Skidelsky on the need for an economics curriculum reform

19 Jun, 2014 at 10:03 | Posted in Economics | 2 Comments

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In a manifesto published in April, economics students at the University of Manchester advocated an approach “that begins with economic phenomena and then gives students a toolkit to evaluate how well different perspectives can explain it,” rather than with mathematical models based on unreal assumptions.

The Manchester students argue that “the mainstream within the discipline (neoclassical theory) has excluded all dissenting opinion, and the crisis is arguably the ultimate price of this exclusion …

Today’s “post-crash” students are right. So what is keeping the mainstream’s intellectual apparatus going?

For starters, economics teaching and research is deeply embedded in an institutional structure that, as with any ideological movement, rewards orthodoxy and penalizes heresy. The great classics of economics, from Smith to Ricardo to Veblen, go untaught. Research funding is allocated on the basis of publication in academic journals that espouse the neoclassical perspective. Publication in such journals is also the basis of promotion …

For now, the best that curriculum reform can do is to remind students that economics is not a science like physics, and that it has a much richer history than is to be found in the standard textbooks …

Indeed, mainstream economics is a pitifully thin distillation of historical wisdom on the topics that it addresses. It should be applied to whatever practical problems it can solve; but its tools and assumptions should always be in creative tension with other beliefs concerning human wellbeing and flourishing. What students are taught today certainly does not deserve its imperial status in social thought.

Robert Skidelsky

2 Comments

  1. Don’t they need a steady state equilibrium theorem for that? (he, he)

  2. Smith and Ricardo? They might have written some interesting things but so did Newton and no engineer ever reads Newtons original papers.
    How about Stiglitz and Pigou instead. The most dire problems right now are after all financial order and climate change.


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