An International Student Call For Pluralism In Economics

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By The International Student Initiative 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, 37 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 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 shall 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. This 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 neo-classically-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 nonexistent 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 math 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 that cannot be understood by exclusively using quantitative methods: sound economic inquiry requires that quantitative methods be 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 shall 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 in the curriculum; we have organized reading groups, workshops, conferences; we have analyzed 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. Visit www.isipe.net to connect with our growing networks. Ultimately, pluralism in economics education is essential for healthy public debate. It is a matter of democracy.

The International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics (ISIPE) is a collaboration of 37 student associations from 19 different countries around the world that wants to bring about a more open, diverse, and pluralistic teaching of economics. For more information please visit the group at www.isipe.net.

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29 comments

  1. YankeeFrank

    When in the modern era has economics been so much at the forefront of thought for so many in the American intelligentsia that a dense economic tome became a sensation? Its a clear sign that most of us are starting to get that there is something seriously wrong in economics land. These students are admirable for their efforts. The only thing I would advise is to be as bold in finding solutions as you can be. And as lawyers say “let justice be done though the heavens fall”, you can say “let ideas lead us where they will, tho the rentier be euthanized”.

    1. trish

      Be bold, and dogged, too. As this is a threat to the economic interests of those benefiting from the current monopoly of neoclassical approaches, one might think (in today’s clime where peaceful environmental activists are labeled “terrorists”), there would be a bit of an effort to squelch this. Perhaps I’m just too cynical.

      1. Ulysses

        There will certainly be efforts to squelch this, but my guess is that any authoritarian over-reach will merely serve to further discredit the defenders of the status-quo.

        What the elites have done is to leave huge numbers of overeducated young people with very few realistic prospects for a professional career. Many will quietly resign themselves to becoming baristas and struggling to pay off student loans.

        Yet some of them will not be so quiet. They will apply their critical thinking skills to our current situation, and demand change. I am hopeful that this will serve to reduce the kleptocrats’ PR advantage held through monopolistic control over mass media and other propaganda channels.

      2. masaccio

        There is a real effort to squelch it. Recent posts by Krugman and Wren-Lewis explain that mainstream economics is just fine thanks, and a few changes will make everything better. These guys refuse to teach what they call Heterodox economists. The case-based model theories with no connection to reality are going to remain the mainstay of economic thought.

        Here’s an example of the debate: http://www.thomaspalley.com/?p=425

      3. JerseyJeffersonian

        Too cynical, trish? I think not.

        This was my very first thought when I read this statement from the students. Don’t they know that the chairs in economics are endowed by people who expect that their investments will have a respectable ROI? Translated, this means that the “acceptable, intellectually-rigorous” theoretical frameworks remain harnessed to the societal practices that keep the gravy train rolling for the elites. (Now there’s a lesson in applied economics right under their noses. Seek no further for a practical example, chilluns.) Here is a particularly naked example of “cognitive capture”, and heterodoxy is antithetical to the nurturance of the status quo. Politely requesting cognitively captured – and all-too happily cognitively captured – academe to recalibrate their syllabi and thereby rock the boat, will ultimately prove to be a fruitless gesture. Agitation and/or self-education, perhaps through cross-institutional and cross-cultural student-led initiatives would have better prospects in my view.

  2. F. Beard

    Pluralism?

    Such as admitting that shares in equity, common stock, is perfectly valid form of endogenous (private) money and that we need neither a government-backed credit cartel nor government itself creating credit* for the private sector?

    Notes:
    *Government grants of new purchasing power can be perfectly valid since they don’t drag in the bogus concept of ability to repay** as a precondition to receiving government aid.

    **Luke 6:34-35 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
    If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.

    1. skippy

      Have you considered that many don’t want your [any for that matter] religion in our Government. That the time and place for that thing is for you in your – own private sphere – of activity. Further more that the economic enviroment of your writ codified poverty, only to beseech those well off to accommodate the poor as an act of piety to its deity.

      Anywho….

      “Matthew 5:42. Give to him that asketh of thee. Though the words of Christ, which are related by Matthew, appear to command us to give to all without discrimination, yet we gather a different meaning from Luke, who explains the whole matter more fully. First, it is certain, that it was the design of Christ to make his disciples generous, but not prodigals and it would be a foolish prodigality to scatter at random what the Lord has given us. Again, we see the rule which the Spirit lays down in another passage for liberality. Let us therefore hold, first, that Christ exhorts his disciples to be liberal and generous; and next, that the way of doing it is, not to think that they have discharged their duty when they have aided a few persons, but to study to be kind to all, and not to be weary of giving, so long as they have the means.

      Besides, that no man may cavil at the words of Matthew, let us compare what is said by Luke. Christ affirms that when, in lending or doing other kind offices, we look to the mutual reward, we perform no part of our duty to God. He thus draws a distinction between charity and carnal friendship. Ungodly men have no disinterested affection for each other, but only a mercenary regard: and thus, as Plato judiciously observes, every man draws on himself that affection which he entertains for others. But Christ demands from his own people disinterested beneficence, and bids them study to aid the poor, from whom nothing can be expected in return. We now see what it is, to have an open hand to petitioners. It is to be generously disposed to all who need qur assistance, and who cannot return the favor.

      Luke 6:35. Lend, expecting nothing again. It is a mistake to confine this statement to usury, as if Christ only forbade his people to be usurers. The preceding part of the discourse shows clearly, that it has a wider reference. After having explained what wicked men are wont to do, — to love their friends, — to assist those from whom they expect some compensations, — to lend to persons like themselves, that they may afterwards receive the like from them, — Christ proceeds to show how much more he demands from his people, — to love their enemies, to show disinterested kindness, to lend without expecting a return. We now see, that the word nothing is improperly explained as referring to usury, or to any interest that is added to the principal:418 whereas Christ only exhorts us to perform our duties freely, and tells us that mercenary acts are of no account in the sight of God.419 Not that he absolutely condemns all acts of kindness which are done in the hope of a reward; but he shows that they are of no weight as a testimony of charity; because he alone is truly beneficent to his neighbors, who is led to assist them without any regard to his own advantage, but looks only to the necessities of each. Whether it is ever lawful for Christians to derive profit from lending money, I shall not argue at greater length under this passage, lest I should seem to raise the question unseasonably out of a false meaning which I have now refuted. Christ’s meaning, as I have already explained, is simply this: When believers lend, they ought to go beyond heathens; or, in other words, they ought to exercise pure liberality.”

      skippy…. I always liked this one – Ecclesiastes 11:2 Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land. bawhahahahaha~~~

      1. Lambert Strether

        No reason to clutter the threads with lengthy bible quotations. A short, hopefully very short paraphrase plus chapter and verse will suffice. Interested readers can go check the material themselves.

        1. allcoppedout

          All right for some Lambert, but the Bible burns my hands. Skippy, like any good Aussie, was just scared of people starting bush fires in a mad scramble to find out what he was blathering on about.

        2. skippy

          Lambert,

          To pick out one grain of sand out of a beach, that spans an entire coastline, and proclaim to objectify its totality, is complete rubbish. Further insult is the heavy regional – cloistered influence in beardo’s interpretation of scriptures, there is a reason he only uses the NASB or hand waves away any other peer reviewed objectivity with the its “self reading” shtick. Although at the end of the day all beardo cares about is laying the foundation to usher in – his – reality for everyone, he’s on a mission from gawd [or so the voices in his head tell him].

          For a commenter that has had his views and beliefs demonstrably proven false over a wide array of topics, over some years, its absolutely incredulous that said commenter is given so much latitude. Hell in Yves Friedman post beardo had the cheek to suggest Yves look up the term Cognitive Dissonance… bloody WTF[!!!].

          skippy…. The Neo-Kantian movement attempt to promote a revised notion of Judaism, this is the Chicago Schools et al vision of reality, this is what privatization is all about ergo, Austrian, neoclassical, neoKeynesian. Over decades it has infested main stream economics to the very core, why do you think Marx was banished or soft socialism given such rough treatment? I’ll leave you with this –

          “I think there is an element of truth in the view that the superstition that the budget must be balanced at all times [is necessary]. Once it is debunked [that] takes away one of the bulwarks that every society must have against expenditure out of control. There must be discipline in the allocation of resources or you will have anarchistic chaos and inefficiency. And one of the functions of old fashioned religion was to scare people by sometimes what might be regarded as myths into behaving in a way that the long-run civilized life requires. We have taken away a belief in the intrinsic necessity of balancing the budget if not in every year, [then] in every short period of time.” – Paul Samuelson

          1. F. Beard

            “I think there is an element of truth in the view that the superstition that the budget must be balanced at all times [is necessary]. ” some jack-ass quoted by skip-pity to discredit me.

            I’m on record as supporting PERPETUAL deficit spending by the monetary sovereign, you pathetic liar.

            There’s a place for people who lie.

            1. skippy

              A one time event to sort the books, build the wall for the commons, then the heraldic administrators can keep playing gawd.

              “I’m on record as supporting PERPETUAL deficit spending by the monetary sovereign”

              Is a throwaway comment, completely lacking in any granularity or guarantee, especially in light of the currant sociopolitical economic enviroment.

              “I’m on record as supporting PERPETUAL deficit spending by the monetary sovereign, you pathetic liar.”

              There is a place for people that bend reality and expect others to believe them as breathers of “universal truth” too… beardo.

              BTW the quote was to Lambert and had nothing to do with you, it was indicative of the charade economics has become, you know ***LIEsssss***. Tho’ you having a dummy spat over one component [deficit spending] it is just par for course. If you really wanted to take umbrage, the neo Kantian observation would be a foundational sore spot, seems that was just completely side stepped. Typical really, never addressing the whole but, only little pieces that you can moralize into something of your liking – Government bad – Corporations good tropes.

              Skippy… still waiting for those roids or maybe no one is listing to you, still better, maybe your reading is completely wrong. Ever ask yourself that question?

            2. F. Beard

              A one time event to sort the books skippy

              So perpetual = one-time? I never knew!

              I actually am in favor of both periodic (every 50 years ala Leviticus 25) releveling and continuous deficit spending by the monetary sovereign.

              But what irks you, I imagine, is that I also insist that fiat not have a government-enforced monopoly for the payment of private debts too so it won’t abuse its money creation authority.

              Well then, perhaps we can do without private monies so then you’re willing to remove all government privileges for the banks? Or are only ethical private money forms objectionable to you?

          2. Lambert Strether

            Just trying to avoid cluttering the threads with religious controversies that are , by definition, off-topic (“Fearless commentary on finance, economics, politics, and power”) and often inflammatory. It’s not long quotes as such.

            Adding, it ain’t easy..

  3. Saddam Smith

    It is happening, albeit very slowly, but these things always take time:

    http://www.roehampton.ac.uk/News/World-s-First-Professor-of-Green-Economics/

    From the article:

    Professor Molly Scott Cato will present her inaugural lecture – “There is No Wealth But Life: Rethinking Economics, Enterprise and Regeneration” – at the University on Monday 3 February 2014.

    Molly is a leading world expert in the area of green economics which combines a concern for environmental sustainability with an equal emphasis on social justice. She has been published widely and is the author of several books in the field including Green Economics and The Bioregional Economy.

  4. Gil Gamesh

    Good luck. Universities are businesses, not centers of education. As a consolation, students, try philosophy and take up permaculture.

  5. Jim Haygood

    Pluralism that treats marxism and neoclassical economics as being equally valid is never going to qualify as a science, social or otherwise. Science is a Darwinian competition of ideas in which demonstrably failed ones, such as marxism, get tossed on the scientific ash heap.

    When it comes to the old-fashioned microeconomic concept of ‘value for money,’ corporate America is preparing to simply bypass the politically-correct but unproductive debt mills of Mainstream Academia by hitting them where it hurts, with a $10K bachelors degree:

    Today in Washington, the disruption of higher ed will take another step with the announcement of the first nationally available $10,000 bachelor’s degree. The college keeps its costs down by offering classes online. Unlike other online schools, it operates through employers.

    College for America doesn’t teach courses with credit hours. It teaches competencies, and it tests them using projects that resemble work that employees would be called on to do in their real lives.

    College-bound high schoolers may not find any of this particularly exciting, which is deliberate. Paul LeBlanc, the president of Southern New Hampshire University, told me the program is designed for adult learners who don’t want the “bubble,” with quads and clubs, that traditional college-age students do.

    http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-05-05/the-first-online-10-000-bachelors-degree-arrives#r=rss

    ————

    Creative destruction, comrades. Off to welding class, so I can learn to fabricate hammers and sickles in my own garage!

    1. heresy101

      Required reading for any students, and professors, that are thinking about the current economics curriculum:
      SACK-ECONOMISTS-disband-their-departments

      http://www.amazon.com/SACK-ECONOMISTS-disband-their-departments-ebook/dp/B00GS01GE0
      This book shows how mainstream economics has not one but many fundamental flaws. It is not a science, it is pseudo-science. It lacks scholarly rigour and integrity. Once you understand this, it is not a mystery why the mainstreamers missed the approaching crash, nor why wealth is so unequally distributed, why we are so materialistic and unfulfilled, and why the planet is being destroyed. But modern knowledge and systems ideas reveal market economies to be self-organising systems, and they can be managed to support dignified livelihoods in equitable societies that can survive into the indefinite future, with nature thriving along with them.

      1. jrs

        Right it’s green economics we need neither Marxism nor neoclassical economics although both may have some points to make.

  6. clarence swinney

    FOOT IN MOUTH
    President Jimmy Carter did it by calling Israel an Apartheid nation.
    The UN established the Jewish state. Why does not Carter refer to other nations that could be called Apartheid on Religion.
    Nations with almost entirely one religion such as Mexico with 99%.
    France with 98%. Saudi Arabia with 100%. Niger with 99%. Somalia with 100%.
    Afghanistan with 99%. Oman with 99%. Turkey with 99%.
    I adore President Carter but he stuck his foot in his mouth this time.
    Clarence swinney

  7. allcoppedout

    Bringing pluralism back into the workplace might be a start, if we had any workplaces. It is a massive mistake to think of economics as having some kind of capacity to transfer into the real world other than as incantation. The place to start is in our schools where it should be taught alongside the great religions as another example of humans as idiot-challenged monkeys who believe cosmetic adverts.

    Kids don’t get to university with enquiring minds. They have already been indoctrinated by the jawb-market. Just don’t go kids. Sod off abroad and live cheap. Tougher than it was in my pluralist times when there were jawbs-a-plenty. Now, with all the advantages of decades of the unitary framework and countries ‘open for business’, jawbs have up-sticked as surely as my nomadic Scottish ancestors after the harvest season. But seriously, the way to differentiate yourself as a seeker-of-jawb might not be to go to university as a lamb-to-the-debt-slaughter. Most employers would hire someone with a few tales to tell about surviving a few months doing some hard work, ahead of some university waster. Let’s face it kids, you’re so thick and indoctrinated you can’t tell that I’m telling the truth here. And it’s worse than you think. With your debt indenture forms signed in blood, you’ll be surprised when you turn up to your first lecture and find me giving it. You see, after doing this so many years, I know you won’t be able to grok who is telling you the truth. Now me dearies, would you like this lesson in functionalist, interpretive, radical structuralist or radical humanist paradigm? How do I do them all Sweetie? It’s easy really. Anyone who comes into classrooms to learn anything is obviously stupid. So any old shit will do to make the equation work. So what’s the equation Sonny? You pay and go into unrepayable debt. I get 2% and the rest goes on unimaginable bureaucracy including a job for whoever the vice chancellor is screwing at the time …
    Uncle Screwtape suggests you kids grow up fast. His own generation never managed it.

  8. readerOfTeaLeaves

    This is one of the most hopeful posts that I’ve read in some time.

    In my own case, after asking an Econ prof about ‘radical economists’* and having him look disdainfully down his nose at me and snort, “There is no such thing as a radical economist”, I bailed from uni.

    I had in my possession at that time a tome titled “Radical Economics” (it would now be called ‘Environmental Economics’), highlighting the work of Kenneth Boulding and others. It emphasized concepts like ‘energy accounting’, ‘externalities’, ‘carrying capacity’ and other ideas that the scoffing Econ Prof was clueless about.

    In the years since I dropped out of that uni, the world has been badly damaged by neoclassical economics, which is a brilliant apologist for extractive multinationals, as well as tax havens, inequality, environmental degradation, and a host of ills. Meanwhile, everything the ‘radical/environmental’ economists foresaw has come to pass.

    I wish these students all the best.
    I’m glad they’re not dropping out, as I did.
    I’m glad they are engaging. It’s the most pragmatic, smart thing they can do.

    * radical meaning quite specifically ‘getting to the root of things’, and having zilch to do with Marx.

  9. skippy

    Personally I find the whole pluralism shtick is just an artful dodge, a vain attempt, to extend the project. And the project is the same one funded, largely by the same people, that attempted that little coup by the industrialists not all that long ago. They just opted for a more mythos based long approach via mobs like the Austrians, Chicago school, neomobs, et al.

    1. allcoppedout

      Sadly it Skippy, There are people such as Foucauldian accountants, Stone Age economists and hacks like me who say it’s all different if you start with these assumptions’ – but there are almost no employers who don’t insist on rote learning. Even Industrial Relations, the classic pluralist subject, became the unitary HRM.

    2. Hugh

      I agree. It’s like calling for pluralism in astrology. All the pluralism in the world won’t fix the class war kleptocratic propaganda that is modern economics.

  10. Erwin Gordon

    One of the best posts in a long time. This type of pluralism is not only needed in economics, but in the sciences where if one has an understanding of the technical issues realises that what is happening in physics and astrology is akin to a religious sect fighting for thought control in all forums be it universities or in the media (see Rupert Sheldrake TED controversy or read about what a sham the standard model is for cogently explaining the world we live in), to understanding how the various interdependent systems that make up our environment function (since although one can easily make the case for the environmental damage done by man, the existing models are quite flawed in terms of their ability to predict future effects) as well as history (especially with the many historical texts that have been translated from places like India, China, etc as well as the availability of most of this information online punching some rather massive holes into conventional views of the history of civilisations like Egypt – see Nabta Playa or John Anthony West’s estimate for the age of the Sphinx based on continuous weathering of its surface). There needs to be real debate across just about every area as what passes for education is becoming so disconnected from reality, it has little to no practical value beyond maintaining the status quo.

  11. Abandon the economics that has abandoned its students

    Studentd should plualize their study rasthrer than wasting their youth under economics professors. They should study some thing better. They would be better prepaied to fix economics that way.

    Suggestions of other degrees:

    Accounting (the quantitative language of busines,)
    http://ftalphaville.ft.com/2009/07/13/61656/who-saw-it-coming-and-the-primacy-of-accounting/
    http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/15892/1/MPRA_paper_15892.pdf
    http://www.voxeu.org/article/no-one-saw-coming-or-did-they
    http://www.debtdeflation.com/blogs/2009/07/15/no-one-saw-this-coming-balderdash/

    Business

    History

    Industrial engineering (closest to applied economics finance, science, engineering, and management)

    Engineering (contains dynamics, Ordinary differential equations is dynamic math and engineering classes are the appling of it. The majority of econmic models are mathematically static not dynamic. But, the econmy is dynamic. All engineering has science labs that practice the real scientific method)

    All the above are fields of people improving economics.

    Carpentry,

    Any thing other than 4 years or more of economics.

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