing human physical proximity in cities and factories could now in principle be done remotely, even – via automation – in future time.
    This “paradigm change” has not overthrown Newtonian physics so much as added to it a new dimension to it – Shannonian encoding, which relies on finding the right key for us to reveal the meaning hidden in apparent chaos. In Newtonian physics, what you see is what you’ve got, but if you want to see a television picture what has been transmitted as a linear sequence of bits representing colour and brightness, you need to know how many bits per line and how many lines per page and how often the picture is refreshed etc.
    Television theory is thus not about what’s in a particular picture but about the organisation of any picture and how its communications work.

    Economic theory and pedagogy, likewise, needs to focus not on the economists reading ever-changing news but upon the economy as a communications system (using the methods of information science as well as physics). As the outline of the system becomes clearer (for a start, see Macrocompassion’s “empirical” flow model at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DiagFuncMacroSyst.pdf), we can ask what this circuit is in terms of what it is doing, and how it meets our Editor’s “new paradigm” criteria listed at http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue65/Fullbrook65.pdf. My “ontological” conclusion is that it is a garbled version of a PID control servo. Both Smith’s “invisible hand” and Keynes’s empirical correction for market failure can be decoded as anticipating this.

    I’ve agreed with Egmont Kakarot-Handtke (http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue56/Kakarot56.pdf) : current economic theory has become so unproductive of new insight it is “Time to scrap the lot and start again”. I didn’t agree with his new starting position, not least because his new axioms have the form of algebraic equations: these assuming equilibria, not to say being obscure and in need of grounding. When he taunted the heterodox with not having a working alternative to neo-classical orthodoxy, I knew he was wrong because I do have, but I did a little research and wikipedia told me “Monetary circuit theory is a heterodox theory of monetary economics, particularly money creation, often associated with the post-Keynesian school”. Why do I need to remind economists that scientists and technologists working with electricity worked out the theory of circulation more than a century ago? So my approach already has a name. I’m going further than this and Macrocompassion in considering not just the origin (epistemology) but the nature (ontology) of what is being circulated. Is money a thing, a form of power, or information?

    Incidentally, all Claude’s comments here are much appreciated.

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