Is the CORE e-Book a possible solution to our problems? – Part One
from Mouvement des étudiants pour la réforme de l’enseignement en économie (MEPREE) France and RWER #75
“Students in economics all over the world were asking, just as I had asked a few years previously: why has the subject of economics become detached from our experience of real life?” (Camila Cea, Member of the CORE project, University of Chile.)
The CORE project is a response to students’ protests against teaching in economics. It wants “to make economics accessible and relevant to today’s problems”. Sadly, it doesn’t distinguish itself from usual (mainstream) “projects” as regards to ideology and basic theory. As a consequence, the CORE project e-Book doesn’t escape textbooks’ absurdities. We pinpoint five of them and we wonder if the book would still be viable if all these absurdities were eliminated.
The point of departure of the so-called “French students movement” against teaching in economics was their desire to “escape from imaginary worlds”, especially in microeconomics. The “post-autistic economics movement” emerged on the same ideas all over the world. Since then, student protests in economics surge regularly (Pepséconomie, Harvard, Manchester…). They were boosted by the 2008 crisis, but also by the rise of inequality and of precarious jobs, especially for young people.
The CORE project, which began in 2013, presents itself as an answer to students’ recurrent protests. It is:
“empirically motivated and illustrated: students learn models motivated by facts from history, experiments and data”, and formed by
“a community of learners and teachers collaborating to make economics accessible and relevant to today’s problems. It is a question motivated way to learn the tools of economics”.
The “community” includes universities all around the world – Europe, Asia, America (north and south), Australia – which participate interactively to a common project, the CORE e-Book, Its “steering group” is composed of Samuel Bowles, one of the founders of the Review of Radical Political Economics, and 3 economists specialized in public or labor economics. Among its 150 “contributors”, there are three “Nobel Prizes” (Heckman, Solow, Stiglitz) and prestigious economists – e.g. Olivier Blanchard, Tony Atkinson, Nicolas Stern, Adair Turner, Peter Temin, David Hendry, Barry Eichengreen, Dani Rodrik, Alan Kirman, Philippe Aghion, Philippe van Parijs – and… George Soros.
What is distinctive about CORE?
CORE project author’s answer to this question is:
“CORE is based on recent developments in economics and other social sciences, with a focus on Economic actors as both self-interested and ethical… not only on equilibria… [it highlights] the importance of economic rents… [shows] how institutions differ among economies… CORE is a collaborative project using insights on the economy from a wide range of historical, geographical, disciplinary and methodological perspectives.”
These “distinctive” aspects of CORE e-Book are in line with student movements’ claims. No mathematics – only a few curves – a lot of “stories” that take place in different countries, and periods of history, some “psychology” (behavioral experiments), concern with growth, environment and development problems, inequalities, etc., with plenty of dates, charts and figures.
Sadly, the CORE e-Book doesn’t distinguish itself from other textbooks regarding basic theory. Just like the other textbooks, its main reference is the competitive equilibrium – the result in a “frictionless world” of supply and demand – and its “efficient way” (Pareto optimal) to allocate resources. Almost all “stories” and examples depart from it, but it serves as a benchmark – the theoreticians’ work consists in determining what the obstacles are that prevent “efficiency” (competitive equilibrium) from prevailing.
As a consequence, the CORE e-Book doesn’t escape textbooks’ absurdities. In what follows we pinpoint five of these – which anybody can understand, even without knowing anything about economics. Only ideology can explain that people so highly qualified can write, and disseminate, such absurdities – which cast doubts on the whole CORE project.
 We skip the last chapters relative to money, finance and macroeconomics, which are less litigious.