The Association for Heterodox Economics welcomes student initiatives for fundamental reform of the economics curriculum, as do our post-Keynesian colleagues (Letters, 19 November). Heterodox economists, drawing on a range of theorists, including Keynes, Marx, Minsky and others, have consistently argued for greater pluralism in both economics curricula and economics research evaluation. We recognise the clear benefits of pluralism in economics: it encourages, by exposing them to alternative perspectives, the development of students’ critical thinking and judgment. Read more…
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 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 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 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…
Financial Times, November 17.
University departments must share the blame
Sir, The FT is far from alone in, once again and for the umpteenth time, decrying the “scandal” that a section of the financial sector – this time the foreign exchange market – has “remained immersed in a culture that subordinates everything to making money” (editorial, November 13). University economics departments cannot escape their share of the blame for this, so crucial have they been in recent years in providing academic justification for this “culture”.
Economics is, according to the orthodoxy now almost totally dominant in these departments, a discipline whose very identity is inseparable from the calculus of maximisation and minimisation. This standpoint is not limited to those of a neoliberal orientation; on the contrary, among its most dogmatic adherents is the outspokenly non-neoliberal Paul Krugman, who states quite simply that the economist is a “maximising-minimising kind of guy”.
Krugman is, however, exceptional in his radical views, and the inevitable bias that results from the exclusion from the economics curriculum of alternative approaches is towards turning out students who are ready-primed for incorporation into the “culture” that is revealed with such depressing regularity every time there is a thorough investigation of financial misdemeanours.
Fortunately, an increasing number of economics students are raising their voices against a curriculum which has become, in effect, little more than an indoctrination into that heinous “culture”.
It is about time the managements of economics departments stopped exploiting their freedom to appoint and promote their staff to perpetuate this situation. Let us hope that the demands of their students and of the wider public can begin to force them once more to open their doors to adherents of alternative approaches, and thus to reflect within themselves the debates on economic issues that rage in the world outside.
University College London and University of Westminster, UK
from Lars Syll
Reform of economics teaching is resisted so strongly by mainstream economists because they find it threatening. It is like asking the medieval Catholic clergy to teach their new recruits different interpretations of Christianity, to stop teaching them exclusively in Latin and teach more in the local vernacular, and to encourage them to challenge the intellectual and the moral authority of the Holy See. No wonder it is so strongly resisted by most mainstream economists, even by those who claim to be interested in reform. Read more…
from Lars Syll
Paul Samuelson once claimed that the ergodic hypothesis is essential for advancing economics from the realm of history to the realm of science.
from Lars Syll
I have just accepted an offer to become Head of the School of Economics, History and Politics at Kingston University in London. I will take up the appointment in time for the Autumn term, which starts on September 23rd.
Kingston will respond positively to calls from students for genuine reform of economics education—like those made by the Post-Crash Economics Society in Manchester, and the International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics (which was launched only days ago).
These student calls for genuine reform are timely, because though there are some initiatives for reform, academic economics has, if anything, become more hostile to criticism of the mainstream and to presentation of alternative perspectives than it was before the 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, 42 associations of economics students from 19 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. This 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 could not only help to fertilize teaching and research and reinvigorate the discipline. Rather, pluralism carries the promise to bring economics back into the service of society. Three forms of pluralism must be at the core of curricula: theoretical, methodological and interdisciplinary.
from David Ruccio
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. Read more…
The Post-Crash Economics Society at the University of Manchester has published a comprehensive, 60-page report on undergraduate teaching of economics at the University. Called ‘Economics, Education and Unlearning’, it can be downloaded at www.post-crasheconomics.com/economics-education-and-unlearning/. Highly recommended to anyone who wants economics to get back in touch with the real world.
from Maria Alejandra Madi at the WEA Pedagogy Blog
The recent Great Financial crisis has restated the menace of deep depressions among the current economic challenges while the livelihoods turned out to be subordinated to speculation, financial instability and the bailout of domestic financial systems. Looking backward, in the context of the 1930 Great Depression, John Maynard Keynes pointed out that the evolution of capital markets increases the risk of speculation and instability since these markets are mostly based upon conventions whose precariousness affects the rhythm of investment and increases pressures on the political sphere.
Keynes called attention to the fact that the capitalist system has endogenous mechanisms capable of destabilizing the levels of spending, income and employment. read more
from The Guardian
The Post-Crash Economics Society at Manchester University. Photograph: Jon Super for the Guardian