A direction for the reform of economics education
This is intended as a statement to provide a unifying direction for those groups campaigning for economics curriculum reform in universities across the world. Please show your institutional or individual support by contacting us to affiliate with Rethinking Economics or joining our mail-list.
We believe students should be taught to think independently and critically. This involves a critical approach to particular models within each school of economics, as well as the whole methodological structures underlying different schools of economics.
We need to recognise the plurality within economics. In most courses “economics” is shorthand for “neoclassical economics”. There is no recognition of the variety of schools of thought within economics, across history or across the world. Academic integrity requires that alternative economic theories be introduced to students, alongside those currently taught. Economic questions cannot necessarily be answered adequately from a single theoretical standpoint, or solely from a mathematical approach.
Economics, as in the case of any other social sciences, cannot always be value-neutral.Therefore we demand that the philosophical, political and ethical underpinnings of different economic theories should be explicitly discussed during lectures and seminars. Economists need to remain critical of the ethical underpinnings and consequences of their theories.
Economics as it is taught currently is disconnected from real-world events and policies. In many departments, much of the curricula in the last few decades have slowly lost all mention of contemporary events or facts. This means that students are not being equipped to engage in real-world debates. We believe economics graduates should be prepared to consider and react to the economic problems that the world faces, because societies are shaped by economic events and policies, which are in turn shaped by people’s understandings of economics.
Economic theory needs to be presented alongside economic evidence. Real-world data should be used to spark discussions of how useful different theories are. Students should be able to weigh up theories against evidence, criticise the multiple uses of evidence, and understand why statistical methods are contestable. This includes debating what constitutes evidence, and conditions under which finding evidence may not be possible.
We believe a context-free economics is a misguided economics. Economic theories cannot be fully understood independently of the institutional, cultural and technological context in which they were formulated. Therefore, links to economic history and the history of economic thought should be made wherever possible. We should recognise that while some of today’s economic theories are a scientific “progression” from the past, many of them are just a different way of looking at society.
As well as recognising the strengths of our approaches, we should foster humility and self-awareness within economics. We need to specifically mention the limitations of our approaches, and recognise that there are a plurality of disciplines that study society which have insights to offer economics. Interdisciplinary dialogue is necessary for economics to grow. We must stop isolating ourselves from anthropology, sociology and political science when we have much to learn from them.
We want to stress that individual departments are not the cause of the problem. It is difficult for any individual economist or department to act independently of others. We need to take the lead by pushing for reform together, within and across countries.
This document is based on the Manchester Post-Crash Economics Society petition and the Rethinking Economics CORE feedback from Nov 2013.
Signed, the member groups of Rethinking Economics:
Rafe Martyn and Marco Schneebalg (University of Cambridge, Cambridge Society for Economic Pluralism)
Thomas Youngman and Hoang Nguyen (UCL, Better Economics Society)
Alex Andrade Martins (SOAS, Open Economics Forum)
Benolas Tippet, Katarzyna Buzanska & Franck Magennis (LSE, Post Crash Economics at LSE)
Yuan Yang and Diana Garcia Lopez (Rethinking Economics Organisers’ Hub)
Nicolò Fraccaroli and Mathia Achei (LUISS University Rome, Rethinking Economics Italia)
Isaac Stovell and Kiryl Zach (University of Sheffield, Alternative Thinking for Economics Society)