Where is our economic system going? What about our societies? How did we get here? And what next?
The current situation reveals not only an economic crisis but also a deep crisis of economic thought. There are many causes for this situation, and solutions can only be found through theoretical, practical and political inventiveness with our critical faculties to the fore. But, whilst such voices do exist, they have been silenced as far as orthodox economics is concerned. Simply put, there are profoud institutional barriers to the emergence and presentation of original thinking, but this blocked creativity could be released through a simple and immediate political solution. Establishing in French universities a new section, entitled Economics and Society, would allow a new way of thinking in economics.
Madam Minister, you recently decided to create this new section promoting the study of economic facts with a renewed perspective within rather than apart from social sciences. You did so because you know how much the research in economics and its teaching, but also public debate, are suffocated by the monopoly of ideas imposed by a dominant school of thought that failed to anticipate or even to allow for, let alone understand and respond to this crisis.
The proposal for this new section, and your commendable approval for it, unleashed such a backlash from the established orthodoxy that it seemed to persuade you to withdraw your support.
For these reasons, by reaffirming your support for this petition for pluralism in economics, we demand that you publish the decree that you already signed in order finally to create this new section.
Economics needs pluralism now!
You can sign this petition here http://assoeconomiepolitique.org/petition-pluralism-now/
4,559 people have already signed it, but they need lots more. You can read the names at the petition sight.
Well, heterodox is relative, isn’t it? The Pope is a heterodox if you are a Greek or a Russia. I don’t particularly like it but wouldn’t mind if people use it as an easy way of saying that I am not a neoclassical economist. But, as I have explained in my latest book (Economics: The User’s Guide), I don’t entirely subscribe to one school or another. I have been influenced by many different schools. I believe—not only for political reasons but for intellectual reasons too—we need pluralism in economics. Different schools have different methodological approaches, have different interests (some more interested in production, while others are more interested in exchange, for instance) or make different political and ethical assumptions. We need all of them to understand fully the complexity of the world.
from Stuart Birks
Well done, your concerns about the economics curriculum are getting attention. There are also many practicing economists who have concerns about the current emphasis and direction of economics as a discipline.
As in any such situation, the process of change can be crucial in determining the outcome. Often many different initiatives are called for. There is one initiative which may be effective in the short term and also instrumental in shaping developments in the long term. I am referring to the World Economics Association’s Textbook Commentaries Project.
The project involves the development of an online platform containing brief commentaries which can be used right now in existing and new economics courses. This growing collection is designed to increase critical understanding of economics approaches and awareness of alternative perspectives. The commentaries are each short and stand-alone, so can be easily be incorporated into existing courses without greatly increasing the workload. They do generate an awareness of the concerns about various approaches and the diversity of thought that exists, even if no longer included in the standard curriculum. Many commentaries draw directly on alternative literature by recognised experts in the field. It is important that students be made aware of these sources, if only to put their own knowledge in a wider context. Additional pages also highlight other accessible material (books and online teaching resources).
How can you participate?
from Peter Radford
And clearly economists don’t learn from it.
“It was all very well for the rich, who could raise all the credit they needed, to clamp rigid deflation and monetary orthodoxy on the economy … it was the little man who suffered, and demanded easy credit and financial unorthodoxy.”
That’s the voice of E. J. Hobsbawm in his book, “The Age of Revolution 1789 – 1848″, and he is talking about post Napoleonic Europe.
But how contemporary is that sentiment?
We are stuck in a similar situation. Our elite, both here and in Europe, is managing the economy for its own ends. The disconnect with everyday folk is astonishing. The hubris and plain meanness of it all is equally astonishing.
Look at Greece: the attempt to impose a teutonic fiscal ‘discipline’ via stringent austerity has simply led to the debt that was the target of the policy becoming an even larger problem. It is an example of epic policy failure. The Greeks, for all their previous laxity and fiscal ineptitude, are to be applauded for calling for an end to the stupidity. Read more…
from Lars Syll
One of the main ideas underlining the book is that “being an economist” in the XXI century requires a radical change in the training of economists and such change requires a global effort. A new economics curriculum is needed in order to improve the understanding of the deep interactions between economics and the political forces and the historical processes of social change. The need for trans-disciplinary and interdisciplinary work is highlighted.
Discussions include the following. Main critiques of current practices on theory, methods and structures. Current gaps in the economics curriculum. What should economics graduates know? The contributors are: Nicola Acocella, Sheila Dow, David Hemenway, Arturo Hermann, Grazia Ietto-Gillies, Maria Alejandra Madi, Lars Pålsson Syll, Constantine Passaris, Paul Ormerod, Jack Reardon, Alessando Roncaglia, Asad Zaman.
Yours truly’s contribution to the collection is on “Economics textbooks – anomalies and transmogrification of truth.” Read more…
from Peter Radford
What with the World Economic Forum folks wading in on inequality ahead of the annual Davos shindig for the great and beautiful, here’s what Oxfam has to say:
“Global wealth is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of a small wealthy elite … These wealthy individuals have generated and sustained their vast riches through their interests and activities in a few important economic sectors, including finance and pharmaceuticals/healthcare. Companies from these sectors spend millions of dollars every year on lobbying to create a policy environment that protects and enhances their interests further.”
Moreover Oxfam predicts that the top 1% will have more wealth than the bottom 99% by about 2016. Here’s their chart: Read more…
from David Ruccio
I didn’t attend the most recent American Economic Association/Allied Social Sciences Association meetings in Boston. But, according to Chuck Collins, several sessions focused on the sensation of French economist Thomas Piketty and his 2014 book on inequality, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.
As an outsider to academic economics, I was struck by just how compartmentalized and smug the field appears. At one point, [Gregory] Mankiw even put up a slide, “Is Wealth Inequality a Problem?” Any economist who ventures across the disciplinary ramparts will, of course, find a veritable genre of research on the dangerous impacts of extreme inequality.
We now have over two decades of powerful evidence that details how these inequalities are making us sick, undermining our democracy, slowing traditional measures of economic growth, and turning our political system into a plutocracy.
Mankiw, at another point in his presentation, had still more embarrassing comments to make. Piketty, he intoned, must “hate the rich.” Piketty’s financial success with his best-selling book, Mankiw added, just might lead to self-loathing.
These clearly well-rehearsed quips, aimed at knee-capping the humble French economist, fell flat. Mankiw’s presentation, entitled “R > G, so what?,” came across as little more than an apologia for concentrated wealth.
And Piketty’s response? Read more…
from Lars Syll
The last seven years have not been easy for the global economy as well as the teaching of economics. The recent financial crisis and the Great Recession have led many economists, non-economists and students in economics to question the state of the discipline, wondering to what extent it provides the necessary tools to interpret the complex world we live in, signalling a deep dissatisfaction with economists’ ability to provide solutions to real world problems. Employers have recognised that the economics graduates that the standard curriculum generates are not equipped with the skills that the real world requires. Likewise, students themselves have recognised that the tools and theories they learn don’t enable them to make sense of the world they live in, let alone to address and solve real world problems …
The reason the revalidation of the economics programmes at the University of Greenwich is special is that it constitutes one of the first institutional responses to current pressures from students, faculty, employers and policy makers to produce more ‘world-ready’ graduates. In redesigning our economics programmes we – the economics programmes team – have decided to: Read more…
from Lars Syll
Today, it seems, just about anyone can get away with calling themselves a Keynesian, and they do, no matter what salmagundi of doctrinal positions they may hold dear, without fear of ridicule or reproach. Consequently, some of the most extraordinarily absurd things are now being attributed to Keynes and called “Keynesian theories”. For instance, J. Bradford DeLong, a popular blogger and faculty member at Berkeley, has in a (2009) paper divided up the history of macroeconomics into what he identifies as a “Peel–Keynes–Friedman axis” and a “Marx–Hoover–Hayek” axis: clearly he has learned a trick or two from the neoliberals, who sow mass confusion by mixing together oil and water in their salad dressing versions of history. The self-appointed “New Keynesians” of the 1990s (including Gregory Mankiw, David Romer and Michael Woodford) took the name of Keynes in vain by unashamedly asserting a proposition that Keynes himself had repeatedly and expressly rejected, namely that market-clearing models cannot explain short-run economic fluctuations, and so proceeded to advocate models with “sticky” wages and prices (Mankiw, 2006). Read more…
from Peter Radford
This week’s Economist magazine includes an article designed to uplift the hearts of depressed economists everywhere. It devotes a whole page under the headline “Meet the market shapers”, to a catalog of what it regards as cutting edge examples of economists doing useful stuff at the ‘micro’ level. By micro in these cases the Economist means working inside or alongside a business firm.
All the cases in the article are about some clever folk doing some clever analysis that, so we are told, really and truly helps the firms in question do better. In particular a theme emerges that the work seems to help the firms match what they have to sell with people who are likely, though not certain, to buy.
Naturally, although the magazine doesn’t admit to any added value in this, all the firms cited are Silicon Valley start ups and the like. As we know all Silicon Valley firms are very, very smart – they disrupt the dullards who have only managed to survive a few decades by shooting into orbit and surviving [gasp] for months and even years. So to help firms that are already clever is a real feather in anyone’s cap.
All this cutting edge stuff has the Economist really excited. Not only does it give the story a full page, but it even devotes one of its editorial columns to explaining what micro-economists do: Read more…
from Asad Zaman and the WEA Pedagogical Blog
A near perfect graphical illustration of the power of economic theory is provided by the following graph; copied from RWER Blog
The impact of the roaring 20’s can be seen clearly as the shares of the bottom 90% drop steadily from 20% to around 13%, while the shares of the top 0.1% shoot up. The Great Depression led to a slew of regulations on banking, and also eventually the development and implementation of Keynesian ideas, which provide an economic rationale for government interventions to reduce unemployment. From 1930 to 1980, we see the rise of populist ideas, implementation of Keynesian theories, and the eclipse of Hayek and the Chicago School. After reaching a nadir in 1978, we see an upswing in the fortunes of the top 0.1%. Read more…
How does it happen that we have given our quiet assent to a situation where the richest 85 individuals have more money than the bottom 3.5 billion? Where vultures wait for starving children to die, while others eat luxurious meals on private resort islands? Where horrendous military and commercial crimes leading to deaths, misery, and deprivations of millions are routinely committed by highly educated men with multimillion dollar salaries in luxury corporate and government suites?
A core component of the answer to these critical questions is that we have been educated to believe that this is a normal state of affairs, which comes about through the operation of iron laws of economics. Economic theories currently being taught in universities all over the world are an essential pillar which sustains the economic system currently in operation. These theories state that we (human beings) are cold, callous, and calculating. Microeconomic theory says rational individuals are concerned only with their own consumption. They are callous; completely indifferent to the needs of others. They maximize, calculating personal benefits to the last penny. They are cold – their decisions are not swayed by emotions of any kind. All this theorizing is not without power – it creates the world we live in, and the rules we live by.
from David Ruccio
Or, in this case, only at Harvard. . . Read more…
New data illustrate the extent to which economists have stopped discussing each other’s work.
Once upon a time, economists regularly used to publicly criticise each other’s work in academic journals. But not any more.
In Figure 1 I have illustrated the degree to which economists have stopped debating. The data have been culled from Jstor, the online database of academic journals. To estimate the number of debating articles for each year, I searched for articles with “comment”, “reply”, and/or “rejoinder” in their titles, as these are the key words used to indicate a comment on someone else’s article and a reply to that comment. I did the search for the five most prestigious economics journals. I then used the total number of articles in those five journals in each year as the denominator.
Figure 1 shows how there was a dramatic increase in the level of debate in economics from the 1920s through the 1960s. Then, however, there was an equally dramatic fall. At the peak level, in 1968, fully 22 per cent of the articles published in these journals appear to have been related to debate. By 2013, however, just 2 per cent were.
Why did this rise and fall happen? Read more here
from David Ruccio
After the crash of 2008, in the midst of the Second Great Depression, students around the world have been calling for radical changes in the way economics is taught. They know that the discipline of economics, today as in the past, includes more than neoclassical economics—but, for the most part, students are not being exposed to concepts and methods other than those of neoclassical economic theory.
There are, of course, a handful of departments where non-mainstream theories have been developed and taught, alongside and in addition to neoclassical (and, for that matter, traditional Keynesian) economics. In the United States, in terms of Ph.D.-granting institutions, they include the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (where I received my degree), American University, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the University of Utah, and New School University.
As Aaron Steelman recognizes, that handful also once included the University of Notre Dame. But that is no longer the case, since the current Department of Economics advertises itself as as purely neoclassical department.
Unfortunately, Steelman gets the history wrong. Read more…
from Lars Syll
Back in 1991, when I earned my first Ph.D. — with a dissertation on decision making and rationality in social choice theory and game theory — yours truly concluded that “repeatedly it seems as though mathematical tractability and elegance — rather than realism and relevance — have been the most applied guidelines for the behavioural assumptions being made. On a political and social level it is doubtful if the methodological individualism, ahistoricity and formalism they are advocating are especially valid.”
The decision theoretical approach I perhaps was most critical of, was the one building on the then reawakened Bayesian subjectivist interpretation of probability.
One of my inspirations when working on the dissertation was Henry E. Kyburg, and I still think his critique is the ultimate take-down of Bayesian hubris (emphasis added): Read more…
from Peter Radford
Actually the paper I just read is called “The Superiority of Economists”. It’s another analysis of thee economics profession by Marion Fourcade, this time in association with Etienne Ollion and Yann Algan. It is well worth reading and fits neatly in the same analytical tradition as Fourcade’s 2009 book “Economists and Societies”.
The problem is that none of it is particularly surprising. The point being that economists, by asserting their superiority vis other social sciences have exposed themselves to greater scrutiny and criticism than their peers. This has, apparently, induced more soul-searching within economics than in those other social sciences. Along with the air of superiority that economists exude due to their self-proclaimed intellectualism, comes a big dollop of insecurity.
Which is a point worth making: economists, for all their arrogant assertion of the truths of their ‘science’, are a little insecure about something. Hence, perhaps, their brashness and lack of interaction with their peers. One of Fourcade’s findings is that economists are more isolated as a profession than those around them. They quote fewer non-economics papers and books in their own work, and are almost haughty in the disregard of insights that other social sciences take very seriously. Read more…
from David Ruccio
Cornelia Strawser, in response to Brad DeLong, notes the importance of the declining labor share in U.S. national income.* She then poses a series of questions that, in her view, should be “raised in the academy and in public discourse”: Read more…
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: Read more…
from Lars Syll
One may wonder how much calibration adds to the knowledge of economic structures and the deep parameters involved … Micro estimates are imputed in general equilibrium models which are confronted with new data, not used for the construction of the imputed parameters … However this procedure to impute parameter values into calibrated models has serious weaknesses …
Second, even where estimates are available from micro-econometric investigations, they cannot be automatically importyed into aggregated general equlibrium models …
Third, calibration hardly contributes to growth of knowledge about ‘deep parameters’. These deep parameters are confronted with a novel context (aggregate time-series), but this is not used for inference on their behalf. Rather, the new context is used to fit the model to presumed ‘laws of motion’ of the economy … Read more…