Crash and learn?9 October, 2016 at 14:07 | Posted in Economics | 22 Comments
The case for changing the way we teach economics is—or should be—obvious …
But as anyone who teaches or studies economics these days knows full well, the mainstream that has long dominated economics … is not even beginning to let go of their almost-total control over the curriculum of undergraduate and graduate programs.
That’s clear from a recent article in the Financial Times, in which David Pilling asks the question, “should we change the way we teach economics?”
Me, I’ve heard the excuses not to change economics for decades now …
Here’s one—the idea that heterodox economics is like creationism, in disputing the “immutable laws” captured by mainstream theory:
Pontus Rendahl teaches macroeconomic theory at Cambridge. He doesn’t disagree that students should be exposed to economic history and to ideas that challenge neoclassical thinking … He is wary, however, of moving to a pluralist curriculum in which different schools of thought are given similar weight.”
“Pluralism is a nicely chosen word,” he says. “But it’s the same argument as the creationists in the US who say that natural selection is just a theory.” Since mainstream economics has “immutable laws”, he argues, it would be wrong to teach heterodox theories as though they had equal validity. “In the same way, I don’t think heterodox engineering or alternative medicine should be taught.”
Rendahl also argues that students are too critical of the models they encounter as undergraduates:
“When we start teaching economics, we have to teach the nuts and bolts.” He introduces first-year students to the Robinson Crusoe model, in which there is only one “representative agent”. Later on, Friday is brought on the scene so the two can start trading, although no money changes hands since transactions are solely by barter” …
The assumptions built into each and every one of these defenses of mainstream economics and attacks on heterodox economic theories as well as any hint of pluralism in the teaching of economics are, at best, outdated—the leftovers from positivism and other forms of post-Enlightenment scientism. They comprise the “spontaneous philosophy” of mainstream economists who have exercised hegemony in the practice and teaching of economics throughout the postwar period.
And, yes, Pilling is right, when that hegemony is challenged, as it has been by economics students and many economists in recent years, “the clash of ideas gets nasty.”
Once Cambridge was known for its famous economists. People like John Maynard Keynes. Nowadays it’s rather infamous for its economists inhabiting a neoclassical world of delusion. People like Pontus Rendahl.