Home > New vs. Old Paradigm, students, teaching, Uncategorized > The teaching of economics is in crisis.

The teaching of economics is in crisis.

An international student call for pluralism in economics

It is not only the world economy that is in crisis. The teaching of economics is in crisis too, and this crisis has consequences far beyond the university walls. What is taught shapes the minds of the next generation of policymakers, and therefore shapes the societies we live in. We, over 65 associations of economics students from over 30 different countries, believe it is time to reconsider the way economics is taught. We are dissatisfied with the dramatic narrowing of the curriculum that has taken place over the last couple of decades. This lack of intellectual diversity does not only restrain education and research. It limits our ability to contend with the multidimensional challenges of the 21st century – from financial stability, to food security and climate change. The real world should be brought back into the classroom, as well as debate and a pluralism of theories and methods. Such change will help renew the discipline and ultimately create a space in which solutions to society’s problems can be generated. 

United across borders, we call for a change of course. We do not claim to have the perfect answer, but we have no doubt that economics students will profit from exposure to different perspectives and ideas. Pluralism will not only help to enrich teaching and research and reinvigorate the discipline. More than this, pluralism carries the promise of bringing economics back into the service of society. Three forms of pluralism must be at the core of curricula: theoretical, methodological and interdisciplinary.

Theoretical pluralism emphasizes the need to broaden the range of schools of thought represented in the curricula. It is not the particulars of any economic tradition we object to. Pluralism is not about choosing sides, but about encouraging intellectually rich debate and learning to critically contrast ideas. Where other disciplines embrace diversity and teach competing theories even when they are mutually incompatible, economics is often presented as a unified body of knowledge. Admittedly, the dominant tradition has internal variations. Yet, it is only one way of doing economics and of looking at the real world. Such uniformity is unheard of in other fields; nobody would take seriously a degree program in psychology that focuses only on Freudianism, or a politics program that focuses only on state socialism. An inclusive and comprehensive economics education should promote balanced exposure to a variety of theoretical perspectives, from the commonly taught neoclassically-based approaches to the largely excluded classical, post-Keynesian, institutional, ecological, feminist, Marxist and Austrian traditions – among others. Most economics students graduate without ever encountering such diverse perspectives in the classroom.

Furthermore, it is essential that core curricula include courses that provide context and foster reflexive thinking about economics and its methods per se, including philosophy of economics and the theory of knowledge. Also, because theories cannot be fully understood independently of the historical context in which they were formulated, students should be systematically exposed to the history of economic thought and to the classical literature on economics as well as to economic history. Currently, such courses are either non-existent or marginalized to the fringes of economics curricula.

Methodological pluralism stresses the need to broaden the range of tools economists employ to grapple with economic questions. It is clear that maths and statistics are crucial to our discipline. But all too often students learn to master quantitative methods without ever discussing if and why they should be used, the choice of assumptions and the applicability of results. Also, there are important aspects of economics which cannot be understood using exclusively quantitative methods: sound economic inquiry requires that quantitative methods are complemented by methods used by other social sciences. For instance, the understanding of institutions and culture could be greatly enhanced if qualitative analysis was given more attention in economics curricula. Nevertheless, most economics students never take a single class in qualitative methods.

Finally, economics education should include interdisciplinary approaches and allow students to engage with other social sciences and the humanities. Economics is a social science; complex economic phenomena can seldom be understood if presented in a vacuum, removed from their sociological, political, and historical contexts. To properly discuss economic policy, students should understand the broader social impacts and moral implications of economic decisions.

While approaches to implementing such forms of pluralism will vary from place to place, general ideas for implementation might include:

  • Hiring instructors and researchers who can bring theoretical and methodological diversity to economics programs;
  • Creating texts and other pedagogical tools needed to support pluralist course offerings;
  •  Formalizing collaborations between social sciences and humanities departments or establishing special departments that could oversee interdisciplinary programs blending economics and other fields.

Change will be difficult – it always is. But it is already happening. Indeed, students across the world have already started creating change step by step. We have filled lecture theatres in weekly lectures by invited speakers on topics not included in the curriculum; we have organised reading groups, workshops, conferences; we have analysed current syllabuses and drafted alternative programs; we have started teaching ourselves and others the new courses we would like to be taught. We have founded university groups and built networks both nationally and internationally.

Change must come from many places. So now we invite you – students, economists, and non-economists – to join us and create the critical mass needed for change. See Support us to show your support and connect with our growing networks. Ultimately, pluralism in economics education is essential for healthy public debate. It is a matter of democracy.

Signed, the member organizations of the International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics:

  • Sociedad de Economía Crítica Argentina y Uruguay, Argentina
  • The PPE Society, La Trobe University, Australia
  • Society for Pluralist Economics Vienna, Austria
  • Nova Ágora, Brazil
  • Mouvement étudiant québécois pour un enseignement pluraliste de l’économie, Canada
  • Estudios Nueva Economía, Chile
  • Grupo de estudiantes y egresados de la Facultad de Economía y Negocios de la Universidad de Chile, Chile
  • Det Samfundsøkonomiske Selskab (DSS), Denmark
  • Post-Crash Economics Society Essex, England
  • Cambridge Society for Economic Pluralism, England
  • Better Economics UCLU, England
  • Post-Crash Economics Society Manchester, England
  • SOAS Open Economics Forum, England
  • Alternative Thinking for Economics Society, Sheffield University, England
  • LSE Post-Crash Economics England
  • Pour un Enseignement Pluraliste de l’Economie dans le Supérieur (PEPS-Economie), France
  • Netzwerk Plurale Ökonomik (Network for Pluralist Economics), Germany
  • Oikos Köln, Germany
  • Real World Economics, Mainz, Germany
  • Kritische WissenschaftlerInnen Berlin, Germany
  • Arbeitskreis Plurale Ökonomik, München, Germany
  • Oikos Leipzig, Germany
  • Was ist Ökonomie, Berlin, Germany
  • Impuls. für eine neue Wirtschaft, Erfurt, Germany
  • Ecoation, Augsburg, Germany
  • Kritische Ökonomen, Frankfurt, Germany
  • Arbeitskreis Plurale Ökonomik, Hamburg, Germany
  • Real World Economics, Heidelberg, Germany
  • Stundent HUB Weltethos Institut Tübingen, Germany
  • LIE – Lost in Economics e.V., Regensburg, Germany
  • Javadhpur University Heterodox Economics Association, India
  • Economics Student Forum – Tel Aviv, Israel
  • Economics Student Forum – Haifa (Rethinking Economics), Israel
  • Rethinking Economics Italia, Italy
  • Grupo de Estudiantes por la Enseñanza Plural de la Economía, UNAM, Mexico
  • Oeconomicus Economic Club MGIMO, Russia
  • Glasgow University Real World Economics Society, Scotland
  • Movement for Pluralistic Economics, Slovenia
  • Post-Crash Barcelona, Spain
  • Asociación de Estudiantes de Económicas de la Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain
  • Estudantes de Económicas e Empresariais, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, Spain
  • Lunds Kritiska Ekonomer, Sweden
  • Handels Students for Sustainability, Sweden
  • PEPS-Helvetia, Switzerland
  • Rethinking Economics, UK
  • Rethinking Economics New York, United States
  • Sociedad de Economia Critica, Argentina and Uruguay
  1. Bruce E. Woych
    November 24, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    This is fabulous! This is a virtual academic revolution. The crisis of legitimacy and representation is seeking resolve, and solutions are needed not resolutions. Bravo!!!

  2. originalsandwichman
    November 25, 2014 at 12:17 am

    “Pluralism is not about choosing sides…”

    Nope. It takes a theory to kill a theory. “Not choosing sides” is a call for impotence.

  3. Helge Nome
    November 25, 2014 at 12:36 am

    “Education” in our society is about molding the minds of the young.
    It has nothing to do with pluralism.

  4. Ken Zimmerman
    November 25, 2014 at 1:22 am

    Economics is invented, like all the other things we theorize about and teach to one another. This post uses the term in an un-problematic fashion as if it were clear to everyone reading it what exactly is in crisis. But of course the crisis is with what’s been invented to carry the name economics. To change this we first need to invent economics again, perhaps several times over.

  5. davetaylor1
    November 25, 2014 at 10:17 am

    Three forms of pluralism must be at the core of curricula: theoretical, methodological and interdisciplinary.

    Actually, there needs to be a fourth: interpersonality and its origins in both nature (different uses of brain architecture, “Knowing Me, Knowing You”, Myers Briggs) and nurture (growing up, “I’m OK, You’re OK”, Harris). “Physician, heal thyself”.

  6. David Chester
    November 26, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    It is about time for this subject to be treated as system engineering is and for a logical and exact system to be constructed which covers it all. Such a system needs to be modelled in order to understand how it is all connected and how it works, with money and goods, services and valuable documents circulating in opposite directions. Such a model is now available and may be seen on Wikimedia, Commons, Macroeconomics as:

    DiagFuncMacroSyst.pdf

    This is the only model to date which includes all 3 factors of production. land, labor and capital (Durable Goods) and their 3 kinds of returning money flows, namely ground-rent, wages and dividends or interest, as prescribed by Adam Smith in 1776 (and as disallowed by John Bates Clerk in 1899), when it knowledge was suppressed, which is why we have such a poor understanding of this politically biased subject.

  7. November 29, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    Entering an economics PhD program with an undergraduate degree (and work experience) in Civil engineering and a graduate degree in Christian theology, allowed me to easily appreciate the necessity of “pluralism” in the discipline of economics. Is it that difficult to see the broadness of economic questions if one has read, for example, “The Entropy Law and the Economic Process” and “Economics as Religion?”

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